Symbolism is a literary technique used in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight to give a deeper significance to the plot. The poem is littered with symbolisms. The symbols juxtapose one another and provide structure and symmetry within the story. The symbolisms also have specific historical context that adds to the story line and influences how the reader interprets the poem. Sir Gawain’s pentangle on his shield and the acceptance of the girdle from Lord Bertilak’s lady are two of the most prominent symbols presented to us in this author's tale.
The pentangle painted in pure gold on Sir Gawain’s shield and embroidered on
his shawl can be seen as a symbol of Gawain’s perfection and power over evil. According to Garald Morgan, “Gawain’s courtesy is associated with his virtue in the symbolic device of the pentangle in his shield.” (Morgan 770) The poet uses 46 lines to describe the meaning of the pentangle. No other symbol in the poem is described in such detail. Such a long explanation seems out of place in a poem full of fast-paced action, beheadings and temptations. The narrator acknowledges this but proceeds to delve into his description after establishing a disclaimer: “And why the pentangle was appropriate to that prince I intend now to say, though it will stall our story.” (Armitage 623-4) This passage alerts the reader to pay attention; the symbolic meaning of the pentangle is important to a proper understanding of the narrator's message.
The poet illustrates the pentangle as a symbol of faithfulness and an “endless knot” saying, “It suits this soldier in his spotless armor/fully faithful in five ways five times over.” (Armitage 631) The five points of the pentangle represent five virtues attributed to Gawain. Gawain's life at this point is the perfect application of the virtues the pentangle signifies. The poet states, “the figure is a five-pointed star and each line overlaps and links with the... [continues]
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