The story begins in King Arthur's court, where he and the Knights of the Round Table are celebrating New Year's. While they are enjoying their feast, a gigantic Green Knight rides in on a green horse with an immense axe in his hand to offer them a challenge. His offer is: "I shall bide the fist blow, as bare as I sit .., but in twelve month and one day he shall have of me the same." (Norton Anthology,208)
After a moment of consideration, Sir Gawain accepts the terrifying challenge. As he tries to perform the first part of the challenge, he stumbles into an even bigger surprise. As Gawain hits the Green Knight with an ax, the head of the Green Knight falls on the floor. Instead of the Green Knight falling, he jumps up, grabs his head and leaves, with these final words: "Sir Gawain forget not to go as agreed To the Green Chapel come, I charge you to take such a dint as you have dealt you have well deserved that your head should have a knock on New Year's morn." (Norton Anthology,211)
The year goes by, and Gawain prepares for his long journey. When the final day comes, Sir Gawain is given a farewell celebration, and armed with a ceremony, off he goes. His journey is not an easy one. While traveling, Gawain encounters challenges from beasts, monsters and most of all, from the terrible cold. In a moment of a deep desperation for a shelter, Sir Gawain discovers a beautiful castle where he is welcomed with kindness and pleasure. In this enchanting place he meets the host and his young and beautiful wife who offer him hospitality and rest before he goes to the Green Chapel. He accepts with pleasure unaware that this is the place where the real challenges are going to take place.
The host proposes to Gawain an interesting amusement: "You shall lie a bed late in your lofty chamber tomorrow until mass, and meet then to dine when you will with my wife who will sit by your side and talk with you at a table, the better to cheer our guest. Ahunting I will go while you lie late at rest ., and Gawain, agree to this what ever I win in the woods I will give you at eve, and all you have earned you must offer to me."(Norton Anthology,225) This Gawain agrees to do for three consecutive nights.
Thus, for three days the host and Gawain exchange their winnings. On the first eve the host give's Gawain the deer that hehas hunted, while Gawain gives the host a kiss to return what he has received from the host's wife. The second day the same procedure takes place; a hunted boar on the host's side is exchanged for two kisses on Gawain's part. All is well until the third day. On the third day Gawain deceives the hos. Instead of giving the host all that he has acquired (the three kisses and the magic girdle), he hides the magic girdle and only gives the host the three kisses that the host's wife has given him in the morning.
Finally New Year's day comes. Gawain arms himself, puts on the magic girdle and sets out on his journey to the Green Chapel. After the difficult and dangerous journey, Gawain finds the cave whre the Green Knight appears. The game begins at once. At the first blow Green Knight misses Gawain. The second time the Green Knight also misses him. But the third and the final time the Green Knight " nicks him on the side of the neck."(Norton Anthology,249) As the challenge comes to an end the Green Knight reveals himself as the host "Sir Bercilak De Hautdesert." He finally reveals to Gawain the true test of the game. The host explains to Gawain that the three strokes correspond to the three winning games, and it is only the third one that hurts Gawain as a revenge for his conduct during the third day. Gawain, with anger, blames himself for the loss of his virtue and chivalry, and goes back to Arthur's court with shame. In the court Gawain tells everyone the whole story and decides to wear the belt the magic girdle -- always to remind him of his fault and the loss of his precious virtue and honor.
Back to Home Page