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Passage from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Close reading essay
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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Part I, lines 130-202
Of the service itself I need say no more,                   1
For well you will know no tittle was wanting.               2
Another noise and a new was well-nigh at hand.              3
That the lord might have leave his life to nourish;         4
For scarce were the sweet strains still in the hall,        5
And the first course come to that company fair,             6
There hurtles in at the hall-door an unknown rider,         7
One the greatest on ground in growth of his frame:          8
From broad neck to buttocks so bulky and thick,             9
And his loins and his legs so long and so great,            10
Half a giant on earth I hold him to be,                     11
But believe him no less that the largest of men,            12
And that the seemliest in his stature to see, as he rides,  13
For in the back and in breast though his body was grim,     14
His waist in its width was worthily small,                  15
And formed with every feature in fair accord                16
                                 was he.                    17
                           Great wonder grew in hall        18
                           At his hue most strange to see,  19
                           For man and gear and all         20
                           Were green as green could be.    21
And in guise all of green, the gear and the man:            22
A coat cut close, that clung to his sides,                  23
And a mantle to match, made with a lining                   24
Of furs cut and fitted-the fabric was noble,                25
Embellished all with ermine, and his hood beside,           26
That was loosed from his locks, and laid on his shoulders.  27
With trim hose and tight, the same tint of green,           28
His great calves were girt, and gold spurs under            29
He bore on silk bands that embellished his heels,           30
And footgear well-fashioned, for riding most fit.           31
And all his vesture verily was verdant green;               32
Both the bosses on his belt and other bright gems           33
That were richly ranged on his raiment noble                34
About himself and his saddle, set upon silk,                35
That to tell half the trifles would tax my wits,            36
The butterflies and birds embroidered thereon               37
In green of the gayest, with many a gold thread.            38
The pendants of the breast-band, the princely crupper,      39
And the bars of the bit were brightly enameled;             40
And stout stirrups were green, that steadied his feet,      41
And the bows of the saddle and the side-panels both,        42
That gleamed all and glinted with green gems about.         43
The steed he bestrides of that same green                   44
                                 so bright.                 45
                           A green horse great and thick;   46
                           A headstrong steed of might;     47
                           In broidered bridle quick,       48
                           Mount matched man aright.        49
Gay was the goodly man in guise of all green.               50
And the hair of his head to the horse suited;               51
Fair flowing tresses enfolded his shoulders;                52
A beard big as a bush on his breast hangs,                  53
That with his heavy hair, that from his head falls,         54
Was evened all about above both his elbows,                 55
That half his arms thereunder were hid in the fashion       56
Of a king's cap--dos, that covers his throat.              57
The mane of that mighty horse much to it like,              58
Well curled and becombed, and cunningly knotted             59
with filaments of fine gold amid the fair green,            60
Here a strand of the hair, here one of gold;                61
His tail and his foretop twin in their hue,                 62
And bound both with a band of bright green                  63
That was decked adown the dock with dazzling stones         64
And tied tight at the top with a triple knot                65
Where many bells well burnished rang bright and clear.      66
Such a mount in his might, nor man on him riding,           67
None had seen, I dare swear, with sight in that hall        68
                                 so grand.                  69
                           As lightning quick and light     70
                           He looked to all at hand;        71
                           It seemed that no man might      72
                           His deadly dints withstand.      73



A Close Reading of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a medieval poem, is part of the Arthurian legend. The author of this work is not known, and the work is considered to be the greatest of the Middle English romances. It is a poem about a Green Knight, his game, and a series of trials and tests for Sir Gawain. In this passage from part one of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the knights of the Round Table are getting ready to celebrate Yule when, before the first course of the meal, a knight rides into the dining chamber. The knight is completely green, as are his clothes and his horse. This passage describes the Green Knight, his attire, and his horse. This is the first time he is seen in the poem, and the poet uses great detail in describing him to us because his appearance is tied closely to the time of year, certain aspects of Yule, and ultimately to the plot of the story.
We are presented here with a vivid depiction of the Green Knight. To begin the poet starts with his 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"(11-12). After the description of his size, the poet states that the man is all green. His hair, skin, clothing and horse are green. Green is also a color used to represent nature. The author is implying that the Green Knight is some type of forest or woodland spirit. This might also be the reason why he is wielding an axe as a choice of weapon. Because he maybe a spirit, he is immortal and therefore does not die when Sir Gawain hews off his head. This is further echoed in the Green Knight's apparel and saddle. Both his clothing and his saddle are embroidered with forest creatures in gold thread. The green motif is used during Yule when people decorate their homes with green (e.g., evergreens, mistletoe, etc.) to remind them that spring is not too far away. The author uses the fact that Yule time serves as a reminder of spring to echo the purpose of the Green Knight. The Knight's purpose is to remind Arthur and his knights that they are not perfect and are just as susceptible to corruption as anyone else. This is the ultimate point of the game he requests to play with Sir Gawain, in which time and time again, Gawain is tested by the Green Knight.
The point of the game is never stated directly in the poem, but it is implied. It is brought to our attention by the author's use of the color green and the time of year. Ultimately, we dicover that the Green Knight is a creation of Morgan La Faye to bring distress to Guinevere and King Arthur's court. In the end, Sir Gawain gives into a temptation and is cornered by a trap in which he has two choices. Both of the choices will lead him into being dishonest. Gawain must choose between not giving the green belt he receives from the lady of the castle to the lord or giving the lord the green belt which will cause the lord to find out about Gawain wooing his wife.

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  Anonymous. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The Norton Anthology of English Literature Sixth Edition Volume 1
                Ed. M.H.Abrams. New York: W.W.Norton and Company, Inc., 1993, 200-254.

  "sggk2.jpg" April 6, 1997
  "gaw2.jpg" April 6, 1997