Passage Analysis




Sir Gawain and The Green Knight is not only a fascinating romance and adventure story, but it is a story with deep psychological and moral meaning. Sir Gawain and The Green Knight has the principle characteristics of any medieval Arthurian romance, but at the same time, it possesses its own unique characteristics, which, when combined, bring out the true moral statement of the story. Ironically, Sir Gawain and The Green Knight uses deceit to bring out the true characteristics and personalitys of its main character. In the poem Sir Gawain – the courageous knight who takes the deadly challenge -- undergoes three stages of challenges in order to test his chastity and honor, and prove his ideal chivalry. The tests are cleverly thought out. Temptations and difficulties will beset Sir Gawain's moral judgment and prove his true nature.

The test begins from the very first day when Gawain is offered the company of the hosts young and beautiful wife, who from the very first moment mesmerizes him: "The fair hues of her flesh, her face and her hair and her body and her beaming were beyond praise, and excelled the queen herself, as Sir Gawain thought." (Norton Anthology,222) The next morning after his arrival, when the men of the castle go off to hunt a deer, Gawain is surprised by an unexpected entry into his bedroom by the host’s beautiful wife. As she enters the room, she sits on Gawain's bed and tries to use physical and intellectual means to seduce him. The lady of the court uses every possible appeal to his manhood to persuade Gawain to "sleep" with her.

Her outer appearance is her first means of persuasion. From the moment Gawain opens his eyes he finds his vision filled with her charming face: "Sweetly does she speak and kindly glances dart, blent white and red on cheek and laughing lips apart."(Norton Anthology,226) She can tempt the most honorable man to do whatever she desires.

The Lady goes beyond visual persuasion using the charm of words. She does not waste a moment, but offers herself to him: "My body is here at hand, your each wish to fulfill; your servant to command I am, and shall be still." (Norton Anthology,228)The Lady tries to manipulate Gawain in order to seduce him.

During the three mornings in Gawain's bedroom, there is a fight between the wits of two characters: Gawain trying to keep his chastity and honor, while not insulting the Lady, and the Lady using her every appeal to force Gawain into the trap.

On each of the three mornings that the poet describes the bedroom encounters, he juxtaposes with them the hunting scenes. Each morning the trial of seduction is reflected in each morning’s hunt for a particular animal. The function of the animal hunted is to reflect the temptations Gawain is undergoing every morning. On the first day when a deer is being hunted, the Lady succeeds in receiving only one kiss, thus suggesting the deer’s innocent and kind nature. The next day when the boar hunt is taking place, we already see a slow progression in the Lady's effort to seduce Gawain – she receives two kisses, thus suggesting the boars furious nature. On December 31,st the third morning Gawain submits to three kisses, and in addition conceals the green girdle which supposedly possesses magic powers to protect his life. It is the third day – the day of the foxhunt -- that Gawain falls into the host’s trap, just like the fox. By trying to use slyness and cunnings of the fox, Gawain only becomes a poor and worthless prize, just as the fox is at the end of the hunting day.

Though at the third trial we see Gawain succumb to the seduction, we still continue to view him as an honorable and worthy character. His struggle to keep his chastity is great and still he trying to use every possible means not to insult the Lady. Gawain's first attempt is to pretend his misunderstanding of the hostesses’ actions: "But if, lovely lady, you misliked it not, and were pleased to permit your prisoner to rise, I should quit this couch and accoutre me better, and be clad in more comfort to converse here." (Norton Anthology,227)When that does not work Gawain relies on his last and final resort and that is to prove his unworthiness of her, rather than becoming truly unworthy: "Though I am not he of whom you have heard; to arrive at such reverence as you recount here I am one all unworthy, and well do I know it." (Norton Anthology,228)

But all his methods turn out to be worthless, as he makes an error of judgment and falls into the trap by concealing from the host the acceptance of the green girdle, thus violating the agreement between him and the host. Though in the end we realize that for Gawain, just as for other people, it is impossible to reach perfection, he still remains an honorable and noble figure in our minds, admirable to us – the readers until the very end.


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