Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Passage Analysis - Lines 279-365


Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was written in the fourteenth century in Northern dialect by an anonymous author who was a contemporary of Chaucer. The story begins in King Arthur's court. The Green Knight, a green monster who challenges the court to a Christmas game, Sir Gawain, a brave, loyal knight of the court, and King Arthur, the lord of the court, are the main characters. Lines 279 through 365, which deal with the Christmas game, also known as the beheading game, foreshadow the Green Knight's supernatural powers, Sir Gawain's victory over the Green Knight, and his bravery and loyalty to King Arthur. The events surrounding the proposal of the game foreshadow what will happen next.

It is New Year's, and everyone in King Arthur's court is feasting when the Green Knight arrives and challenges the court to a Christmas game. The rule of the game is that the knight, Sir Gawain, will strike at the Green Knight, and then in a year and a day, the Green Knight will return the strike. This is indicated when the Green Knight says, "ůSo you grant me the guerdon to give him another, sans blame. In a twelve month and a day he shall of me the same"(Norton 208). A guerdon is a reward and sans means without. So when the Green Knight receives his reward for the game, which will be to return the strike in a year and a day, it will not be his fault when Sir Gawain dies because it is part of the game. This foreshadows the Green Knight's supernatural powers and Sir Gawain's confrontation with death.

If Sir Gawain chops off the Green Knight's head, one would think that the Green Knight would die. So why does the Green Knight ask to meet Sir Gawain in a year and a day to return the strike? The answer to this question shows the Green Knight's supernatural powers because he knows that he is not going to die because of the strike. The Green Knight appears to have a hidden agenda, which will be revealed at the end of the story.

As a reward for the knight who is brave enough to participate in the game, the Green Knight gives him his ax to keep and use for the game. The ax is first given to King Arthur, who has volunteered to participate in the game so that his court will not appear to be full of cowards. Then King Arthur gives it to Sir Gawain when Sir Gawain asks to participate in the game in place of King Arthur. The ax will later symbolize Sir Gawain's victory over the Green Knight because Sir Gawain will use this ax to make the first hit.

Sir Gawain's bravery and loyalty to King Arthur are shown when he decides to participate in the game, knowing that he will die. He asks to replace King Arthur in the game because he does not think King Arthur should do it "while so bold men about upon benches sit"(Norton 209). Sir Gawain's loyalty to King Arthur is similar to that of Wiglaf to Beowulf in Beowulf when Wiglaf is the only one who helps Beowulf fight the dragon. Sir Gawain is the only knight who saves King Arthur's life by participating in the game in place of him.

The passage foreshadows the Green Knight's supernatural powers, Sir Gawain's confrontation with death, his victory over the Green Knight, and shows Sir Gawain's bravery and loyalty to King Arthur. The events surrounding the proposal of the game foreshadow what will happen next. The game shows us the Green Knight's supernatural powers when, later on, after Sir Gawain strikes him, the Green Knight leaves the court as the "headless horseman", carrying his head. After reading lines 279 through 365, one may think that Sir Gawain will die and that the Green Knight has a hidden agenda. This passage deals with loyalty, supernatural powers, and foreshadows the idea that things are not always what they seem.   



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