Fabric and Jewelery in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

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Erin Kilkenny

English Comp & Lit

Cathy Seigel

March 7, 2000

Sir Gawain Essay

In literature, insights into characters, places, and events are often communicated to the reader by symbolic references within the text. This is the case in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. In this Medieval romance, the colors and textures of fabrics and jewelry are used heavily by the poet not only as a descriptive tool, but also to give the reader information about the characters' personalities and roles within the story.

The narrative opens with a holiday feast in King Arthur's court. The richness of this setting is represented by the decorations surrounding Queen Guenevere described in lines 76-80. "With costly silk curtains, a canopy over,/ Of Toulouse and Turkestan tapestries rich/ All broidered and bordered with the best gems/ Ever brought into Britain, with bright pennies/ to pay." These lines also symbolize the queen's role in the poem of a stately symbol of chivalric Camelot and as a female ideal. In this setting women are all around, but Guenevere is positioned above them and is surrounded by expensive, beautiful things. She is clearly made superior.

The Green Knight then arrives at Arthur's court to pose a challenge for someone to cut off his head and to have the favor returned a year later. He and his horse are both entirely green and are clad in rich attire. The horse's saddle is described as follows, in lines 164-167: " About himself and his saddle, set upon silk,/ That to tell of the trifles would tax my wits,/ The butterflies and birds embroidered thereon/ In green of gayest, with many gold thread." The Green Knight's appearance makes his supernatural qualities apparent from the start, even before he is able to survive decapitation. Though his ornate clothing establishes him as a respectable knight, the fact that he is entirely green is not normal. Green is often associated with creepy, monstrous...