The Green Knight Emerges

(lines 130-202)


    An anonymous author wrote Sir Gawain and the Green Knight during the fourteenth century. The author of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight "must have been an almost exact contemporary of Chaucer"(Norton). The dialect of the poem uses alliteration similar to the Anglo-Saxon form of poetry. It is a poem about a Green Knight's game and his array of trials and tests set for Sir Gawain. In this passage of part one, lines 130-202, we are introduced to the Green Knight. The story begins in King Arthur's court, where there is a celebration for the New Year for fifteen days. The Green Knight interrupts this celebration. The passage provides a detailed description about his appearance and attire as well as his horse, which is related to the time of the year. This mysterious, giant green knight astonishes everyone in the court. As they wonder, the knight assures everyone that he comes in peace. He explains his motive by challenging King Arthur and his courtiers to play a Christmas game by questioning their courage and boldness.

    King Arthur's court is gathered to celebrate Christmas. The celebration is to go on for the fifteen days of the New Year. There are festivities, and everyone sits down to have dinner. The feast is served with all the trimmings. The lords and the ladies were enjoying themselves dancing and feasting. "So light was his lordly heart, and a little boyish; / For he nobly had willed, he would never eat/ On so high a holiday, till he had heard first/ Of some fair feat or fray some far-borne tale"(Norton, P: 91-93). King Arthur waits for everyone else to be served, but he refuses to eat until he hears a story or a tale.

    In the middle of this celebration, the Green Knight rides in on his green horse, interrupting the banquet. A vivid description of the knight is given. The poet begins with his physical size. The Green Knight is described as "Half a giant on earth I hold him to be, / But believe him no less than the largest of men"(Norton, P: 11-12). The Knight is then described as entirely green. His body, hair and face are green, and his eyes are red. His horse is green as well. This giant riding a green horse amazes everyone in the court. The Knight is holding a holly bob, a sign of peace in one hand, and an ax with a very long blade in the other. The color green represents nature. The poet implies that the Green Knight might be a spirit from the forest or the woods because of his color. The Knight's clothing and the horse's saddle are embroidered with forest creatures in gold: "The butterflies and birds embroidered thereon, / In green of the gayest, with many a gold thread"(Norton P: 166-167). Green also suggests what people decorate their homes with green (ex. Evergreen tree) and the coming of the next season spring.

    The Green Knight assures King Arthur and the knights that he comes in peace. "If any in this house such hardihood claims, / Be so bold in his blood, his brain so wild, / As stoutly to strike one stroke for another, / I shall give him as my gift this gisarme noble"(Norton P: 285-289). He challenges Arthur's men to a game in which the player has to hit the Green Knight with the ax. Then the player has to find the Green Knight within a year and a day. Sir Gawain is the youngest knight of the Round Table, and the only one that volunteers to play the game.

    The Green Knight is presented as an immortal spirit. He is fearless and lowers his neck for Gawain to cut off his head. Astonishingly, after the blow, the Green Knight proceeds to pick his head up, and then he speaks to the people on the dais. He reminds them and Sir Gawain of their deal and rides off on his horse with his head in his hand. The precise intention of the game is not clearly stated but implied. The Knight's purpose is to remind King Arthur and his knights no one is perfect and everyone is capable of committing wrongful deeds. Sir Gawain is the one who is put on test here by the Green Knight.

    At the end of the story we learn that after autumn, when the greenery shatters away, comes winter, a season that often implies the idea of death. Sir Gawain is tricked falling into a trap in which almost any choice will lead him to be dishonest. Gawain has to choose whether to give the green belt that he receives from the lady of the castle to the lord, or to keep it so that the lord would not find out as to how he received the belt. It is this test that Gawain fails and according to the game has to have his head cut off.