I. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Vol. I Ed. Stephen Greenblatt and M. H. Abrams. New York: Norton, 2006. 162-213.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a romantic poem from the Middles Ages. It is the story of one of King Arthur’s knights, Sir Gawain, who enters a game with the mysterious Green Knight. The game is an exchange of strokes with an axe, but the Green Knight states that a “twelvemonth and a day shall pass” (line 297) between the first stroke and the second stroke. The Green Knight states that “I shall bide the first blow” (290), therefore allowing Sir Gawain the first stroke. Sir Gawain strikes the Green Knight’s neck, beheading him, but the Green Knight does not die. The Green Knight lives and only asks that Sir Gawain keep his word and in one year’s time accept the stroke that the Green Knight is owed. The Green Knight leaves King Arthur’s court and as promised Sir Gawain will go on his quest in search of the Green Chapel where the Green Knight will await for Sir Gawain to finish the game.
When Gawain embarks on his quest, he is greeted with the cruel winter weather. In the midst of this he stumbles across a castle. Gawain seeks and is given refuge from the weather in this castle. The castle’s host is Bertilak, but his name is not given until the end of the poem. Bertilak gives Gawain shelter for three days. When Gawain realizes that it is almost time to meet the Green Knight, he tells Bertilak that he must leave because he still needs to search out the Green Chapel to meet the Green Knight. Bertilak eases Gawain’s worries by telling him that the Green Chapel “Is not two miles from here” (1078). He then offers Gawain to stay three more days with him and on the fourth he will have a guide escort him to the Green Chapel.
Bertilak also offers to play a game with Gawain for those three days Gawain stays at Bertilak’s castle. Every day that Gawain stays there at Bertilak’s castle they will do an exchange of earnings. Bertilak states “Whatever I win in the woods I will give you at eve, / And all you have earned you must offer to me” (1106-07). The conditions of the game seem pretty easy. The only obstacle for Gawain is Bertilak’s wife, whom attempts to seduce Gawain on all three days he is there. Gawain manages to keep his composure and remain true to Bertilak and not accept the queen’s advances. He does, however, receive kisses from the queen. When Gawain exchanges his earnings with Bertilak, he kisses him, returning his earnings from the castle by the queen. The third day he receives three kisses and a sash from the queen. The queen says about the sash that “if he bore it on his body, belted about, / There is no hand under heaven that could hew him down, / For he could not be killed by any craft on earth” (1852-54). This is the one thing Gawain does not give to Bertilak that he earned in the castle. Gawain then continues on the next day with his quest to meet the Green Knight.
When Gawain does finally meet up with the Green Knight at the Green Chapel, he is secretly wearing his sash from Bertilak’s queen for protection. Gawain and the Green Knight pick up where they left off on the game from a year ago. Gawain gets himself ready to be stricken, but when the Green Knight is preparing to strike, Gawain flinches. The Green Knight taunts him by saying “I moved not a muscle when you made to strike” (2274). Gawain prepares himself for a second strike, but the Green Knight stops himself short because this time Gawain does not flinch. The Green Knight takes his final stroke and only nicks Gawain on the neck. The game is over and the Green Knight reveals to Gawain why he did not cut his head off. The Green Knight is Bertilak, and he tested Gawain twice, once with the beheading game and a second time with the exchange of winnings game. The first strike he left Gawain untouched...