Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
A knight rides into the hall dressed entirely in green. The knight is large, well- dressed, and imposing, but he does not wear armor nor carry a shield. Rather, he holds some holly in one hand and a huge ax in the other. The Green Knight, without first introducing himself, demands to speak with whoever is the head of the court. King Arthur answers the Green Knight’s call to the head of the company and asks him to dismount and eat. However, the Knight refuses, saying that he does not intend to stay. He tells Arthur that his court is reputed to be the best and worthiest in the land, and so he has come there with a challenge. He says that he has not come in war, as proved by his lack of armor, but rather to propose a challenge. He will allow someone to strike him with his ax, as long as they agree to find him in one year to accept the return blow.
The Green Knight looks around to see if anyone will accept his challenge, and he begins to taunt and laugh at the knights. King Arthur is enraged at the stranger’s laughter, and he stands up to accept the challenge. He takes the ax, and the Green Knight dismounts and prepares for the blow.
However, before Arthur can strike the blow, Sir Gawain speaks up, asking if he can replace the King in this game because he does not think the King should take the responsibility upon himself. The court agrees to let Gawain take the challenge, and the King blesses him. Gawain goes to the Green Knight, who asks his name and then accepts him as the challenger. Gawain asks the Knight where he will find him in a year, and the Knight tells him that he will learn after he takes his strike.
The Green Knight bows his head, baring his neck for the blow, and Gawain swings the ax and chops off the Knight’s head. The head falls to the floor and rolls around the hall, but the Green Knight picks up his head and mounts his horse. He turns the head toward Gawain and tells him to seek him at the Green Chapel next New Year’s Day. He rides away, and Gawain and Arthur hang up the ax and finish their feast.
In November of the next year , Gawain rides all around Arthur’s kingdom searching for the Green Chapel, but no one he asks has ever heard of it or of the Green Knight. The weather grows colder as Gawain continues to ride until Christmas Eve. Gawain prays for God to help him find shelter. He thanks God and rides up to the castle, where the lord and his wife greet him.
Gawain stays there three days, wakes early in the morning on the third day and dresses himself in his armor. He wraps the girdle from the lady of the house around himself for protection and departs from the castle, thanking the Lord of the house and commending him to God. The Lord provides Gawain with a guide to lead him to the Green Chapel, and the guide leads him to a hilltop.
When they arrive, the guide tries to persuade Gawain to leave, telling him that the knight of the Green Chapel is fierce and deadly, and that he kills every man he meets. He tells Gawain that he will swear not to say a word to anyone about what happened, but Gawain merely thanks him and tells him that he must continue with his quest. Seeing that he will not be convinced, the guide leaves Gawain, wishing him luck.
Gawain follows the guide’s directions, which lead him to a knoll near a stream. He hears a loud noise coming from behind a rock, like a grindstone, and starts to fear for his life. He continues to trust in God and stands his ground. Gawain calls out to see if anyone is there, and the Green Knight answers him, saying that he will shortly give him what he promised. The Knight works a little longer at his grindstone then comes out carrying a long-bladed ax. He praises Gawain for keeping their bargain. Gawain tells the Green Knight that he will not begrudge his one stroke, and he bends down and offers his neck in preparation for the blow.
As Gawain kneels down, the Green Knight swings his ax above his head to deliver the blow. Gawain looks up at the ax and flinches slightly, and the Knight stops in the middle of his stroke. He chastises Gawain for flinching, reminding Gawain that he did not move when Gawain chopped off his head. Gawain tells him to strike again, and promises not flinch.
The Knight swings the ax again and this time Gawain does not move; however, the Knight once again turns the ax aside before it reaches Gawain. The Knight once again begins to mock Gawain, telling him that he can now perform the real strike, since Gawain has his nerve back. Gawain gets angry with the Knight, telling him to stop his threats. The Knight swings one more time, and this time he lets the ax brush Gawain’ s neck, giving him a small scratch on one side.
Gawain jumps up and tells the Green Knight that their bargain is fulfilled; he has borne one stroke, and if the Knight makes another move, Gawain promises to answer it. The Knight puts his ax down and tells Gawain that the first two blows were for the first two days, when Gawain kept his promise to the Lord of the castle. The third blow was for the third day, when Gawain failed to return to the lord the girdle that he got from the lady. With that, the Green Knight reveals that he is the Lord of the castle and that his wife’s wooing was all planned. However, he tells Gawain that his wife is completely to blame and that Gawain is forgiven for his failing. The lord invites Gawain to come back to his castle and feast, but Gawain tells him that he will return to Arthur’s court immediately. The lord gives Gawain the girdle, which Gawain wants to keep reminding himself of his shame.
In a different translation, I noted that Gawain was given a feast by Arthur to honor Gawain before his departure. Many noble knights come to pay their respects to Gawain, and they hide their sorrow at Gawain’s fate.
In reference to the Lady of the house, the Literature book doesn’t specify that the woman tempted Gawain the first two days he was there. She kissed him twice on the first two days, but the during the third, and final attempt to seduce Gawain, she persuades him to accept her girdle, which she convinces him will protect his life.
3 The Literature book doesn’t really even mention any actions that the guide made with Gawain, but in a different translation, I found that the guide was actually a sort of test for Gawain: A test of bravery.
4 Before he goes, Gawain asks the Lord to tell him his name. The Lord tells him that he is called Bercilak, and he also tells him that he holds his castle through the help of Morgan le Faye, a sorceress who is Arthur’s half-sister. Bercilak tells Gawain that Morgan designed the scheme of the Green Knight to staunch the pride of Arthur and his knights.