Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Mysterious, complex and incredibly beautiful, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is arguably one of the most popular and well known medieval texts, despite the fact that only a single copy of it survives (in MS Cotton Nero A.x). One of its most intriguing features is the difficulty faced by readers and critics alike deciding how to interpret and define the ‘moral’ of the text. The reader is left to reflect endlessly on Gawain’s ‘mistake’, and the question of exactly how, where, and why he went wrong. Instead of providing clarification, detailed analysis of the narrative has often simply lead to the suggestion of an increasing number of possible meanings, while the conclusion offered to the reader by the poet does very little to answer any of the questions raised by the text.


Suggested Topics for Discussion

  • Is it possible to isolate the point at which Gawain ‘goes wrong’?
  • In Fitt III, immediately after accepting the girdle, the narrator tells us that
Syþen cheuely to þe chapel choses he þe waye,
Preuély aproched to a prest, and prayed hym þere
Þat he wolde lyste his lyf and lern hym better
How his sawle schulde be saued when he schuld seye heþen.
Þere he schrof hym schyrly and schewed his mysdedez,
Of þe more and þe mynne, and merci besechez,
And of absolucioun he on þe segge calles;
And he asoyled hym surely and sette hym so clene
As domezday schulde haf ben diȝt on þe morn. (1876-1884)

In Fitt IV the Green Knight also refers to Gawain as ‘confessed so clene, beknowen of thy mysses’ (2391). How should we understand the role of confession in this text? Does confession absolve Gawain of his mistake?

  • What is the reader supposed to make of the section popularly entitled Gawain’s ‘antifeminist rant’ (lines 2414-2428)
  • How is the reader supposed to interpret the significance of Pentangle and its role in the text? Is the pentangle replaced by the green girdle by the end of the narrative?
  • Do the references to Solomon hold any additional significance to the text?
  • How should the reader understand the otherworldly character of the Green Knight in light of the fact that he comes represents the moral ‘right’ against Gawain, the ‘perfect’ Christian knight ?
  • Is there a difference between perfection and flawlessness?