The story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was written in the fourteenth century by an unknown poet. The focus is on the main character, Sir Gawain, who is put through several tests to prove his nobility and truthfulness, two traits he is known for. In the passage from lines 1126 - 1207 of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, we are introduced to the first of the three tests Sir Gawain must experience. Gawainís noble and truthful characteristics are first shown to the reader when his shield is described with a pentangle inscribed on it, but in the end, we learn that he is not as honest as he thinks. We also learn that the three hunts of the specific animals can be related to Sir Gawain when Lady Bercilak is offering herself to him. In the end we find out that Morgan le Faye, King Arthurís half-sister, is the one who is testing Gawain on his nobility and truthfulness with the help of the lord of the castle. We later find out that the lord is Bercilak de Hautdesert, also known as the Green Knight. The Lord and Lady Bercilak help Morgan le Faye put Gawain through the tests, only to find that Gawain is like every other mortal man.
While Sir Gawain is preparing himself for his trip to the Green Knightís chapel, his shield is described as having a pentangle inscribed on it: "Then they showed forth the shield that shone all red, with the pentangle in purest gold." (Norton, 215, lines 619-620) The pentangle is interpreted by the poet to be a symbol of truth. Gawain is known for being a noble and honest knight. He is also portrayed as a noble and honest knight in "The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell." This is evident when King Arthur is caught killing a deer, and in order to save his life, he must ask Sir Gawain to marry an ugly hag, and he agrees: (Click Here for Monologue of Gomer Somer Joure to King Arthur) "I wolle wed her at whate time ye wolle set." ("The Wedding,". 335, line 367) In the last test of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, however, Gawain does not show these characteristics. After Lady Bercilak's third offer, she gives Sir Gawain a girdle that she says will protect him from the Green Knight. When Bercilak de Hautdesert returns from his final hunt, he asks Sir Gawain what he has for him. Gawain tells him that he only has three kisses for him and does not reveal the girdle because he wants to have it when he confronts the Green Knight. The final test pays shows Gawain's true nature. Like every other man, he lies to save his life.
Each animal Bercilak de Hautdesert hunts can be seen as parallel to Gawain each time Lady Bercilak offers herself to him. First hunted is the deer, which is known for being shy and scared. When Lady Bercilak first enters the bedroom, Gawain is hiding under the blanket, pretending to be asleep. Next is the boar, which is difficult to capture, and is able to protect itself. Sir Gawain portrays the characteristics of the boar when he is able to "get away" from Lady Bercilak's offer, this time with two kisses. The last animal to be hunted is the fox, which is known as a cunning and difficult animal to capture. Sir Gawain illustrates this behavior when Lady Bercilak, for the last time, offers herself to him, but fails. Gawain thinks he is so cunning that he believes the lady when she gives him a magical girdle and tells him that it will protect him from the Green Knight: "For the man that possesses this piece of silk, if he bore it on his body, belted about, there is no hand under heaven that could hew him down, for he could not be killed by any craft on earth." (Norton, 240, lines 1851-1854) We later find out that the belt does not have any magical powers but is just used as part of the test.
In the end, we learn that Morgan le Faye, King Arthurís half-sister, has been testing Sir Gawain. These qualities of Gawain are finally tested on the third day when Bercilak de Hautdesert asks him what he has to exchange with him. Sir Gawain is so worried about what is going to happen with the Green Knight, he feels that if he receives penance from a priest, he will not have to worry about lying. So he tells Lord Bercilak that he only has three kisses for him. In the end, Sir Gawain fails, "you failed at the third throw, so take my tap, sir knight. For that is my belt about you, that same braided girdle, my wife it was that wore it." (Norton, 250, line 2356-2359) The reason why Gawain fails is because he does not reveal the girdle to Lord Bercilak. The Green Knight knows this because his wife, Lady Bercilak, is the one who gives the girdle to Gawain.
In this passage from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Sir Gawain is first tested on qualities he is known for by everyone, loyalty and truth. King Arthurís half-sister, Morgan le Faye, along with Bercilak de Hautdesert, (the Green Knight) and his wife, will prove that Gawain has faults. The passage shows us connections between the Green Knight's hunts and his wifeís offers to Sir Gawain. The animals used in the poem are parallel to the way Sir Gawain is portrayed. In the end, Sir Gawain is shown to be like any other mortal man: he is concerned about his life and willing to lie to save it, which shows he values his life more than even his honor.
Click Here for Terms in passage from lines 1126 - 1207 of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Created by Kyle T. McKenna