Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Lines 1372-1453 from The Norton Anthology of English Literature

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was written in the fourteenth century by an anonymous poet who was a contemporary of Geoffrey Chaucer. The story was originally written in a Northern dialect. It tells the story of Sir Gawain's first adventure as a knight.

This section of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight pertains to the agreement between Bercilak de Hautdesert, the host, and Gawain. Bercilak is to go hunting in the morning, while Gawain sleeps. Upon the return of Bercilak from his hunting trip, he is to give to Gawain all that he has caught. In return, Gawain is to return all that he has won in his "hunt." They make this bargain three times, at the end of each day.

The segment begins with Bercilak showing Gawain the fruits of his hunting trip. Gawain returns the fruits of his "hunt" by bestowing on Bercilak a kiss. The source of the kiss given to Gawain remains anonymous. However, Gawain is not aware that Bercilak knows exactly where and from whom Gawain has received his gift.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight consists of three hunts, three temptations, and three different animals. It is not by accident that the first day's hunt is for deer. The deer represents the innocence and purity of Gawain as a knight. The lengthy and detailed description of the hunt and the capture of the deer serve to emphasize the symbolism of the deer. The even more detailed description of the slaughter and butchering of the meat further emphasizes the symbolism. It can be inferred that the butchering of the deer is similar to the fate that awaits Gawain when he meets with the Green Knight.

The next day's hunt is for a wild boar. The fierce animal is symbolic of Gawain's reactions to the increasing advances from Bercilak's wife. The boar is fierce and much more difficult to catch and kill, just as Gawain is steady in his resistance to temptation. Bercilak is aware that Gawain is resistant to all temptation at this point. Gawain is true to his reputation of a chivalrous, worthy knight.

The third day's hunt is for the wily and cunning fox. This is symbolic of the clever way that Gawain resists temptation. However, Gawain is tricked by Bercilak's wife into taking the Green girdle. The acceptance of this gift represents Gawain's fall from perfect chivalry and knighthood, since he lies about it to Bercilak.

The language used in this passage from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is not particularly difficult to interpret. However, it is necessary to have read the entire story in order to understand the this section.