Nothing is known about the author who wrote the medieval poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Yet it is considered one of the greatest works from the Middle English era. It tells a tale of a mysterious and magical figure (The Green Knight) who presents a challenge to the pride and wealth of Arthur's kingdom. Sir Gawain accepts the challenge. However, the real test of the Green Knight isn't about strength or swordsmanship. It's a test of character.
During Christmas at Camelot, the celebration is interrupted by the entrance of the Green Knight. He offers (or demands) a contest: an exchange of axe-strokes. Feeling as if the honor of Camelot is being threatened, King Arthur accepts the challenge. However, Sir Gawain intercepts the challenge before Arthur can formally accept. Gawain welcomes the contest and chops off the head of the Green Knight who dryly smirks and picks up the severed body part. He then reminds Gawain of his promise: to accept a return blow a year and day from the first. The Green Knight rides off with his severed head in his hand, and the hall rejoices from the display of Gawain's bravery. However, as the deadline nears, not much joy is in the air. Many think they'd never to see him again, but a promise is a promise, and after all, Sir Gawain is an honorable knight. He has sworn to the agreement and now must seek out the Green Knight's Chapel.
While Gawain is searching for the Green Knight's Chapel, he is taken in by a lord named Bercilak who puts Gawain's honesty and integrity to the test, which brings us to the assigned passage.
One night, the lord and Sir Gawain make a pact to exchange gifts earned the next day. They agree that whatever the lord wins on the field will be exchanged for what Gawain wins in the castle. The next morning, the lord and his men go out to hunt for deer, while Sir Gawain is still asleep in bed.
The day-long hunt is described vividly by the author; the deer flee in fear, "dashing through the dale, dazed with dread." The hunters shoot their arrows that "tore the tawny hide with their tapered heads." Hunting horns "like the cracking of cliffs their cries resounded," the horns making a loud sharp noise that explode. The day goes well and ends with the setting of the sun. This ends this segment of the hunt.
Our attention now turns towards Gawain, who is still asleep in bed. He awakes to find the lord's wife entering his room; surprised, he quickly pretends he's asleep. She sits beside him on the bed, pins him down and points out that her lord is away and the rest of the castle is asleep. This is the first test Gawain faces, where he is tempted to break his knightly code of honor. The wife offers herself to him for sexual pleasure. Gawain is tempted by this offer but fends off her aggressive attempt by politely declining, stating that she is "bound to a better man."(228)
Sir Gawain is tested two more times in the Green Knight's castle. However, he is unaware that any test is being performed. He passes the second test of the Green Knight, but errs on the third. He accepts a green belt that will expose a weakness of his: a desire to live. The lord's wife promises that that belt will protect the wearer from harm. The acceptance of the belt, however, will lead to a scar on his neck that he will have for the rest of his life. Both the scar and belt, both reminds Gawain that he isn't perfect.