It is curious that Morgain should here be represented as extremely old, while Arthur is still in his first youth.
There is evidently a discrepancy or misunderstanding of the source here. A baldric of bright green, for sake of Sir Gawain. The later version connects this lace with that worn by the knights of the Bath; but this latter was white, not green. The knights wore it on the left shoulder till they had done some gallant deed, or till some noble lady took it off for them.
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There has been a considerable divergence of opinion among scholars on the question of authorship, but the view now generally accepted is that it is the work of the same hand as Pearl , another poem of considerable merit contained in the same MS. Our poem, or, to speak more correctly, metrical romance, contains over lines, and is composed in staves of varying length, ending in five short rhyming lines, technically known as a bob and a wheel,—the lines forming the body of the stave being not rhyming, but alliterative.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Tale ~ Legend Stories for Kids
The dialect in which it is written has been decided to be West Midland, probably Lancashire, and is by no means easy to understand. For that style, in spite of a certain roughness, unavoidable at a period in which the language was still in a partially developed and amorphous stage, is really charming.
Standards of taste vary with the age, but even judged by that of our own day the author of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight comes not all too badly out of the ordeal! The story with which the poem deals, too, has claims upon our interest. I have shown elsewhere 1 that the beheading challenge is an incident of very early occurrence in heroic legend, and that the particular form given to it in the English poem is especially interesting, corresponding as it does to the variations of the story as preserved in the oldest known version, that of the old Irish Fled Bricrend.
But in no other version is the incident coupled with that of a temptation and testing of the hero's honour and chastity, such as meets us here.
But there are certain points which may make us hesitate as to whether in its first conception the tale was really one of this class. It must be noted that here the lady is acting throughout with the knowledge and consent of the husband, an important point of difference. In the second place, it is very doubtful whether her entire attitude was not a ruse.
From the Green Knight's words to Gawain when he finally reveals himself, "I wot we shall soon make peace with my wife, who was thy bitter enemy," her conduct hardly seems to have been prompted by real passion. In my Studies on the Legend of Sir Gawain , already referred to, I have suggested that the character of the lady here is, perhaps, a reminiscence of that of the Queen of the Magic Castle or Isle, daughter or niece of an enchanter, who at an early stage of Gawain's story was undoubtedly his love. In most versions of the story she has dropped out altogether. It is, of course, possible that, there being but a confused reminiscence of the original tale, her share may have been modified by the influence of the Launfal group; but I should prefer to explain the episode on the whole as a somewhat distorted survival of an original feature.
Tag: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
But in any case we may be thankful for this, that the author of the most important English metrical romance dealing with Arthurian legend faithfully adheres to the original conception of Gawain's character, as drawn before the monkish lovers of edification laid their ruthless hands on his legend, and turned the model of knightly virtues and courtesy into a mere vulgar libertine.
Brave, chivalrous, loyally faithful to his plighted word, scrupulously heedful of his own and others' honour, Gawain stands before us in this poem. We take up Malory or Tennyson, and in spite of their charm of style, in spite of the halo of religious mysticism in which they have striven to enwrap their characters, we lay them down with a feeling of dissatisfaction.
How did the Gawain of their imagination, this empty-headed, empty-hearted worldling, cruel murderer, and treacherous friend, ever come to be the typical English hero? For such Gawain certainly was, even more than Arthur himself.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Then we turn back to these faded pages, and read the quaintly earnest words in which the old writer reveals the hidden meaning of that mystic symbol, the pentangle, and vindicates Gawain's title to claim it as his badge—and we smile, perhaps, but we cease to wonder at the widespread popularity of King Arthur's famous nephew, or at the immense body of romance that claims him as its hero. Scholars know all this, of course; they can read the poem for themselves in its original rough and intricate phraseology; perhaps they will be shocked at an attempt to handle it in simpler form.
This may seem obvious; however, until this point in the poem, no one else has been named except for the great warriors of Troy. He is not named among other kings, nor even among his knights, and no one else is mentioned by name for another fifty lines. By so prominently naming King Arthur in the opening of the poem, the author raises him, and therefore his court, to the ranks of Aeneas and Brutus. Her translation of lines three and four, for example, significantly alter the original and give them almost an entirely new meaning.
This motif is made clear throughout the poem, but having it right at the very beginning lends significance to it, and in translating it this way, she takes away that significance. She also takes a lot of liberty in the third line in order to make it alliterative. Although in this case it ultimately has more or less the same meaning as the original, it is a clear demonstration of the way in which she favors the alliterative style over the actual content of the poem. In the morning, Bertilak goes off to hunt, and suggests something relatively bizarre: that he will give Gawain whatever he kills that day if Gawain gives him whatever he himself gets while Bertilak is away.
Knights are pretty much always making nonsense deals, as it turns out. While Bertilak is off hunting, his wife comes in and tries to seduce Gawain.
He resists, but she kisses him a single time. On the third day, the day before Gawain must face the Green Knight, the Lady Bertilak offers him not just a kiss but her magical girdle, which she says is enchanted to protect the wearer from all harm.
Facing down his certain death, Gawain can not refuse. She also gives him three kisses. When Bertilak comes home, Gawain dutifully gives him the kisses, but keeps the girdle for himself. In the morning, Gawain rides off the face the Green Knight. He exposes his neck. The Green Knight swings, but pulls away.