It is a verse-romance of 2,530 lines, derived from Celtic legends.
Major Characters :
- Gawain – Bravest of King Arthur’s knights
- Green Knight – creature appears at King Arthur’s Christmas feast
- Bertilak of Hautdesert – Gawain’s host at castle
- Lady of Hautdesert – Lady of the castle / Wife of Bertilak
- The guide – Bertilak’s servant
- King Arthur – King of the Britons / Gawain’s uncle / Morgan’s half-brother
- Morgan le Fay – Gawain’s aunt / Arthur’s half-sister
- Guenevere – Arthur’s queen
Here is the story:
On a New Year’s Eve, King Arthur and his knights are holding a feast for the arrival of the New Year. A giant dressed in green enters the banquet hall on horseback with a battle-axe in his hand. This big man comes to challenge any knight in the hall to give him a blow with the battle-axe. The condition is that a return stroke be permitted a year later at the Green Chapel. No knight in the hall dares to accept the challenge. Seeing this, the King feels ashamed and angry, and he stands up and wants to accept the challenge himself.
Just then, the King’s nephew Gawain stands up and he takes up the challenge. With one blow he sends the giant’s head rolling through the floor of the hall. But the Green Knight, who is evidently a terrible magician, does not fall and die. He picks up his head and mounts his horse. He holds out his head and the ghastly lips warn Gawain to be faithful to his promise and to seek through the world till he finds the Green Chapel, where on the next New Year’s Day, the Green Knight will meet him and return the blow.
A year has passed. Sir Gawain leaves his uncle to look for the Green Chapel and the Green Knight. He goes through a lot of hardships and adventures on the way. But he cannot find the chapel or the knight.
On the Christmas Day, he loses his way in a forest. Then he kneels down to pray to Mary for help. After the prayers, a great castle appears on the hill before him. He goes up to the castle and is warmly entertained by the host and hostess. Gawain is told that the Green Chapel is not far away. And he is asked to have a three-day rest in the castle.
Gawain stays there for three days. The host makes a compact with him. According to the compact, the host goes out hunting each day, and Gawain stays in the castle to entertain the beautiful hostess. In the evening they should exchange what they have got during the day.
On the first day, the host goes hunting, and Gawain stays in the castle. The beautiful hostess tries to tempt him to make love with her, but is refused by Gawain. Then she gives Gawain a kiss. When the host returns in the evening, he gives his guest the game he killed, and Gawain gives him the kiss he got from the lady. On the second day, Gawain also receives a kiss from the hostess, and he gives it back to the host when he comes back. On the third day, the lady not only gives Gawain a kiss but also offers him a ring. Gawain refuses to accept the ring. Then the hostess wants him to accept a magic green girdle and tells him that the girdle will protect him from any injury if he wears it. Gawain accepts the girdle and promises to the lady not to tell anybody about it. When the host comes back in the evening, Gawain only gives back the kiss he got from the hostess but he does not say anything about the girdle.
Three days later, the host takes Gawain to the Green Chapel. As soon as they get there, the host disappears and Gawain is left alone. He finds that the chapel is a terrible place. When he approaches it, he hears a terrifying sound. Obviously the green giant is sharpening his new axe. Then the Green Knight comes out from the chapel with an axe, and Gawain offers his neck for his blow. Twice he is not injured at all, and the third blow of the axe falling upon his shoulder gives him a slight wound.
Then the Green Knight tells Sir Gawain that he is none other than the host of the Castle where Gawain stayed for three days. He says to Gawain that the first two blows of the axe did not injure Gawain because he was true to the compact and twice returned the kiss. The last blow wounded him because he concealed the green girdle. Full of shame, Gawain throws back the girdle and is ready to atone for his deception. But the Green Knight thinks that he has already atoned, so he lets Gawain keep the girdle as a gift from him.
When Gawain comes back to his kingdom, his story becomes widely known. In order to let his knights remember this shameful thing and draw a lesson from it, King Arthur gives a command to his knights that each of them wears a green girdle.
This romance is one of the most delightful old romances in any language. In form, it is an interesting combination of French and Saxon elements. It is written in an elaborate stanza combining metre and alliteration. At the end of each stanza there is a rhymed refrain.
Practice Questions :
Q1. When was Sir Gawain and the Green Knight written?
Q2. The author of the poem is often referred to as what?
a) The Ruby Poet
b) The Sapphire Poet
c) The Pearl Poet
d) The Diamond Poet
Q3. The poem is composed of how many stanzas?
Q4. What is the name of the short line followed by four longer rhymed lines which appear after an irregular number of un-rhymed lines in the text?
a) The hook-and-round technique
b) The dip-and-sweep technique
c) The squat-and-helm technique
d) The bob-and-wheel technique
Q5. The poem is a verse romance. How would you define this genre?
a) A Middle-English alliterative romance
b) A romantic work in rhymed verse
c) A religious work in unrhymed verse
d) A romantic work in a Romance language
Q6. What type of hero is Sir Gawain?
Q7. The tale is told in the third person, except when the narrator describes events from his own perspective. What is this technique called?
a) The eyewitness technique
b) The separation technique
c) The bystander technique
d) The partition technique
Q8. At the start of the tale, which place and time are described?
a) Glastonbury in Summer
b) Stonehenge at Easter
c) Bath in Autumn
d) Camelot at Christmas
Q9. With which device does the poet exaggerate the Green Knight’s features?
Q10. How does the Green Knight offend King Arthur when he first enters the hall?
a) By asking who the King is
b) By sitting on his throne
c) By eating from his plate
d) By declaring his love for Queen Guinevere
Q11. Which two colours does the Green Knight wear?
a) Green and blue
b) Green and gold
c) Green and red
d) Green and silver
Q12. Why does the Green Knight have the right to criticise the fact that King Arthur’s knights are not fulfilling their duties?
a) Because of his age
b) Because of his family’s connections
c) Because he is a knight
d) Because he has supernatural powers
Q13. What is the Green Knight’s objective in proposing the Beheading Game?
a) To reveal the true nature of knighthood
b) To win Guinevere’s hand in marriage
c) To become King of England
d) To gain fame and riches
Q14. After Sir Gawain chops off the Green Knight’s head with the axe, what happens?
a) The Green Knight picks up his severed head and reminds Gawain to find him in a year and a day at the Green Chapel
b) The Green Knight bleeds to death and King Arthur orders his knights to carry away his body as a mark of respect
c) Sir Gawain flees the hall in a fit of guilt, shocked at his own strength
d) Sir Gawain picks up the Green Knight’s severed head and places it on the table in front of King Arthur
Q15. Which of these is not a virtue of the pentangle on Sir Gawain’s shield?
Q16. When does Gawain prepare to leave Camelot and find the Green Knight?
a) On New Year’s Day
b) On All Saints’ Day
c) On Easter Sunday
d) On his birthday
Q17. During his search, Gawain rides through the Northwest of England on a horse called what?
Q18. What do Gawain and Lord Bertilak exchange on the second day of the chastity test?
a) Two kisses for a green girdle
b) Two kisses for a wild boar’s head
c) Two rings ring for the skin of a fox
d) Two kisses for a herd of deer
Q19. What does Lady Bertilak tell Sir Gawain about the green girdle?
a) That it will protect whoever wears it from death
b) That it will match his outfit perfectly
c) That whoever wears it will be irresistible to women
d) That whoever wears it will be able to see into the future
Q20. What does the guide tell Sir Gawain before leaving him at the border of the forest on New Year’s Day?
a) That Lord Bertilak is really the Green Knight
b) That he will not tell anyone if he decides to quit the game
c) That Lady Bertilak was lying about the green girdle
d) That he should return to see King Arthur as soon as possible
Q21. What sound confirms Gawain’s suspicions that he has reached the Green Chapel?
a) Chapel bells
b) A scythe against a grindstone
c) A choir singing
d) The Green Knight’s voice
Q22. The Green Knight draws blood from Sir Gawain’s neck on which strike?
a) The first
b) The second
c) The third
d) None of the above
Q23. Who is Morgan le Faye (the old lady at Lord Bertilak’s castle)?
a) Gawain’s aunt and King Arthur’s half sister
b) Gawain’s grandmother and King Arthur’s mother
c) Gawain’s aunt and King Arthur’s cousin
d) Gawain’s half sister and King Arthur’s aunt
Q24. When Sir Gawain realises that he has failed the Green Knight’s test, what does he view the green girdle as a symbol of?
Q25. Why do the castle characters remain nameless until the end of the piece?
a) They are less important than the Camelot characters
b) The narrator does not know what they are called
c) They function as abstract elements of change and represent nobility at large
d) They are figments of Sir Gawain’s imagination
Q26. How do Arthur and his court react to Gawain’s sin?
a) They think of him as a failure for showing weakness
b) They blame him for taking up the challenge in the first place
c) They understand that Gawain acted through self-preservation
d) They patronise him and turn the girdle into a fashion statement
Q27. Whose reaction to Gawain’s sin is the most rational?
c) The Green Knight
d) Morgan le Faye
Q28. Which of these characteristics of the text clearly differentiates it from Beowulf?
a) More sophisticated moral foundations
b) Women as powerful instruments of change
c) The use of Middle English
d) All of the above
Q29. Which of the following time brackets comprises the Anglo-Norman period in England?
Q30. Which of the following does not characterise the hero’s quest in medieval literature?
a) His journey towards a goal
b) His tragic flaw
c) His cowardice in battle
d) His code of conduct