The Theme of Games in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
The theme of games plays a very important role in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. In fact, much of the action that takes place in this story revolves around the playing of various “games.” When one thinks of the word “games,” there are several thoughts that may come to mind. Sports, board games, and card games are all types of games that society today might be familiar with. The author of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight uses different kinds of games than the ones mentioned above. In the time of Sir Arthur and his court, the word “game” wasn’t as strongly associated with something pleasurable as it was meant to test one’s worthiness. When the Green Knight enters Arthur’s court and announces that he has come to ask “ a Christmas game,” he has not come to play cards or scrabble, but instead has come to test the worthiness of someone in the court. “The "game" of exchanging gifts was very common in Germanic culture. If a man received a gift, he was obliged to provide the giver with a better gift or risk losing his honor, almost like an exchange of blows in a fight, or in a "beheading game" (Harwood). Many other games are involved in the plot of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Throughout the third section of the poem for example, we see Gawain's host's wife play games with Gawain. Gawain views his arrangement of trading with his host as a game (line 1380). Even from the beginning, the Knight plays a game of sorts with Arthur’s court by criticizing and almost taunting the court for failing to live up to its reputation: "What, is this Arthur's house," said that horseman then,
"Whose fame is so fair in far realms and wide?
Where is now your arrogance and your awesome deeds,
your valor and your victories and your vaunting words?" (lines 308-311)
Eventually the reader discovers all of the events of the story are a game of Arthur's sister, Morgan Le Fay. Throughout the telling of the story it becomes...
Cited: 1. Harwood, Britton J. "Gawain and the Gift," PMLA 106.3 (1991) pp. 483–99.
2. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Sixth Edition, Volume One. General Ed. M.H. Abrams. New York: Norton, 1993.
3. Bennett, Michael J. "The Historical Background" in A Companion to the Gawain-Poet. Derek Brewer and Jonathan Gibson, editors. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1997. pp. 71-90
4. Putter, Ad. An Introduction to the Gawain-poet. New York: Addison Wesley Longman, 1996.
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