Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Passage Explication (928 -1207)
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- Length: 1508 words (4.3 double-spaced pages)
- Rating: Excellent
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was written in the fourteenth century by an anonymous contemporary of Geoffrey Chaucer. It is a tale of bravery, adventure, and coming of age. This is the ballad of Sir Gawain, one of King Arthur's knights, who is challenged to seek the green knight whose head he chopped off during the Arthur's Christmas dinner. The Modern English translation by Marie Boroff (1967) makes the poem easier to read and understand. The passage that is explicated is between lines 298 and 1207 in the Modern English translation. In the passage, Gawain, after feasting with the host, finally gets to meet the lady of the Bercilak. He is also introduced to Morgan le Faye, Arthur's evil half-sister, who is disguised as an older woman. Sir Bercilak, the host of the castle tells Gawain that he knows the location of the green chapel, and has Gawain play a game with. All throughout the passage different clues are given that the aforementioned castle has unusual abnormalities, but Gawain choses not to ponder about their significance. If Gawain thought about unusual things that were happening in the castle, he could have avoided his future ebarrasment and cut on the neck.
In the beginning of the passsage Gawain finally gets to meet the lady of Bercilak, in the chapel on Christmas day. The entrance of the lady is very ceremonial; she is led in by an older, less attractive woman, Morgan le Faye, who Gawain failks to recognize. The text describes the clothes that the lady wears and contasts her beauty with the ugliness of her companion.
But unlike to look upon, those ladies were, for if the one was fresh, the other was faded: bedecked in bright red was the body of one; flesh hung in folds on the face of the other; on one a high headdress, hung all in pearls; her bright throat and bosom fair to behold, fresh as the first snow fallen upon hills; a wimple the other one wore rounded her throat; her swart chin well swaddled swathed all in white; her forehead enfolded in flounces of silk that fraimed a fair fillet, of fashion ornate, and nothing bare beneath save the black brows, the two eyes and the nose, the naked lips, and they unsightly to see, and sorrily bleared. A beldame, by God, she may well be deemed of pride! (Norton 178)
In this quotation, the two ladies are compared, one as being very beautiful and the other as being very old and ugly. The young lady has glowing white skin and is dressed to flatter her body, while the other has wrinkles and is robed from head to toe. As soon as Gawain meets the lady, he is instantly attracted to her; he even thinks that she "excelled the queen herself" (Norton 178). Although the older woman is loathesome, she has a very esteemed seat in the house, which seems to be a strange position of power and respect for her to have. After Morgan Le Faye leads the lady to Gawain and Sir Bercilak, she takes her seat on the right of Bercilak, up on the pedestal with royalty. Coincidently, Gawain is seated next to the young lady. The lady of Bercilak and Gawain are flirtatious through the Christmas dinner: "When Gawain has gazed on that gay lady, with leave of her lord, he politely approached…the lovelier he salutes with a light embrace. He claims a comely kiss…" (Norton 178). Gawain coyly kisses the young lady as an introduction. Clearly, the older woman plays a large part in the running of the castle, but Gawain shallowly ignores her significance and does not wonder who she is.
After celebrating for a few days, Gawain decides that he needs to get back on the road. When he mentions to Sir Bercilak that he must depart, Bercilak begs him to stay, telling him that he knows where the green chapel is and he will have Gawain be taken there. Gawain happily agrees to stay, but Sir Bercilak insists that he participates in an odd game: when Sir Barcilak goes hunting, he will give Gawain everything he killed during the hunt in exchange for whatever Gawain had received while Bercilak was hunting. Gawain rashly agrees, not knowing what to expect:
And Gawain,"said good host."agree now to this: whatever I win in the woods I will give you at eve, and all you have earned you must offer to me; swear now, sweet friend, to swap as I say, whether hand, in the end, be empty or better." (Norton 181)
In this quotation Sir Barcilak is explaining the pact to Gawain. At this point Gawain should have enough information about Sir Barcilak to notice something suspicious. Not only does the he tell Gawain that he knows where the green chapel is, he also challenges him to another game of exchange, similar to the one Gawain agreed to with the Green Knight. This should set off some kind of a suspicion on Gawain's part, but he acts naïve to the surrounding events, and agrees to the game once again.
Bercilakl's first hunt is for a deer. There's a confusion in the text, where it describes it as a crime to kill a buck in that season, but later in the text, when the butchering of the deer is described, the antlers of the deer are pictured cut off. If the hunt is on a doe, does are not supposed to have antlers. It is possible for a female deer to have antlers but the chance of that hapenning is very slim. Edward Golden a biologist for the Western Region of the Wildlife and Heritage Service of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources reports: "Antlers can also be found on female deer. Normally the doe has spikes that remain in velvet. This occurs in one to every 20 thousand deer." The only species of deer in of which a doe has antlers is the raindeer. Since the setting of the story is clearly on the British isles, where raindeer do not naturally reside, the chance to kill a doe with antlers is very slim. It implies a mystery of the castle and the forest around where Sir Bercilak could have such an incredible luck to kill an antlered doe. Perhaps this is an author's mistake, he could have forgotten the previous statement and contridicted himself or got very enthusiastic while writng the butchering part. Also, it could an indicator that Sir Bercilak is commiting a sin, and on purpose kills a buck, to hint something to Gawain. When Gawain accepts the deer he doesn't pay attention to the cut-off antlers, and once again fails to think about it.
While Sir Bercilak is hunting the story progresses to the last scene of the passage where Gawain is awakened by the lady of Bercilak in his room. "…And she stepped stealthily, and stole to his bed, cast aside the curtain and came within, and set herself softly on the bedside there, and ligered at her leasure, to look on his waking." (Norton 183) Gawain sees her coming in and pretended to be sleeping because he does not know how to act with her being in his room at his bedside. When a woman intrudes into a room like that means that she wants to do something dishonorable she is going to tempt Gawain. Now this is another clue hat Gawain fails to recognize. He never questions how come all of a sudden, the night right after he agrees to the game with Sir Barcilak, the lady Bercilak appears in his bedroon on the first day of the hunt. Gawain finds himself exteremly uncomfortable and also tempted. Although Gawain keeps his proper conduct, he is challenged not to give in. Have Gawain noticed this unusual behavior earlier he could have avoided the cut on his neck.
All thoughout the passage Gawain is giving obvious clues about the Green Knight. Ironically the reader is able to pick them out better than Gawain. Gawain is very naïve in the sence that he is not suspicious of the people around him. Although he keeps his honor and he is brave throughout the story, he acts childishly toward the events that could have made his life easier of he realized the clues earlier. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a story of coming of age, Gawain learns from his mistakes and hopefully becomes more aware of his surroundings.
Abrams, et al. "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight." The Norton Anthology of English Literature, vol. 1, 7th ed. NY: W.W Norton & Company, 1999.
Finney, Dee. "King Arthur and The Holy Grail." 23 March 2004. http://www.greatdreams.com/arthur.htm
Golden, Edward. Antlers Tell Much About Deer. Maryland Department of Natural Resources Wildlife and Heritage Service. 28 April 2004. http://www.dnr.state.md.us/wildlife/antlers.html
Haskell, Merrie. "Marrie Haskell's King Arthur Page. University of Michigan. 23 March 2004. http://www-personal.umich.edu/~merrie/Arthur/
King Arthur: A Man for the Ages. 23 March 2004. http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/4186/Arthur/htmlpages/kingarthur.html