Sir Gawain Preparing Himself and His Neck
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, written by an anonymous fourteenth-century
poet, describes the Arthurian legend about the Green Knight’s game with Sir Gawain.
Now almost a year passes since the Green Knight has started a friendly challenge of a blow for a blow. And it is time for Sir Gawain to prepare and to meet the Green Knight to receive his strike. Sir Gawain sees how the people around him care for him and wish he didn’t have to go. He probably feels that the first part of the game wasn’t completely fair, because the beheaded Green Knight survived what a mortal man cannot. Nevertheless, Sir Gawain acts like a true honorable knight and decides to face his destiny:
Realizing that he is just human and is predestined for a test he isn’t fully aware of,
the only thing he can do is to do his best and not worry about the outcome.
Sir Gawain decides to fully prepare himself for this ordeal and goes alone to pray humbly to G-d. He feels very humbled now, more than before when he was willing to take the Green Knight’s challenge after Arthur had already accepted it. Now he realizes that what seemed like a sure thing doesn’t always turn out that way and that he has to take responsibility for his actions.
Sir Gawain prepares for the journey and takes his favorite horse, Gringolet, with him. Gringolet is his special horse, and for this special occasion, he is honored with many golden fringes everywhere, perhaps for Gawain to feel more angelic as he leaves his life behind:
His horse is his only companion on his long way to the Green Chapel. This is significant because it shows that no matter who you are - the famous Sir Gawain, or whom you know – 'King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table' each one of us still has to face death alone.
By then Gringolet was grit with saddle
That was gaily agleam with fine gilt fringe,
New-furbished for the need with nail-heads bright;
The bridle and the bars bedecked all with gold. (Norton, 597 - 600)
The people of the Arthur’s court really care for Sir Gawain and are saddened to see such a worthy knight as Sir Gawain goes on a deadly journey:
So the people make sure to give Gawain the best weapons and the nicest clothing. And the most significant of his armory is the shield with a golden pentangle on it. This was the symbol that Solomon set up to be a symbol of truth. And the five wounds of Christ and the five elements of joy stand for heaven's blessing and man’s moral and spiritual life. And also this symbol has five points (each line overlaps and is locked in the other and so it forms an “endless knot” as called by the English). It is appropriate for Sir Gawain to carry this shield because he is faultless in his five senses and never failes with his five fingers.
All this courtly company comes to the king
To counsel their comrade, with care in their hearts;
There was much secret sorrow suffered that day
That one so good as Gawain must go in such a wisev
To bear a bitter blow, and his bright sword lay by. (Norton, 556 - 560)
Sir Gawain proves true to his word and makes a decision to die honorably, just as he has lived. He prays, takes his horse Gringolet and the special shield with a pentangle on it and goes off to find the Green Chapel. He knows that this is his destiny and he knows he will not be able to live honorably without
having fulfilled this part of his challenge and so he quietly follows the long road to a better (after) life.
This passage analysis is based on the Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Part 2, lines 566-640.
To read the original middle English text of those lines click here
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