In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a stranger rides into King Arthur's court with a challenge. This stranger, green in color from head to toe, proposes to play a game with a member of King Arthur's court. This game will be played by each participant taking a blow from a weapon at the hands of the opponent. The person that dies from the hit is obviously the loser. On top of this, the Green Knight offers to let his opponent take the first swing. This sets up the action in the passage beginning with line 366 and ending with line 443.
Sir Gawain steps in to take the challenge after King Arthur first agrees to participate himself. Sir Gawain wants to bring honor to Arthur and asks permission to take his place. Gawain knows that he is not the strongest, smartest knight but the loss of his life would not be as bad as if King Arthur loses his life. King Arthur agrees to let him enter this game and gives him a weapon to use against this Green Knight. King Arthur says to Sir Gawain, "Keep, cousin what you cut with this day, and if you rule it aright, then readily, I know you shall stand the stroke it will strike after." (372-374) Gawain, with his weapon in his hand, is now ready to take part in the game.
Before the contest starts, the Green Knight goes over the rules of the game again. He says that if he survives the hit from Gawain's ax, Gawain must search out where he lives so that he can take his hit from the Green Knight. When the Green Knight tells Gawain he must find the place where he lives, Gawain quickly asks, "What is the way there? Where do you dwell?" (398) The Green Knight refuses to tell, as this is part of the game. If the stranger survives Sir Gawain's blow from the ax, he will tell Gawain his name and the name of his dwelling. It will be up to Gawain to find it by New Year's morning to take his hit from the Green Knight.
A t last the time comes for Sir Gawain to swing his ax at the Green Knight. The drama and suspense build at this point as we are ready to find out whether or not Gawain can win this game. Gawain with weapon in hand takes a swing with his ax:
The Green Knight has his head cut off by Gawain's ax, but this does not kill the stranger. The mysterious knight picks his head up from the ground and gets on his horse as if nothing has happened. Holding his head in his hand, he says to Gawain to seek out the Green Chapel where he, the Green Knight, resides.Gawain grips his ax and gathers it aloft--
The left foot on the floor before him he set--
Brought it down deftly upon the bare neck,
That the shock of the sharp blow shivered the bones
And cut the flesh cleanly and clove it in twain,
That the blade of bright steel bit into the ground.
The head was hewn off and fell to the floor;
Many found it at their feet, as forth it rolled;
The blood gushed from the body, bright on the green. (421-429)