A Host's Hospitality
In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, an epic written in fourteenth century by a contemporary of Geoffrey Chaucer, we learn about a knight and his quest. Sir Gawain, sworn to seek the Green Knight as part of a deal, first finds himself in an enchanted and beautiful forest and then ushered into a beautiful castle of Bercilak, its host. Bercilak's court seems so like Arthur's that it appears to offer Gawain a familiar refuge in alien territory. The orderliness and beauty of the forest and the castle recall the civilized world of Arthur's court. Gawain is welcomed as warmly as if he has arrived at Camelot. The abundant hospitality and congeniality of the host and servants are clear in this scene, and they put Gawain at ease. First, the porter at Bercilak's castle assures Gawain that "a noble knight such as he will not want for a welcome"(SGGK l. 814). Next, the host welcomes him whole-heartedly and lays all that he owns at Gawain's disposal. He also sends a servant to see to Gawain's needs, makes sure he slips into something more comfortable, rests and eats.
To make Gawain feel welcome and safe, Bercilak's court firstly greets him warmly, conveying that they are happy to see him. The porter, at his station on the wall, greets the knight and assures him that his lord will welcome a noble knight such as he. As he steps off the drawbridge, the people welcome him, kneeling on the naked earth. Many folks offer to stable his horse: "The knights and squires escort him with bliss into the hall"(SGGK l. 824-825). When he removes his helmet, a "throng of attendants come to take it and see to its care"(SGGK l. 826-827). Many nobles draw near "to honor the knight and lead him to a hearth to warm him"(SGGK l. 830-832). Soon, the lord himself descends from his rooms to welcome Gawain. He opens his house to Gawain and offers into his power and sway (SGGK) l. 836, 837 all that he, Bercilak, owns. The two embrace, and then Bercilak leads Gawain to the parlor where he assigns a servant to see to their guest's needs.
Next the servants see to Gawain's comfort and attire. They bring him to a richly furnished chamber with a bed and fine beddings and a canopy clad with fur, with curtains, and woven rugs on the walls and floor. Then exchanging his armor for rich robes and a warm, fur-lined mantle, Gawain seems far safer that he has been, battling the cold on his journey.
Afterward, the servants see that their guest is fed. They set up a table with white linen and silverware, and as soon as Gawain seats himself at the table, his attendants serve him a bountiful feast. There were soups of all sorts, seasoned with skill, double-sized servings, and fish. Some fish baked, some breaded, some boiled on the coals, some simmered, some in stews, steaming with spice and with sauces to sup that suit Gawain's taste (SGGK l. 889-893). While eating, Bercilak and his household keep Gawain entertained by asking him about his origins, identity and journey. To make him feel further honored, they praise him on his renowned displays of deportment, the polished pearls of his impeccable speech (SGGK l. 916, 917). They call him the father of fine manners and inform him that they feel honored by the presence of this well-known person at their house (SGGK l. 919).
The people's and Bercilak's warmth generate a feeling in Gawain of being at home and being wanted so that when the lord extends his invitation to remain as his guest for three days, Gawain is happy to agree. Their hospitality is faultless. The people welcome him enthusiastically, offering their hospitality for the duration of Gawain's stay. They also offer him a place to be warm, rest, eat while keeping him entertained as well.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in The Norton Anthology of English Literature 7th ed. vol.1. Abrams, M. H et al. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2000. 157-210.
© 2002 Stella Abdiy