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Sir Gawain and Green Knight Essays: Allegory

Allegory in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Discuss the allegorical significance of the following words of the Green Knight, You are so fully confessed, your failings made known,/ And bear the plain penance of the point of my blade,/ I hold you polished as a pearl, as pure and as bright/ As you had lived free of fault since first you were born .

These words are uttered by the Green Knight almost immediately after he delivered the third blow on Gawain s neck (l 2391-2394). They should be understood as referring to events which began with Gawain s arrival at the Lord s castle.

The words confessed and penance appearing in the Green Knight s utterance may lead one to connect them not only with events of the narrative, but also with the Christian idea of sin. According to Christian ideology all human beings are sinners, though- owing to God s grace and kindness- sins may be forgiven. But before this happens there is need for confession and penance. Absolution is the final stage which may be reached only by those who pass the former ones.

When Sir Gawain is looked at closely, the events of the story correspond to the sequence: temptation -sin – confession – penance – absolution. The sin committed by Gawain was not being loyal to the lord by concealing the green girdle. This weakness of character resulted from the love of life – the girdle was to protect anyone who wore it. What happens at the Green Chapel are the later parts of the cycle: confession – penance – absolution. The penance is the fight with the Green Knight during which Gawain receives a cut on the neck and absolution (granted by the Green Knight) is attained through blood, which makes it even more meaningful. On the other hand, a nick on the neck is not an extremely painful experience (although the way in which it was attained was definitely very stressful) and shows that Gawain s sin was only a minor one. He did not sin against chastity as he did not give in to the lady s wishes. But still, in this interpretation Gawain s character turned out to be faulty.

There is a different possibility of interpretation – one which broadens the allegory even more. It may be said that Gawain s primary fault was sinning against courtesy. If courtesy was in reality what he had been tested on, Gawain did not stand a chance of passing this test.

Sir Gawain and Green Knight Essays: Plot Elements

Plot Elements in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

The most striking feature of the organisation of plot elements in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is the fact that the meaning of the poem is enacted by the shape of the narrative itself. The three major elements of the plot of this narrative: the Beheading Game, the Temptation, and the Exchange of Winnings are linked in a way which helps convey the meaning of the poem.

The reader quickly realises the interdependence of the Temptation plot and the Exchange of Winnings plot. The bedroom scenes correlate with the hunting scenes – therefore each one must be understood in reference to the other. On each of the three days the behaviour of Sir Gawain corresponds to that of the animal, which had been killed on that day. On the first day he is cautious – like a deer; on the second he is more like a boar; and on the third he is cunning – like a fox. These are not the only similarities between the two plot elements . Hunting is generally used in literature as a metaphor for the pursuit of love – that is for courting. This metaphor had most probably already been known in the Middle Ages and was used by the Gawain Poet.

The most important device used to make readers aware of the interdependence of these two plot elements is the technique of narration. Great care is taken to make sure the reader understands that the bedroom scenes and the hunt scenes happen at the same time. The narration jumps from the castle to the forest “Pursuing the wild swine till the sunlight slanted./All day with this deed they drive forth the time/While our lone knight so lovesome lies in his bed”.(l 1467-1469). Each bedroom scene is “inserted” into a hunting scene – which emphasises their simultaneity.

The Beheading Game is also linked to the other two plot elements – but in a way which only becomes visible to the reader after having read the entire text of the poem. At first, the castle episode seems to be an interlude between the two parts of the Beheading Game. The reader awaits the climax – that is the second part of the Beheading Game. Finally it turns out that the real test has already taken place and the Game itself proves to be an anticlimax.

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