The manuscript date provides the most recent plausible date for the poem: the late fourteenth century. According to Francis Ingledew, the Order of the Garter motto, which occurs after the conclusion of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, suggests a composition date as early as 1348. The poet may have been a member of this prestigious military order.
However, earlier dates are also possible, since the earliest surviving copy of the poem (now in the British Library) was copied around 1410. It is thought that the original work may have been written as early as 1330 and as late as 1363. A version of the poem probably existed in the writer's mind before it was finally composed between 1370 and 1400. However, there are elements in the text that suggest that it was completed later, possibly after 1410. For example, one passage seems to refer to the arrival of a group of pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem, which took place in 1272. This could imply that the poem was finished after this date but an earlier completion date cannot be ruled out.
The poet himself may have been aware of this fact since he includes in his work the name of his wife, Dame Eleanor de Bohon. She died in 1374 so they would have been married by then. They had three children together, two boys and a girl. The boy who survived past infancy was named Henry.
The Green Knight and Sir Gawain
|First page of only surviving manuscript, circa 14th century.|
|Author||Gawain Poet (anonymous)|
|Country||Kingdom of England|
|Genre||Poem, chivalric romance, Arthurian and alliterative verse.|
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Sir Gawayn and the Green Knyyt in Middle English) is a late 14th-century Middle English chivalric tale. It draws on Welsh, Irish, and English legends, as well as the French chivalric heritage, and is written in stanzas of alliterative rhyme, each ending in a rhyming bob and wheel. The poem was probably composed in England, perhaps by members of the Percy family, but may have been based on an earlier work.
Stanzas 1-20 are an introduction to the story of Sir Gawain, who is summoned by King Arthur's nephew, Mordred, to join him in battle against King Arthur himself. After being defeated by Mordred, Gawain decides to avoid further conflict and retire from war. Stanzas 21-40 detail Gawain's transformation into a hermit and his meeting with a green knight who challenges him to a trial by combat. If Gawain defeats the green knight, he will be granted any request for a gift. Gawain asks for the hand of the green knight's wife, but when the knight refuses him, he decides to go ahead with the trial anyway. At the end of the stanza, it is not clear whether or not Gawain has been victorious so the poet inserts a brief interlude which tells us that Gawain did defeat the green knight and takes him before King Arthur to answer his challenge.
Verse structure The 2,530 lines and 101 stanzas that comprise Sir Gawain and the Green Knight are written in the 14th century style known as "Alliterative Revival." This is one of the two major medieval poetic traditions, the other being Chanson de Roland. It was first practiced by members of the aristocracy who wished to distinguish their work from that of the common people.
What is unique about Sir Gawain and the Green Knight? In addition to its alliterative structure and medieval setting, it is also distinguished by its use of imagery that includes green colors and knights adventures. These qualities make it a great example of the Alliterative Revival.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight concerns the adventures of King Arthur's nephew, Gawain. After the death of his uncle, Arthur, Gawain seeks to win new lands for the kingdom of England. In order to do so, he must overcome five challenges presented to him by the Green Knight, a mysterious figure who only talks with Gawain through a piece of poetry called a "prologue."
Although written in prose, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is set in the late 11th century during the reign of King Arthur. As such, it is one of the earliest works of fiction ever written in English.
The narrative is about Sir Gawain, one of King Arthur's knights, and the mysterious Green Knight, as the poem's title indicates. Between the two characters are aspects of chivalric romance such as knightly acts, seduction and temptation, and untamed settings. The poem also alludes to historical events such as the Battle of Hastings.
Gawain is described as a "knight of royal blood". He is based on real-life French king Arthur. The original poem tells us that Gawain was "young and lusty" when he first met the Green Knight. However, an older and more experienced King Arthur had been fighting men during his reign so it is possible that Gawain is based on him rather than another person. There are also references to earlier kings that could apply to Arthur if they are meant to be individuals rather than just names for groups of people. For example, one passage refers to a king who died "a wretched death", which could be a reference to Edward II of England who was imprisoned and then killed by his cousin Henry IV of France.
Gawain's family belongs to the House of Cornouaille, which is found in present-day Brittany. This means that they are related to the Kings and Queens of Cornwall. Gawain himself was born into a wealthy family with land of their own.