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Lecture

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

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Department
English
Course
ENGL 1080
Professor
Maria Broser
Semester
Fall

Description
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Part I  The huge green knight is disruptive and rude when intruding on the party, demanding to see King Arthur.  King Arthur maintains his calm and collected attitude, and hospitality.  The green knight wants to see King Arthur's knights for himself, and present them with a challenge.  The challenge is that he invites brave knights to deliver a blow to him with his own axe, as long as they receive the blow a year later at the green chapel.  Sir Gawain does not have the reputation the other knights have, his life is not significant compared to the king and other knights, so he is willing to step in and prove his worthiness to the green knight.  The green knight asks 2 things of Sir Gawain before he delivers the blow of the axe: 1. repeat the agreement, make it binding, make sure he understands the conditions. 2. Sir Gawain should reveal his name and tell him who he is. Green knight wants to know his true name. We then see an important motif (revealing/concealing who you are), idea that is repeated throughout the story. The green knight does not say anything about his identity until he is beheaded.  All he tells Sir Gawain is that he is the knight of the green chapel, he does not tell Sir Gawain where the chapel is, or any other information.  The beheaded head speaks and tells Sir Gawain to go to the green chapel or to be known as a coward. The statement impresses upon Sir Gawain the need to impress his promise, if he does not keep the promise he will destroy his reputation and be humiliated.  Is it worse to not honour the promise and be known as a coward, or is it preferable to die? Sir Gawain knows it is preferable to die for his reputation.  King Arthur tries to keep the mood of happiness before the green knight comes in, tries to continue with the celebration. Part II  The narrator describes the changing seasons, nothing remains unchanged throughout. Opening lines of part 2 are references to the passing of time and the changing of seasons. Passages are descriptive and move the narrative forward, sense of how quickly time passes.  Many references to violence and brutality as the narrator points to autumn and the turbulent weather towards winter.  Descriptions of violent happenings in nature foreshadow what is going to occur when Sir Gawain reaches the green chapel and has the meeting with the green knight.  The passages may even point to the turbulence in the mind of Sir Gawain's mind. He appears to be brave and willing on the outside, under no circumstances will he break his promise, but there must be some doubts, fears and anxieties in his own mind.  After the changing of the seasons, there is a passage that describes how Gawain dresses for the adventure he is about to embark on - convention of medieval romance. Important to note what his attire consists of, ex. the helmet he kisses and puts on his head. It takes on religious significance, Gawain is a Christian knight and there is a suggestion of religion when he kisses the helmet. He takes his devotion to god very seriously.  Reference to pentangle - the five pointed star. A symbol of perfection, token of truth, a knot without end. The points of the star suggest various attributes/virtues of sir Gawain that make him an ideal knight.  He then embarks on the adventure, a journey of self sacrifice. From Camelot to the end destination - the green chapel. He is exposed to physical hardships he has to endure while on the journey, but little attention is given to the beasts he has to fight on the way. They are of secondary importance as the narrator focuses on the physical hardships when he has to take the journey in the cold, harsh winter, which is the greater obstacle to face when it is compared to being alone on the journey, being exposed to harsh natural elements which accentuate the sense of loneliness that he experiences. He endures the hardships very successfully.  As he is alone on the journey with no guide, he is in the dark about where he is going and how to get there. The only guide he has god himself, at various points we see him praying to god and the virgin Mary to sustain him, give him consolation and help him on his difficult journey.  De-emphasizing the wild beasts and emphasizing his loneliness and harsh natural elements he is exposed to, the poet is modifying/transforming those conventions that we usually associate with medieval romance, so it is not typical in this story.  Sudden appearance of a castle, not prepared for this, Sir Gawain prays again wanting to find a way to get to the destination and after, his prayers are answered by the castle appearing.  He enters into the castle and he meets the Lord. His entry into the castle should be reminiscent to the first part, like the green knight he is also making an entrance into the castle. However their receptions are different as well as their entries.  Again - idea of identity, the lord of the castle asks his name but does NOT tell him his own.  Another similar scene, same kind of festivities and banquet inside the castle he walked into as he left in Camelot.  The lord of the castle is going to propose a game that they are going to play together, another bargain so to speak. The lord and his men are going to go hunting and Gawain is going to stay behind, when they return the lord will offer him whatever they have hunted, in return Gawain will have to give the lord whatever he has been given during the lord's absents, so they will exchange gifts.  The "game" is unlike the challenge the green knight proposed to Gawain but the two bargains are similar to each other. He has to agree to both circumstances. We have episodes/scenes/incidents that are repeated. Part III  There are two hunts going on. One of them is between the lord on a hunting trip and the other takes place i
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