Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a poem written during the
medieval period about the Arthurian legend. Although the author is
anonymous, it is apparent that "the dialect of Sir Gawain points
to an origin in provincial England, and it represents the cultural
centers which remote from the royal court at London where Geoffrey
Chaucer spent his life" (Norton, 200). This poem is considered one of
the best works of Middle English literature. One reason
is that the author was able to
ingeniously combine two different
plots, folklore and romance, into one literary work. The other
reason is the author’s elaborate, but brilliant usage of
alliterations and rhymes.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is about a Green Knight, a
figure that many consider to be an immortal, who challenges
Arthur’s court. Sir Gawain, the most courageous and noble knight of
the court, accepts the Green Knight’s challenge for the sake of King
Arthur’s reputation. Believing that he is acting on behalf of the
king, Sir Gawain does not know that it is really a test of his own
chivalry. The following passage that I will analyze introduces and
describes the Green Knight. Here, I will talk about the importance
of the knight’s attitude, size, and his greenish color. All these are
significant elements, as you will see, that help to demonstrate his
condemnation of the court.
The author begins by telling us how the Green Knight breaks into the
dining hall as everyone is about to be served their main course, "there hurtles
in at the hall-door an unknown rider" (Norton, 205). Although this
behavior is very rude, we must be able understand why the Green
Knight acts this way because he has absolutely no respect whatsoever
for all the knights in the court. In addition, King Arthur is very
childish himself, "but Arthur would not eat till all were served; so
light was his lordly heart, and a little boyish" (Norton, 204).
Thus, having such a weak leader, there is a perfect excuse for the Green
Knight to look down upon the court.
He feels that the knights in the hall are a shame to the code of
chivalry because their power and ability are simply overstated.
So, we can see that the Green Knight is fearless of the court, for he knows
that its highly praised reputation is undeserved.
Following the description of the rude entrance is the description of the Green
...From broad neck to buttocks so bulky and thick,
And his loins and his legs so long and so great,
Half a giant on earth I hold him to be,
But believe him no less than the largest of men... (Norton, 205)
The above lines add more to the description of the Green Knight’s
boldness and strength. Being a giant and the largest of all men,
the Knight is once again described as superior to all the rest
of the knights in the dining hall: "And formed with every feature in
fair accord was he. Great wonder grew in hall at his hue most strange
to see" (Norton, 205). The previous line explains how the knights at
the court are amazed and shocked by the Green Knight’s monstrous
appearance. These lines are important in that they bring out
the arrogant character the Green Knight possesses. The author wants
us to feel the force of a real knight, one that everyone else in the
After the description of the size, the author continues to discuss the Green
Knight’s color, "and in guise all of green, the gear and the man"
(Norton, 205). As you expect, the Green Knight’s skin is all
green. However, another strange thing is even his personal belongings
such as his clothing, shoes, weapon, saddle, and his horse are also
...With trim hose and tight, the same tint of green,
His great calves were girt, and gold spurs under
He bore on silk bands that embellished his heels,
And footgear well-fashioned, for riding most fit.
And all his vesture verily was verdant green... (Norton, 205)
The reason why the author chose this color, the way I see it,
is because green represents nature. As we will see in later
episodes of the poem, the knight’s greenish color implies that
no matter how strong a man Gawain is, nature can always overpower
him. This is exactly the attitude the Green Knight has had since the
beginning of this passage when the he looks down on all the knights and considers
them to be corrupt. Therefore, this further implies that the
Green Knight is probably an immortal spirit sent from some magical
land to teach the people a lesson that they are not the best.
Knowing that Gawain is described as the best of all knights,
Gawain becomes the first, or the only deserving one, to be tested
for real chivalry.
In conclusion, this passage on the description of the Green Knight
serves only one purpose, and this is to remind the readers that
even though they may appear to be civilized, there are actually many
flaws within them which make them imperfect. In this case, the
Green Knight is here to tell King Arthur how vulnerable his court
actually is. Apart from this, he’s here to test Gawain to see if he is
really the noble knight everyone thinks he is.