Bree T's Reviews > Sir Gawain and The Green Knight

Sir Gawain and The Green Knight by Unknown
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's review
Jun 17, 2011

it was ok
bookshelves: classic, historical-fiction, university-text
Read on June 11, 2011 — I own a copy

It’s New Year at the Round Table and there’s a raucous celebration going on. King Arthur, portrayed as a fun, courteous and excellent host is holding a feast for the knights and everyone is enjoying themselves when a Green Knight rides on. He’s completely green – not just his armour. His face, hair, horse etc – all green. He’s bordering on insulting as he greets the Court and proposes a game – he will submit to one stroke from the large axe he’s carrying if the giver of that stroke agrees to track him down in a year and accept a return identical stroke. King Arthur makes to accept the challenge but before he can, his nephew Sir Gawain steps in and says that such a challenge is beneath the King and that he will accept in his place, for he is younger and not so important and his loss (if it happens) will not be such a great one. So the Court watch as the Green Knight hands Sir Gawain his axe and stands still. Sir Gawain beheads the Green Knight in one stroke (we get a delightful description of how much blood there was here) and is feeling rather proud of himself for avoiding a return stroke when all of a sudden the Green Knight picks up his head, reminds Sir Gawain of their appointment a year’s hence and then rides off.

So a year passes and then Sir Gawain must undertake his Quest to find the Green Church which is apparently where the Green Knight will be. It takes some time and he has almost given up, when, somewhere in Wales, he comes across a grand castle-type place. He asks for food and shelter and is received graciously by the host Lord Bertilak and enjoys days of festivities and feasting. He explains his search to his host who assures Sir Gawain that he knows the place that he is seeking and that Sir Gawain should say on until the appointed time. Sir Gawain agrees and he and his host have a playful game where the host, who is going hunting for 3 days, will turn over his days winnings to Sir Gawain if Sir Gawain will do the same. Lord Bertilak’s wife is trying to seduce Sir Gawain and on the 3 days the Lord is away hunting, she visits Sir Gawain in his bedchamber. At the end of each day, Lord Bertilak pledges his hunt to Sir Gawain and Sir Gawain gives the Lord what he has gained throughout the day.

On the third day, he withholds something from the Lord and the following morning it is time for him to go and meet the Green Knight. Well aware that he is facing his death as he will not be able to pick up and carry his head (and presumably reattach it) like the Green Knight did, he accepted a token that he believed would keep him safe. When he meets the Green Knight he is stunned to learn that the beheading exchange was only a small part of the test he was facing and that the game of exchanging winnings was the main test, which he failed when he kept the token hidden from his host.

90 pages of poem is not something I would ever choose to read. Although this wasn’t too intense to read, it did require a lot of flipping back and forth to check the notes on the translation so you could be sure you were reading it the right way, which is time consuming and disrupts to smoothness of the experience. I haven’t read any Arthurian literature so I did quite a bit of research upon completing the poem so that I had a bit of background knowledge on Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table, chivalry, the romantic genre of the time and anything else I thought was relevant.

But I didn’t enjoy it. A lot of the people in my class waxed lyrical about how brave and wonderful Sir Gawain was but really, when it came down to it, I don’t think there’s much braveness in beheading a guy who just stands there, for no real reason! Okay yes, the Green Knight did request the game, but actually just going up and beheading an unarmed man for entertainment at the dinner table didn’t strike me as courageous or fun. He does get points for undertaking his quest and resisting the seduction attempts but he fails in the final test of faith and courage and respect to his host in fear he has for his life. I wasn’t overly interested in the complicated rules of Chivalry and the Knights “code” of keeping the secret/confidence of a lady (hence not telling his host about the token) versus respect to his host (in which he would’ve broken his vow of silence to the lady).

Glad we only spent a short amount of time on this one. The setting, format, everything about it was just not to my taste.

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