The anonymous poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is regarded as one of Middle English literature's classics. It was written during the end of the 14th century in the West Midlands region of Britain, but it was not copied until the beginning of the 15th. The original has been lost, so all later copies are derivative works.
It has been suggested that the poet who wrote the poem was also the author of the Pearl Poetical Chronicle, but this claim is uncertain. Although both poems deal with the same historical figure, they are not by the same writer. The Gawain poet is thought to have been well-versed in chivalric tradition and likely belonged to a wealthy family. He may even have lived at the court of some English king, although no evidence for this has yet emerged.
The poem was probably intended for public performance before an audience of listeners. It contains words and phrases typical of the time such as "cry aloud", "alas!", and "fie on!".
These are often followed by quotations from classical or medieval sources, indicating that it was known how to appeal to an audience that included people who did not know English. For example, when Gawain encounters a group of pilgrims they ask him about a shrine dedicated to Saint Katherine where she used to be crowned queen of Aragon.
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 Knight 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 poetry, each of which finishes in a rhyming bob and wheel. The poem was probably composed by Robert de Boron, who may have drawn on an earlier version called Sir Gawain and the Green Chapel.
Boron's work was influential on later poets such as William Langland and Thomas Malory. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was popular throughout the early modern period, and many editions were published between 1450 and 1540. The story survives in just one other manuscript, known as the Rawlinson B 502 copy made in 1425. This is thought to be the first complete edition of the poem, since it includes material that wasn't included in previous versions.
In the poem, King Arthur's nephew Gawain travels from court to court seeking adventure and testing his skills at arms. At each stop, he encounters a challenge: to reach the end of a list of locations while using only his sword, his spear, his bow, and his arrows. If he manages this, then he will be awarded the hand of a mysterious lady.
When Gawain arrives at Lancelot's castle, the knight refuses to help him until he has heard of his deeds.
Sir Gawain, the poem's protagonist, is the major individual whose essential character development serves as the work's emphasis. At the beginning of the poem, he is an ardent, cheerful, and devoted knight who accepts the Green Knight's challenge to guard Arthur and preserve Camelot's reputation. By the poem's end, however, Gawain has been deeply wounded by the experience and changed forever by his involvement with the Green Knight and Lady Guinevere.
Gawain is a noble knight who belongs to the Round Table at King Arthur's court. He has earned the love and respect of everyone there through his courage and kindness. But now that he has been summoned to protect the king from a mysterious green knight at a tournament held annually at Carlisle, Gawain is afraid that the contest will destroy him just like the previous ones did. Despite this, he goes to Carlisle in hope of winning Guinevere's heart after she has already married another man. When the time comes for him to face off against the Green Knight, however, Gawain is unable to fight because he is too scared. The Green Knight defeats him anyway and takes him to Nimue's cave, where he forces Gawain to watch as he rapes and murders Guinevere. After this incident, Gawain decides to retire from court life and travel across Europe seeking forgiveness from those he has wronged.
The Green Knight and Sir Gawain Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Sir Gawayn and the Green Knight in Middle English) is a late 14th-century Middle English chivalric tale. It is one of the most well-known Arthurian romances, with a storyline that combines two traditional motifs: the beheading game and the exchange of rewards. The work also contains references to figures from Anglo-Saxon history and literature.
It begins with an unnamed knight being challenged by a figure called the Green Knight to a trial by single combat. The Green Knight claims that he has been sent by King Arthur himself, who wishes for the knight to prove his valor by fighting him. When the knight refuses, the Green Knight disappears. Later that night the knight hears noises outside his castle chamber and finds the Green Knight inside his bedchamber. After a brief battle, the Green Knight defeats the knight and takes his sword, which emits smoke as it dies. The Green Knight then goes into a nearby forest and returns with a green war horse. On this horse the Green Knight carries the defeated knight back to his castle, where the knight's wife treats him with pity. She tells her husband that if he wants to see him alive again, he must go to the Green Chapel in Wales within three days or else the Green Knight will kill him.
The story ends with the knight leaving his castle to seek King Arthur's help against the Green Knight. When he arrives at the king's court, he finds that everyone there believes him to be dead.