During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the Arthurian legends were born. King Arthur’s most loyal knight in the court of Camelot is known as Sir Gawain, who is reputed to stand up to any challenge. The author of these Arthurian legends, and more specifically of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, is unknown much like the composer of the epic poem Beowulf. The unknown author of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight presents intriguing action, introduces new and difficult terms, and creates interesting symbols in his presentation of Sir Gawain’s stay at a seemingly friendly castle.
The passage begins with the second day of Sir Gawain’s stay in the castle of Bertilak of Hautdesert, his true identity as the Green Knight not yet revealed, a generous host of sturdy stature. Sir Gawain and Bertilak had previously made a covenant, agreeing that each will trade whatever gifts they receive during the day. Sir Gawain is to stay in bed, as Bertilak hunts with his men to bring back food for their Christmas feasts. On this second day, the lady of Bertilak’s castle kisses Sir Gawain twice and challenges Sir Gawain’s knighthood. At the same time, the author describes, in great depth, the hunting of a wild boar that takes all day. The hunt of the wild boar begins with arrows being shot at it which are unable to pierce the boar’s hide, and ends with the host, Bertilak, stabbing the boar in a river with his sword. The passage ends with the exchange of gifts between Bertilak and Sir Gawain. Sir Gawain kisses Bertilak twice, just like the lady has done to him, and Bertilak gives Sir Gawain the boar after his hard day of hunting.
The translator of this Arthurian legend includes a lot of terms that are uncommon today but that present the ideas of the original author the best. One of these terms is “crag,” meaning a cliff or rock gathering. The term is used when a boar is found caught “between a mere in the march and a menacing crag,” and is later slaughtered for food (1430). Another unfamiliar term that is used here is consort, which, in the context of the story, is a partnership. In the text, a group of men hunt for the boar “in consort closed on their prey,” meaning they closed in on the boar in perfect accord (1433). Hardihood, meaning courage or boldness, is also used by the translator to express how the boar braks down the hunters. The boar “had hurt so many by then; That none had hardihood; To be torn by his tusks again, That was brainsick, and out for blood,” until Bertilak comes to slay the wild pig (1577). These terms help to immerse the reader imaginatively into the Middle Ages in order for his imagination to run with the text. The use of symbols also deepens the text and brings it to a new level for further
interpretation by the reader. The only symbol that is evident in this passage is the symbol of the boar. Early on, when the men try to slay the boar, the boar refuses to be hurt or wounded. The arrows from the bows are not penetrating the boar’s hide, “though the shank of the shaft shivered in pieces, the head hopped away, wheresoever it struck,” (1458). The boar’s head could be juxtaposed with the Green Knight’s head from when it is cut off in King Arthur’s court of Camelot. The invincibility of the boar’s hide and the invincibility of the Green Knight could be paralleled with one another, and the fierceness and fearlessness of the boar match that of the Green Knight.
Sir Gawain’s stay at Bertilak of Hautdesert’s castle illustrates both Bertilak’s loyalty to Gawain and Gawain’s loyalty to Bertilak, even though in the next passage, Sir Gawain breaks that trust. The passage brings us character development of Sir Gawain, along with interesting word play to poetically continue the tale. The action, old terms, and symbolism all help describe the characters and the events of the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.