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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
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Interim Readings > Sir Gawain and the Green Knight--Parts 3 & 4

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message 1: by Tamara (last edited Dec 18, 2018 11:46PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1594 comments Part 3
Part 3 describes three consecutive days which follow the same pattern: the hunt; the wooing scene in Gawain’s bedroom; a return to the hunt; evening festivities; the exchange of winnings. Gawain’s honesty, chastity, and integrity are tested in the castle. He is able to maintain them on Day 1 and Day 2, but he fails on Day 3 when he conceals the green girdle (a belt).

The lady uses her feminine wiles to try to seduce Gawain on Day 1 and 2. And on Day 3, she pulls out all the stops. Skimpily clad in the most intimate of intimate apparels (purchased from Victoria’s Secret, no doubt), she flirts shamelessly with our young knight. Am I not beautiful enough for you? she asks. Do you love someone else? she asks.

Poor Sir Gawain! How can he resist this temptation? And, yet, somehow, he does. He performs a skillful juggling act. He doesn’t submit to the lady’s advances because of his promise to the host. But he also handles his rejection of her delicately without offending her. Our knight has been tested and has proved himself worthy. Huzzah, Sir Knight!

But wait! It’s not over yet. The lady persists. At least let us exchange gifts, she says, demurely. He declines. She offers him a ring. He declines. Well, if the ring is too fancy for you, she says, how about my plain old green girdle? He declines. Ah! she says. Don’t be fooled. Although it looks plain enough, this girdle has magical properties to protect the wearer from being killed.

I smell a rat! It’s a trap! Don’t do it, Sir Gawain! Don’t do it! Oh, no!

Alas! It is too late. Our intrepid knight has fallen. He accepts the girdle and agrees to conceal it from the host. Just when we think he has successfully thwarted the lady’s attempts at seduction, she comes at him from an unexpected angle. That’s one mighty shrewd lady.

Why does Gawain conceal the girdle from his host? Why not just tell the host he has the girdle and explain why he wants to keep it? The host seems a nice enough chap. So why not just be honest? What does this failure reveal about Gawain’s character?

After accepting the green girdle, Sir Gawain runs off to the priest to confess and ask for mercy. Although apparently absolved of his sins, Gawain has trouble sleeping during the night. If his conscience is clear, why can’t he sleep? Is he worried about what will happen to him the next day when he encounters the Green Knight? Is he plagued with a guilty conscience? Or is it both?

Do you get the sense Gawain has been set up all along? Is it a coincidence that the last animal the host chases is a fox? Who has been “outfoxed” here? Who or what is actually being hunted?

Part 4
Gawain wakes up the next morning and prepares to head to the Green Chapel. The poet makes a point of telling us he wears the green girdle “to save himself.” He heads out to find the Green Knight. His guide warns him of the Green Knight’s ferocity and advises him to run away rather than go through with the challenge. Gawain refuses to behave like a coward, claiming to put his faith in God: “…full well can God manage/to save his servants.”

The guide abandons Sir Gawain who then makes his way alone until he finds the Green Knight sharpening his blade in preparation for the beheading. The Green Knight taunts Gawain by bringing the axe down on his neck twice but not actually touching it. Gawain flinches the first time the axe is brought down and promises not to do it again. He says these delightful lines:

I shrank once,” quoth Gawain,
“Henceforth thy stroke I’ll stay,
Tho’ none may set again
The head that falls to-day.

(Weston translation)

At the third stroke of the axe, the Green Knight grazes Gawain’s neck and draws a few drops of blood. Gawain leaps up, having kept his part of the bargain. He refuses to let the Green Knight touch him again. And that’s when we get the Big Reveal.

Gawain is mortified at his failure and berates himself. The Green Knight assures him his confession and penance absolve him of wrong doing. Gawain then tries to excuse himself by laying the blame on women and their wiles since it was Morgen La Fay, Arthur’s half-sister, who had set him up. He puts himself in the company of Adam, Solomon, Samson, and David, all of whom ostensibly suffered because of women:

for these men were of old the best,
and the most fortunate,
excellent above all others under the heavens;
and all they were beguiled by women whom they had to do with.
If I be now deceived, meseems I might be excused.


Gawain keeps the green girdle and returns to Arthur’s Court. He describes his adventure and shamefully admits “the evil” he committed as a result of his “cowardice” and “covetousness.”
He announces his determination to wear the belt as a reminder of his failure and as acknowledgement of his fallibility.

Arthur’s Court laughs at Gawain’s tale as if to suggest it was all in good fun. The knights agree to wear green baldrics out of solidarity with Sir Gawain.
Has Gawain learned anything from his adventure and/or been changed by it in any way?

What do you think of the reaction of Arthur’s Court to Sir Gawain’s heartfelt confession? Do you think the Court understands the full impact of the adventure on Sir Gawain? Are they laughing with him or at him?


Roger Burk | 1729 comments I think the court laughs a bit nervously, each knight thinking of how he would fare under a similar trial.


message 3: by Tamara (last edited Dec 19, 2018 08:53AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1594 comments Roger wrote: "I think the court laughs a bit nervously, each knight thinking of how he would fare under a similar trial."

I agree with you. I think theirs is a nervous laughter because they don’t know how they would have reacted under the same circumstances. But I’m wondering if there is more going on here.

Gawain has been humbled. He has gained self-knowledge. He learned something about himself that he didn’t know before i.e. that he is a human being like the rest of us and is subject to limitations. He has been deeply impacted by the experience. He has had an epiphany of sorts.

When a person experiences an epiphany, he/she can describe the events that led to the revelation. But when it comes to articulating the transformative impact it has had on one’s psyche, words may be inadequate. We struggle to find the words that can fully express the impact a profoundly felt experience has had on us.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that every entrance into the “wilderness” is experienced alone. Every exit is experienced alone. By its very nature, the transformation one experiences cannot be fully communicated to others. It is something each individual must experience for himself/herself.

As you said, the knights maybe laughing because they don’t know how they would have reacted in a similar situation. But it may also be because they don’t comprehend how deeply impacted Gawain is by the whole experience. They don’t fully understand the extent or the nature of the transformation, so they dismiss it with their laughter.


message 4: by Rex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Rex | 206 comments I enjoyed the way each bedroom trial of Gawain was placed right in the middle of the hunting scenes. The deer, the boar, and the fox probably are meant to parallel either Gawain's virtues or his temptations (I've read differing interpretations). The ignoble flinching fox at least seems to suggest Gawain's failure. Regardless of the symbolism, though, the scenes are fantastic in their own right—vivid, brutal, and full of action.


message 5: by Lia (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lia I’ve been reading the Iliad, and this wine/ bedroom trial reminds me of the trials of Hector: first his mother tried to give him wine; and then the (irresistable?) Helen tried to seduce him, and then Andromache tried to talk him into ditching his duties for their infant son, their family.

But Hector marched on to face certain death anyway.


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David | 2695 comments There may have been some sorts of, "better him than me", sentiment, but I guessed they laughed just because they were happy to see him again and wanted to comfort him. Imagine how awkward and uncomfortable the reunion would be if they just gave him stern or disapproving looks?
And thus he comes to the court,
the knight all sound.
There wakened joy in that dwelling when the great ones knew
that good Gawain had come;. . .

. . .The king and all the court comfort the knight.
They laugh loud at his tale. . .
I suppose too they laugh because, as the very last line underscores, no man is perfect and yet all men may be forgiven for their flaws, however slight.


message 7: by Rex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Rex | 206 comments I suspect Gawain's repudiation of the wiles of women is meant to be just that—not a means of excusing himself, per se, but an affirmation of virginal chivalry, a promise not to succumb to the dangerous snare of female sexuality. Recall that Gawain is devoted to Virgin Mary and has been under her protection for this whole adventure; he is here declaring his choice for her and not the amorous Lady de Hautdesert.


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David | 2695 comments I am feeling a bit ashamed for the following thoughts, so a little laughter would be comforting.

Is Hautdesert a play on words, Hot Des[s]ert? I can see that working for both Lord and Lady. For him the name could refer to dealing swift and deserving justice, as in the idiom, he got his just deserts*. For her it seems appropriately tempting that Hot Dessert reference something a little more bawdy.

*https://www.dictionary.com/e/just-des...

The phrase "just deserts" has been in use since the late 1200's but dessert seems to have come into use much later around 1600.


Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1594 comments David wrote: "I am feeling a bit ashamed for the following thoughts, so a little laughter would be comforting.

Is Hautdesert a play on words, Hot Des[s]ert? I can see that working for both Lord and Lady. For hi..."


According to Wikipedia, Hautdesert probably comes from a mix of both Old French and Celtic words meaning "High Wasteland" or "High Hermitage."

I guess we could do a nifty combination and say Gawain got his "just deserts" in the high wasteland :)


message 10: by Ian (last edited Dec 20, 2018 11:14AM) (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 619 comments Rex wrote: "I suspect Gawain's repudiation of the wiles of women is meant to be just that—not a means of excusing himself, per se, but an affirmation of virginal chivalry, a promise not to succumb to the dange..."

In the mainstream of medieval Arthurian literature, Gawain (various spellings) is the epitome of fine court manners, but not so much morals (sometimes not all). He is routinely portrayed as very attractive to ladies (even just by reputation), to whom he usually responds enthusiastically.*

I think that the Gawain-poet is casting "against type," and playing with his audience's reasonable expectations of the the character.

*In the Old French Vulgate Cycle's "Mort le Roi Artu," there is a scene in which an aged noblemen attacks his equally aged wife when she laments on hearing new of the death of the very old Gawain, the only man she truly loved. (The respective ages are given, but I don't recall them off hand, and the page doesn't come up on Google Books.) This scene didn't make it into Malory, where Gawain rarely gets an even break, ultimately under influence of the Vulgate's Grail Quest, but promulgated in later French romances which Malory used.)


message 11: by Kerstin (last edited Dec 19, 2018 04:37PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kerstin | 583 comments At the big reveal I had a Monty Python moment, I wanted to smack the Green Knight with a dead fish!

And Lady Hautdesert, what a siren she turned out to be! Though I found the girdle scene fascinating. She dismisses the giving of the girdle as a mere trifle, but is it? The girdle worn by women is a symbol for virginity and chastity. Often in literature when it comes off the woman is in trouble. For Lady Hautdesert as a married woman it would represent chastity, meaning marital fidelity. Then why is she dallying with Sir Gawain?

This being a test, the transfer of the girdle seems to me an affirmation that he passed the test. Sir Gawain has withstood her advances and she in turn no longer needs it to assure her marital fidelity, and so it is transformed into a talisman of even greater power, to protect him from the Green Knight.
Whoso shall gird himself with this same woven lace
The while 't is knotted well around him, 'tis a charm,
And no man upon mould may wreak him hurt or harm,
And ne'er may he be slain by magic, or by spell - '
Ah, this last line is a clue, don't read too fast, you might miss it ;)


Roger Burk | 1729 comments Cphe wrote: "Why does it end with "amen"?"

Because it ends with a prayer:

The crown of thorns Who bore
Now bring us to His bliss.

Though my translation has, after the Amen, the motto of the Garter:

Hony soyt qui mal pence.

"Shame on him who thinks evil."


Christopher (Donut) | 531 comments Roger wrote: "Cphe wrote: "Though my translation has, after the Amen, the motto of the Ga..."

I think this is still the Queen of England's motto.

Honi soit qui mal y pense.




Roger Burk | 1729 comments Cphe wrote: "Thank you."

Of course, now we should ask, "Why does it end with a prayer?"


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David | 2695 comments Is Lady de Hautdesert's girdle really a magic one or not? How did the Lord de Hautdesert pull off the headless stunt, magic or slight of hand head? Would the answers to these questions affect the judgement of Gawain's choice to keep the girdle a secret?


message 16: by Lia (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lia Tamara wrote: “After accepting the green girdle, Sir Gawain runs off to the priest to confess and ask for mercy. Although apparently absolved of his sins...The poet makes a point of telling us he wears the green girdle “to save himself.””

What’s the doctrine here? If you confess but continue to sin, if you go to confession with the intention to continue to sin, are you really absolved? Assuming the hidden girdle is the sin being confessed, not only did he fail to give his host his “fair portion” of his loots— he also secretly wears the girdle to “save himself,” while outwardly acting as though he’s fully surrendered and ready to face death


message 17: by Lia (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lia Tamara wrote: “What do you think of the reaction of Arthur’s Court to Sir Gawain’s heartfelt confession? Do you think the Court understands the full impact of the adventure on Sir Gawain? Are they laughing with him or at him? ”
I suspect his first confession to the priest is invalid.
The interesting thing is that in the first half of the poem, the poet describes Achilles’ Gawain’s incredible, heavenly pentangle shield, it’s meaning completely worked out like clockwork, like geometry, with no room for uncertainty, and it’s just pure perfection through and through, so ideal it shouldn’t belong to this world. And that’s the sign Gawain shows to the public.
By “confessing” to the Arthur’s Court, and having the knights all consenting to wear the belt from now on, Gawain essentially created his own symbolism, his own emblem, not by inheriting whatever Solomon set in stone, but by his own quest — and have that symbolism, that meaning, publicly accepted, reified, confirmed.
Maybe this second confession is more “valid”? Not by some heavenly institutions, but by his fellow men, who accept not only his imperfection, but affirm that he had fallen and rebirthed, and became something new, something self-created


message 18: by Lia (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lia As for the laughing — since Gawain has “fallen,” from a high place to a low place, this is technically a “tragedy”, right?

But it’s ambiguous, everything, from the first axe-challenge, to the bedroom tricks, and the hunt exchange, are all framed as “games,” as merry-making.

Maybe the laughter signals this whole thing is a comedy: a tale of earthly (from the start) folks learning not to take themselves and their holiness and nobility too seriously. A tale of “lowly” sinful humans gaining the best thing they (we?) can gain — redemption / rebirth after the fall, and becoming better for it, with a happy ending.


Thomas | 4508 comments Lia wrote: "As for the laughing — since Gawain has “fallen,” from a high place to a low place, this is technically a “tragedy”, right?."

Maybe it would have been a comedy if the gift of the Lady had gone beyond a kiss, and Gawain had to pass it along...

Or maybe it's a comedy because it concludes with an acceptance of man's flawed nature, and shows how man survives and understands those flaws, with the assistance of capable women.


message 20: by Lia (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lia That’s NOT what I meant by “happy ending,” Tom! 😳


message 21: by Tamara (last edited Dec 20, 2018 12:23AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1594 comments The beginning of the poem sets up a contrast between the chivalry and courtesy of Arthur’s court with the rude, abrasive Green Knight. He barges in and refers to them as “children.” That suggests they have a lot of growing up to do.

Gawain is initially set up as a good Christian knight. The lengthy description of his shield with all its Christian symbolism brings that point home. But it is a struggle to sustain these ideals. The code of chivalry promulgated by Arthur’s court fails to hold up when pitted against the natural world. Human beings simply cannot live up to those ideals.

When it comes down to it, Gawain opts to put his faith in a magic girdle as opposed to his faith in God. His faith is tested as well as his adherence to the chivalric code. This is where his failure lies. What he learns as a result of his experience is that his adherence to these ideals is possible up to a point, but when it comes down to it, he is made of flesh and blood like the rest of us and is concerned with preserving his life.

I think the poet suggests that while it is commendable to strive for high ideals and standards, we must remember we are also physical beings, grounded in the natural world, and are subject to faults and failures. That is the lesson Gawain learns. He has gained knowledge, which invariably entails a loss of innocence. He has grown up.


message 22: by David (last edited Dec 20, 2018 02:28PM) (new) - added it

David | 2695 comments Tamara wrote: "When it comes down to it, Gawain opts to put his faith in a magic girdle as opposed to his faith in God. His faith is tested as well as his adherence to the chivalric code. . .
. . .that while it is commendable to strive for high ideals and standards, we must remember we are also physical beings, grounded in the natural world, and are subject to faults and failures. That is the lesson Gawain learns."


I think that is a fair summary. However, I am still puzzled about the attitudes towards magic. Was it perceived as real, or just a trick; if it was believed to be real, why was it tolerated? Shouldn't a headless Green Knight, and a couple of witches offering magic girdles and scary pranks should be sought after and killed, even if one of them is your aunt?


message 23: by Rex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Rex | 206 comments David wrote: "Shouldn't a headless Green Knight, and a couple of witches offering magic girdles and scary pranks should be sought after and killed, even if one of them is your aunt?"

This tale was conceived long before the witchcraft panics of the fifteenth and successive centuries; despite what most people believe, there weren't a lot of "witch-hunts" for most of the Middle Ages. What we would call "magic," to medieval people belonged to several distinct categories. Most people, including clergy, believed special herbs, stones, stars, etc., contained occult properties that might be harnessed or manipulated. One could suppose the girdle to be an exceptional example of the same.

More broadly, the Church regarded most folk-magic as superstition and quackery. Other kinds of magic, like divination, were frowned upon, and sorcery and contacting evil spirits were not tolerated. It's more complicated than that, but remember too the "good magicians" of medieval legend like Merlin.


Kerstin | 583 comments Lia wrote: "What’s the doctrine here? If you confess but continue to sin, if you go to confession with the intention to continue to sin, are you really absolved?"

The way I understood it, he is not seeking the priest because of the girdle, his confession is about being spiritually cleansed before continuing his quest, "he shewed his misdeeds all." This is a life-time confession. He prepares for battle, for all eventualities, for the outcome at this point is unknown.


Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1594 comments David wrote: "Shouldn't a headless Green Knight, and a couple of witches offering magic girdles and scary pranks should be sought after and killed, even if one of them is your aunt? ...."

Why? What did they do wrong?

The way I see it is they were the vehicles for increasing Gawain's self-knowledge. Gawain has been humbled, has learned something about his limitations as a human being that he didn't know before. Isn't that a valuable lesson? Don't we all need to be reminded of that? Doesn't it remind him/us to be compassionate toward others when they fail?

I may be the lone voice in the wilderness here, but I think they did a good thing. Gawain went from innocence/naïveté to experience/maturity. He learned humility. He learned he is flawed and needs to keep his ego in check. A valuable lesson, in my opinion, and one the poet extends beyond Gawain to the rest of us.


Cynda In agreement with you Tamara. A quest leads in enlightment. Having not yet read 3 & 4, I am not yet formally agreeing with you about the type of enlightment. To apply here what I say elsewhere: I am an imperfect being in an imperfect world among other inperfect beings. This seems to fit Gawaine's experience when I read you all's notes.

Looking forward to making time to reading 3 & 4.


Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1594 comments Cynda wrote: "In agreement with you Tamara. A quest leads in enlightment. Having not yet read 3 & 4, I am not yet formally agreeing with you about the type of enlightment. To apply here what I say elsewhere: I a..."

Thanks, Cynda. Glad to know I'm not alone in reading it this way. Hope you still agree after you've read 3 & 4 :)


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David | 2695 comments Tamara wrote: "Why? What did they do wrong? I may be the lone voice in the wilderness here, but I think they did a good thing."

I think things turned out well, to Gawain's credit which is the point of the story, but I have trouble seeing the whole as a good thing because of the ill intentions instigating the events.

1. Bernlak de Hautdesert admits to conspiracy to murder and attempted murder of the queen when he tells Gawain that:
[Morgan La Fay] prepared for me this wonder to take away your wits,
to have grieved Guinevere and caused her to die
through fright of that same man,
that ghostly speaker with his head in his hand
before the high table.
2. I got the impression the Lord Hautdesert was trying to "recruit" Gawain's fealty away from Arthur to his aunt Morgan La Fay's side.
Therefore, I beg you, sir,
to come to thine aunt; make merry in my house;
3. It is also my limited understanding from some texts that Morgen La Fay and Arthur had a rather serious and lifelong half-sibling rivalry.


message 29: by Ian (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 619 comments David wrote: "Bernlak de Hautdesert...."

You are clearly using an older translation.

In case you read something else that references the poem, the reading "Bernlak" was eventually abandoned in favor of "Bercilak," or "Bertilak," either of which was derived from French "Bertolais," a character in the Vulgate Cycle of Arthurian romances, and there associated with Morgan.

A little experience with medieval handwriting -- which is what I have -- will show how difficult it can be to distinguish certain characters and combinations of characters, unless the scribe was really careful. There are probably legible pictures of the Gawain manuscript, or Chaucer, on-line if you want to check this. Chaucer wrote a short a short poem complaining about "Adam Scrivener," apparently his copyist, who bungled things. But most of the Chaucer manuscripts are later than his time, and some are much clearer than others.

I know this last from reading microfilm copies of most of the Canterbury Tales manuscripts -- I was looking for marginal notations to "The Knight's Tale." I don't want to repeat the experience. (Yeah, it sounds awfully picky. It was graduate school, I was supposed to do something that wasn't comparing modern critical writings, or edited texts, to each other.....)


Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 304 comments Just finished this up this morning.

I agree with Tamara when she says that Gawain's fault lies in seeking the protection of the girdle rather than placing his faith in God to protect him.

Some free association, maybe...humility, to me, is accepting God's role as arbiter of our fate, pride is attempting to govern our own fate. This to me is where Gawain falls--his pride. Essentially, by taking the girdle, he is attempting to affect his own destiny, rather than accepting God's will. The fall from pride results in humiliation, not humility, which is what Gawain experiences, both in private and as the foil for this particular lesson when he returns to Arthur's court. Humiliation isn't fatal (thank goodness), but an indication that one's priorities might be out of whack. One way to get back 'in whack' would be to reaffirm the proper hierarchy (God first, man second), and the girdle and the green belts the others adopt is a visual signal of that affirmation.

Looking back over the comments, I see I've just restated what Tamara already put down in some other comments. Well, anyway, thanks for selecting this interim read--I've had this on my shelves for a long time, but this was the nudge I needed to pull it down and read it. Now on to Twentieth Century Interpretations of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, another book I've had on my shelves for a long time, but couldn't read, because, you know, I hadn't read SGatGK yet.


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David | 2695 comments Ian wrote: "David wrote: "Bernlak de Hautdesert...."
You are clearly using an older translation."


In case you are interested to know, I was reading the translation we posted as a free source at the start of this read by Kenneth G. T. Webster and W. A. Neilson.
https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/l/lite...

Maybe the Australian accent thew them off a letter or two?


Roger Burk | 1729 comments I think Gawain's fault was in accepting the girdle, knowing that he would be obligated to turn it over to his host (that would be awkward--Host: "Where the hell did you get this?" Gawain: "Better ask what's-her-name"). To be fair, the temptation was extreme--he had reason to think it might save his life, and for all his stoical bravery his behavior after the Green Knight's third swing shows that he has no desire at all to die.


Cynda Thanks Bryan for sharing title by Sir Gawain And The Green Knight: A Collection Of Critical Essays by Denton Fox. The local library has a copy I can read and peruse to gain a little more umderstanding.


message 34: by Cynda (last edited Dec 22, 2018 08:36PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Cynda When Sir Gawaine struggles to refrain from sampling the lady's charms, I am reminded of Venus and Adonis. Venus pursues a young Adonis who refuses her attentions. (I am hesistant to leave spoilers about Shakes' poem. Would such a spoiler be agqinst the rules?) Seems Ovid also wrote works that inform Shakes' long poem.
I am getting my information from The Complete Works of Shakespeare. A hint of a literary tradition? Bevington seems to think so.


message 35: by Lia (last edited Dec 22, 2018 07:49PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lia Thomas wrote: "Or maybe it's a comedy because it concludes with an acceptance of man's flawed nature, and shows how man survives and understands those flaws, with the assistance of capable women..."

Joking aside, I agree this is a better explanation for the "comedic" laughter towards the end.

I just talked to someone who studied this, I couldn't understand half of what he was saying, but apparently it is known that the feast described in the Green Knight is called the "Feast of Fools," which is supposedly a celebration of the circumcision of Jesus on the 1st of January.

I wish I knew enough about liturgy and religious celebrations to comment on whatever the cutting, the blood letting, the "upside down" role-reversal during the Feast of Circumcision/ Feast of fools/ Feast of the Ass is all about, or what they might symbolize, but I'm heartened to see that the beautiful and strong ass is possibly implicated in this farce!

So, anyway, assuming this guy is right that the Gawain poet wrote Gawain's quest to coincide with the liturgical calendar, then it would make sense that an account of this drama would elicit laughter.


message 36: by Lia (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lia Kerstin wrote: "he is not seeking the priest because of the girdle, his confession is about being spiritually cleansed before continuing his quest, "he shewed his misdeeds all." This is a life-time confession. He prepares for battle, for all eventualities, for the outcome at this point is unknown."

Fair enough, but it would be ironic if he went there to confess but completely missed the one thing he is ultimately, singularly guilty of.

But still, I think there's a sense that he "confessed" -- narrated, interpreted, his deeds before the climatic confrontation; and then he told a different interpretation after, to Arthur's court. I like to think the poet set that up as a parallel, like the belt that replaced the shield, so his new narrative replaces his old and (less honest, or less appropriate) confession.


Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 304 comments Cynda wrote: "Thanks Bryan for sharing title by Sir Gawain And The Green Knight: A Collection Of Critical Essays by Denton Fox. The local library has a copy I can read and peruse ..."

You're welcome--I hope to read it within the next few weeks. Let's hope it's worthwhile!


message 38: by Lia (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lia I googled and found this: this essay explores the link between Gawain's carnal failing, and circumcision. http://users.clas.ufl.edu/ras/gawain/...
having resisted the Lady's previous sexual advances, Gawain has, by the time she shows him the girdle, triumphed heroically over the flesh. If he has experienced the weakness of the flesh, he has also overcome it. And in the wake of this triumph must come--it is hard to imagine it otherwise--pride in its achievement (superbia vitae). And this self-congratulatory pride--the pride of, so to say, "Yes, I am an honorable knight"--undermines Gawain's defenses when the Lady tempts him at last not with sexual desire but with the far more powerful, instinctual, and uncontrollable desire to live. Gregory the Great (PI. 76:453; emphasis added) very aptly describes Gawain's predicament in his discussion, not inappropriately, of circumcision:

There is one kind of lust, namely of the flesh, by which we corrupt chastity, another, however, namely of the heart, by which we glory in our chastity. Hence God says to Job: "Gird up your loins like a man" [Job 38. 3], so that whoever first conquers the lust of corruption may now restrain the lust of glorying, lest becoming proud of his patience and chastity, he live so much the worse lustful within, before the eyes of God, as he appears the more both patient and chaste, before the eyes of man. Hence well is it said by Moses: `Circumcise the foreskin of your hearts' (Deut. 10.16), that is, after you douse the lust arising from the flesh, cut off also the excesses of thought and imagination.


Although Gawain has, in fact, achieved a brilliant appearance of patience and chastity before the Lady--and thus, at least as he sees it, before the world, too--he is not as yet circumcised in heart. And so, de patientia vel castitate superbiens, he accepts the girdle which, as a syngne of surfet, suggests that, in part at least, his error has been one, in Gregory's words, of superflua cogitationum. Moreover, in accepting the girdle, his superflua cogitationum extend to an oath of secrecy and thus to {23/24}treachery. Hence Gawain's triumph over the flesh, his very idealism of chivalric duty, weakens his resistance to the flesh and its many temptations. And so it is that the Green Knight finally leaves Gawain with not only knowledge of the weight of the flesh but also with the humility to acknowledge his own foolish pride.



Also includes a comment on the poet’s doctrinal precision in constructing Gawain’s redemption from debt of his sin:
Neither baptism nor circumcision can take away the effects of original sin, namely concupiscence and ignorance.15 Concupiscence and ignorance remain, and, because they remain, men continue to sin. The Green Knight, therefore, has no authority to say that Gawain has never sinned. But he does have the authority to say precisely, "as though you had never paid the fine or the forfeiture from the time of your first birth," because circumcision, like baptism, remits the penalty of original sin retroactively from the moment of carnal birth and ever thereafter. Hence Gawain will continue to sin, as all men do because of þe faut and þe fayntyse of þe flesche crabbed, but the Green Knight has renewed, or celebrated again, Gawain's redemption from the debt or fine of his sin--which of course has been debited to the account of Christ, agnus Dei qui tollit peccata mundi. The doctrinal {25/26} precision of the poem’s commercial imagery is no mean part of its extraordinary beauty.


And my favorite part: the renaming and rebirth of Gawain:

When Gawain first flinches from the ax, the Green Knight exclaims, "`þou art not Gawayn'" (2270) as if he would un-name Arthur's knight. But after Gawain has accepted nostram humanitatem by shedding his blood in the circumcision, the Green Knight renames him:

`and sothly me þynkkez
On þe fautlest freke þat euer on fote 3ede;
As perle bi pe quite pese is of prys more,
So is Gawayn, in god fayth, bi oþer gay kny3tez.'

(2362-65)
Although the name is the same, in the second impositio--which is commercial and comparative, fully mediatory--it is nonetheless new. As in fact it should be, according to Sicard (PL 213:227), following as it does the rite of circumcision:

De circumcisione et nominis impositione sermo succedat, et merito in octavo die circumcisionis, et nominis, quod est Jesus, impositionis solemnitas celebratur.
Concerning the circumcision and the imposition of the name, the discourse continues; and rightly on the eighth day is celebrated the rite of the circumcision and of the imposition of the name, which is Jesus.


The Feast of the Circumcision is also the celebration of the imposition of the name Jesus which, as commentators emphasize, is the novum nomen. 16 Similarly, though he may not receive literally a new name, Gawain receives his name anew; and in this sense, his name is new--gratuitously imposed and not achieved, a gift he could not have earned by any knightly deed. And Gawain accepts his name, for the first time, even as he accepts nostram humanitatem for the first time. Gawain is renewed in the admirabile commercium that the Feast of the Circumcision celebrates.


I also found this (from the same site) http://users.clas.ufl.edu/ras/gawain/...

I haven't read it yet.

I think I would have liked the poem more if the whole religious dimension weren't so foreign to me. Now that I'm reading more about it, I'm impressed with the poet's strategy.


message 39: by David (last edited Dec 22, 2018 09:18PM) (new) - added it

David | 2695 comments I wonder what the Hautdeserts would have done if Gawain had assented to the Lady's advances and had sex with her? I suppose there are quite a few ways that could have played out and arguments of where, if any, the fault lies.


message 40: by Lia (last edited Dec 22, 2018 09:25PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lia David wrote: "I wonder what the Hautdeserts would have done if Gawain had assented to the Lady's advances and had sex with her? I suppose there are quite a few ways that could have played out and arguments of wh..."

Like Thomas said, Gawain would then have to pass it on and have sex with Hautdeserts. It would be kind of funny for modern readers, but from other Arthurian tales I've read, they seem far harsher about homosexual sex than heterosexual adultery.


Alexey | 293 comments Do anybody else think Green Knight’s part of the story is messy? Before he explained what he had done and why, it was ok. But when he said the whole affair was a part of the plot to kill the queen (an amazing plan I dare to say and so straightforward) for me all his story lost any sense. 
Maybe I missed some important phrases, but it so illogical that I even imagine that there was an older story of this affair. A story of a conspiracy against Arthur, with Morgan and Hautdeserts as co-conspirators. Gawain won by his bravery and wit, maybe seduced Lady de Hautdesert to give him a magic girdle.


message 42: by Ian (last edited Dec 23, 2018 07:45AM) (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 619 comments Alexey wrote: "Maybe I missed some important phrases, but it so illogical that I even imagine that there was an older story of this affair...."

The explanation does seem to come out of left field, but it appears to draw on earlier stories, in which the ideas appear separately, and which are unlikely to be familiar to modern readers until well after they have encountered SGGK.

The original audience may just have nodded uncritically at a familiar motif, without questioning how Morgan's plot was really supposed to work, or wondering how it got derailed into a test of Gawain instead. (As they may have accepted the beheading test itself, which appears in some earlier French romances -- and a couple of less notable English ones, later than SGGK, and likely dependent on it.)

In some previous forms of the Arthurian legend (but not in the somewhat later Malory), Morgan le Fay harbors a grudge against Guinevere because the young queen had her expelled from court for taking up with a lover -- a nice piece of irony, given the queen's later career.

Morgan (or Morgana) also causes problems for Lancelot, notably in the long "Prose Lancelot" (and other parts of the Vulgate Cycle), which may be related to the feud, but also for some of the other knights, who are not connected to this motivation.

E.g., in the "Prose Tristan" (included in part in Malory as "The Tale of Sir Tristram") she persecutes, imprisons, and then tries to seduce Sir Alysaunder le Orphelin (i.e., Alexander the Orphan), the nephew of King Mark. (Better known as the husband of Isoude, aka Isolde, Yseut, etc., and the enemy of Tristram.)

This was at the wicked Mark's instigation: the King fears the young knight because he had murdered his brother, Alysaunder's father, in order to seize the throne.... (These stories get immensely complicated.)

In Malory, we find (in a modernized version of the 1485 Caxton printed edition, Book X, Chapter xxxv) that:

"Then was King Mark wood wroth out of measure. Then he sent unto Queen Morgan le Fay, and to the Queen of North-galis, praying them in his letters that they two sorceresses would set all the country in fire with ladies that were enchantresses, and by such that were dangerous knights...."

(Setting the country 'in fire with ladies" is a nice figure of speech -- as C.S. Lewis noted -- but the older Winchester Manuscript version reads "prayynge them in his lettyrs that they two sorserers wolde sette all the contrey envyrone with ladies that were enchauntours, and by such that were daungerous knyghtes..." So Malory probably meant just "fill the surrounding countryside.")


message 43: by David (new) - added it

David | 2695 comments Lia wrote: "Like Thomas said, Gawain would then have to pass it on and have sex with Hautdeserts. It would be kind of funny for modern readers, but from other Arthurian tales I've read, they seem far harsher about homosexual sex than heterosexual adultery."

We don't have to go rushing to the homoerotic outcomes. He could have simply presented Lord Hautdesert with his own wife and said, "Here is your wife, kiss her, I did." Or in the imagined case of having sex with her, Gawain could have presented Lady Hautdesert to Lord Hautdesert and said, "Thanks for the wild game, take your wife to bed, I did."

My question was concerned with how the de Hautdesert's would have reacted if Gawain had called their bluff on the lust test. Would Lady H have gone through with it? Would Lord H have just killed Gawain on the spot or his wife even though he had full knowledge of and condoned the test? Would it turn into blackmail or a black mark against Arthur's court? Who is more guilty of wrongdoing then, Gawain or the de Hautdeserts?

For that matter, who is more guilty now? I suppose it is Gawain's quest, so we are judging his actions, but what of the de Hautdesert's actions? They are far more egregious than anything Gawain could have done in that situation.


Roger Burk | 1729 comments Alexey wrote: "Do anybody else think Green Knight’s part of the story is messy? Before he explained what he had done and why, it was ok. But when he said the whole affair was a part of the plot to kill the queen ..."

This is an excellent question. In my translation the Green Knight seems to say he was compelled to visit Arthur's court by Morgan la Fay:

It was Morgan la Fay, in my meiny [household] that lives,
And the might of her magic that moved me to seek you. (xcviii)

In the next stanza he says first of all that the visit was to test the knights of the Round Table. Perhaps the intention "to daunt Queen Guenore, and do her to death" (xcix) is a bit of hyperbole. If any of her knights failed in gallantry, chastity, or bravery, surely the Queen would die of mortification.


Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 304 comments David wrote: "I wonder what the Hautdeserts would have done if Gawain had assented to the Lady's advances and had sex with her? I suppose there are quite a few ways that could have played out and arguments of wh..."

I'm thinking the Green Knight would have cut his head off during one of the mock executions, depending on which night it was that Gawain succumbed--at least if he'd kept it hidden, like the girdle.


Roger Burk | 1729 comments Come on. It's unimaginable that Gawain would fail the test.


Kerstin | 583 comments David wrote: "My question was concerned with how the de Hautdesert's would have reacted if Gawain had called their bluff on the lust test. Would Lady H have gone through with it? Would Lord H have just killed Gawain on the spot or his wife even though he had full knowledge of and condoned the test? Would it turn into blackmail or a black mark against Arthur's court? Who is more guilty of wrongdoing then, Gawain or the de Hautdeserts?"

I've asked myself the very same questions. They are "in" on it. But unless I missed it, there is no explanation whether they were willing participants or if Morgan la Fay used them to her purposes. Oh, be aware of conniving women!


message 48: by David (last edited Dec 23, 2018 09:14AM) (new) - added it

David | 2695 comments Roger wrote: "Come on. It's unimaginable that Gawain would fail the test."

Why is it so unimaginable that Gawain would fail when we know the greatest knight, Lancelot, failed?

Isn't one of the lessons of the story one of humility and the self-knowledge that we should all strive not to fail, but still can?


message 49: by Lia (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lia David wrote: “We don't have to go rushing to the homoerotic outcomes. He could have simply presented Lord Hautdesert with his own wife and said, "Here is your wife, kiss her, I did." Or in the imagined case of having sex with her, Gawain could have presented Lady Hautdesert to Lord Hautdesert and said, "Thanks for the wild game, take your wife to bed, I did." ”

We don’t have to, but the poem already presented the exact outcome of the first two rounds of the absurd bedroom game: he didn’t present the lady to the lord for kisses, he gives his own to mimick, substitute for them. It seems the most “logical” conclusion based on family resemblance would be for Gawain to replace the lady.

I know I sound strangely attached to this interpretation, but the “threat” of sodomy is likely intended, there’s a medieval trope of entrapping younger men into sexual triangle with an older man and his younger wife, as means to get him into a passive, submissive sexual position with the older man.

You know how the poem starts with a reference to Aeneas? What if it’s not an allusion to Virgil’s Aeneid, but to the Norman French popular adaptation Eneas, which represents Eneas as a sodomite, and the evil queen using her daughter, Lavinia, to seduce boys for his homosexual pleasure?

If he finds any sweet boy, it will seem fair and good to him that you let him pursue his love. And if he can attract the boy by means of you, he will not find it too outrageous to make an exchange, so that the boy will have his pleasure from you, while in turn sufficing for him. He will gladly let the boy mount you, if he in turn can ride him: he does not love coney fur.
(Eneas, Yunck trans)

I’m not saying the Gawain poet implies Hautdesert is trying to use his wife to entrap a young knight into a homosexual fling, I am suggesting the poem was probably written for an interpretive community that are used to that “threat” or device or trope, and it’s not so unreasonable to “jump” to imagining that threatening outcome had Gawain failed.

But Gawain couldn’t have failed, Mary helped him, which means chastity wasn’t the real test in any case:


They talk with tenderness
and pride, and yet their plight
is perilous unless
sweet Mary minds her knight.
For that noble princess pushed him and pressed him, |1770|
nudged him ever nearer to a limit where he needed
to allow her love or impolitely reject it




I think there’s a mix of THREE realms here: the Arthurian courtly social world, the Christian world, and the Pagan/ Celtic faery world. The kind of magical world where you can chop a head off and survive and keep talking is clearly Celtic that survived within the Christianized Britain. Gawain prays to Christ and the Virgin Mary and Bertilak’s castle magically appeared. Christ/ Mary guided Gawain TO be tested by some Celtic creatures. (Deities? Demons? Old Gods?). So Gawain is working with three sets of values: Arthurian court, Christian chastity, and Celtic magic. When Gawain was tested in the bedroom, Mary “helped” Gawain survive that test, meaning whatever is on trial is (probably) either Celtic or Courtly code of conduct.


message 50: by Lia (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lia I wonder if the replacement of the pentangel sheild with the green girdle for protection implies he’s emasculated, displaced Christian code with Celtic ones, and got his whole court to do it too, so that the Arthurian code accomodates both Christian code and Celtic ones, ensuring the survival of the competing tradition.


There’s also a partly historical account of a knight named Owein, who traveled alone to St Patrick’s Purgatory on Lough Derg, ostensibly motivated by contrition of the heart, and was tested spiritually, and not in combat. The source is Tractatus de Purgatorio Sancti Patricii , and survivies in various translations including Middle English and Irish (Visio Tnugdali).

IF the Gawain poet is aware of that thoroughly Christian tale passed on by monks, and wrote a very similar quest, but with the Celtic tradition weaved into it, I wonder if it isn’t meant to subvert the Christian domination.


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