Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is widely regarded as one of the greatest poems of Middle English.
Written in a north-west Midlands dialect, this 2,530 lined alliterative poem has four ‘fitts’, or narrative divisions. The richly symbolic narrative consists of a journey and a test:
When Arthur rises, Sir Gawain intervenes to accept the challenge and severs the Green Knight’s head with a single blow. The giant picks up his severed head and says that he expects to return the blow in one year’s time at the Green Chapel.
Sir Bercilak makes an agreement with Gawain that each day he will hunt in the fields, possibly the forests of Delamere, and Gawain in the castle. At the end of each day they will exchange their spoils.
Each evening Gawain exchanges the kisses with his host for the animals slain in the hunt. On the third evening he keeps the girdle, in order to protect himself from the Green Knight, and thus breaks their agreement.
Twice the Knight feigns to hit him and the third time he nicks Gawain’s neck. He then explains that he is the castle knight, transformed by the old castle woman, ‘Morgane the goddess’, and that he nicked his neck for his infidelity in keeping the girdle.
Morgane le Fay’s intention had been to test the strength of Arthur’s knights. Gawain curses his failing, although the Green Knight applauds him. On his return to Arthur’s court, it is declared that green girdles will be worn in honour of his achievement.