Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is considered to be one of the finest Arthurian romances in English. Unfortunately, the 14th-century author of the epic remains unknown. The poem describes a common game at the time the "Beheading Game," which turns out to be a great physical as well as moral challenge to the main character, Sir Gawain.
The passage (130-202) of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight describes the appearance of a strange knight in King Arthur's court. The anonymous author of the epic describes the rider in great detail, emphasizing the importance of this character. The passage is intended to arouse readers' curiosity, and at the same time, to introduce the mighty danger that the main character, Sir Gawain, will have to face. Furthermore, the strange knight is shown to be a test or trial for King Arthur and his knights. Finally, the passage presents the actual dynamics of Arthur's court as incompatible with the poet's initial praising of nobility, justice and chivalric ideals.
The Green Knight is clearly a magical figure. This strange rider is of green hue, and he is riding a green horse. Physically, the knight is presented as strong and of a great size:
From broad neck to buttocks so bulky and thick, And his loins and his legs so long and so great, Half a giant on earth I hold him to be...(138 - 140).
The author gives these characteristics to the character for a reason. Possibly, the author aims to arouse interest of the readers or to emphasize the danger that Sir Gawain is about to face. However, at this point of the story, the reader is unaware of the true identity of the Green Knight, which makes it more exciting to read the poem. The passage describes the great festivities in King Arthur's court during the celebration of Christmas. And already Arthur is portrayed behaving childishly, when he refuses to eat unless he hears an entertaining story:
But Arthur would not eat till all were served; So light was his lordly heart, and a little boyish; And also a point of pride pricked him in heart, For he nobly had willed, he would never eat... ...till he had heard first Of some fair feat or fray some far-borne tale...(85-93).
Arthur behaves in this manner until the Green Knight's arrival. Only after Sir Gawain's first encounter with the stranger is Arthur is satisfied, and he gaily goes back to his party. Such behavior is unsuitable for a ruler like Arthur, who is initially portrayed as a powerful, just and brave king. When the strange rider storms into the hall without dismounting from his horse, the Green Knight presents a challenge to Arthur himself and his knights. This is a perfect opportunity for Arthur's knights to show their loyalty to Arthur, their king. However, none of them stands up to fight the Green Knight. Arthur alone accepts the challenge of the stranger:
With this he[the Green Knight] laughs so loud that the lord[Arthur] grieved; The blood for sheer shame shot to his face, and pride. With rage his face flushed red, And so did all beside. Then the king as bold man bred Toward the stranger took a stride (316-322).
Here, the concept of comitatus, the bond between Arthur and his knights, disappears -- the Knights of the Round Table are afraid to stand up for their lord. These events undermine the image of the King Arthur's court as the mightiest in the land.
The author dedicates a lot of effort to the description of the Green Knight. Such detailed description gives him weight and states his importance. The reader is now aware of the great danger that awaits Sir Gawain and anticipates the collision of the two characters. However, as the action of the epic develops, it becomes known that the Green Knight is not only a physical danger to Sir Gawain. The strange knight represents a moral test of Sir Gawain's knighthood, bravery and loyalty. Yes, Sir Gawain fails the test, and although he retains his life, he realizes how shallow he has been in wanting to save his own life:
Yet you lacked, sir, a little in loyalty there, But the cause was not cunning, not courtship either, But that you loved your own life; the less, then, to blame (2366-2369).
Sir Gawain is crushed in the moral battle with the magical knight. He understands that he has forsaken his truth and loyalty to the host, who has accepted him in his house, and to his lord, Arthur. Sir Gawain returns to Camelot wearing the belt, given to him by Bercilak's wife, as a reminder of his failure:
This is the blazon of the blemish that I bear on my neck; This is the sign of sore loss that I have suffered there For the cowardice and coveting that I came to there; This is the badge of false faith that I was found in there, And I must bear it on my body till I breathe my last (2506 - 2509).
However, no one understands the revelation that Sir Gawain has experienced. The Knights of the Round Table accept Sir Gawain's attire as a new "fashion trend," showing their own shallowness and lack of understanding.
The passage in the beginning of the epic Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (ll 130-202) is dedicated to a careful and detailed description of the mysterious Green Knight. The reason the author dedicates so much effort to this character is because the Green Knight represents a great challenge, a test, of the King Arthur's court and of Sir Gawain's knighthood and loyalty. Sir Gawain fails the test, which causes the moral transformation of his character. Finally, the readers see Arthur's court in a totally different light -- as shallow and cowardly.