The Temptation and Probing in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
The poem's main subject is temptation and probing. This article's criticism will begin with a synopsis of the story.
Visitation and Challenge
During the New Year, a strange figure pays an unwelcome visit to King Arthur's courtyard. The Green Knight figure dares the group's leader to serve them in a dare. The Green Knight mocks them and dares one of them to challenge him on the condition that the man returns in a year so that the Green Knight can strike him down (Martinez 114). The axe is the last property owned by the Green Knight and therefore, he was willing to give it as a gift to any individual who was willing to challenge him. When King Arthur tries to step forward, Gawain (one of the knights) leaps up and takes the challenge. With one blow, he beheads the Green Knight. King Arthur commands Gawain to hang the axe and leave it there because he could not stand the gruesome object being on his way (Martinez 115). The stranger then picks up his skull and reminds Gawain to look for him after a year. However, throughout the story, the axe is depicted metaphorically as hanging over his head.
When autumn nears, Gawain readies himself to go and look for the Knight. On the way, he encounters all sorts of beasts and by Christmas, he was already starving and more desperate than ever. When Gawain arrives at the Green Chapel, he is welcomed by a stranger (whom he later discovers that his name was Bertilak, also known as the Green Knight). He is accommodated until New Year (Martinez 116). During his stay, the lady of the castle try to kiss him but he could not bring himself to kiss her back. However by the end of the stay, he had already fallen for her charm, despite the fact that she was the Lord’s wife. After the dawn of New Year, he sets off again. On the way, the Green Knight appears with an axe on his hand that was identical with the one he left behind (Martinez 117). He prepares to behead Gawain but instead he withholds the first and second blow. On the third strike, he nicks Gawain’s neck barely drawing blood. The stranger later discloses his name as Bertilak and clarifies that he was the lord of the fortress that he had stayed between Christmas and New Year. Laughing at the already mortified Gawain, he extends an arm of forgiveness and later in the day, Gawain leaves for Carmelot. He is welcomed and lauded by King Arthur and other Knights for his bravery (Martinez 122).
The Style and Approach of the Poem
The lines and stanzas used in the poem are classified under alliterative revival approach. It is a style originally introduced in the 14th century and it focuses on metrical syllabic. The style was based on a pair of rhyming and stressed syllables at the beginning and at the end of the line.The underlying assumptions in the author’s approach is that she follows her style which has somewhat freer and rhythmic section as opposed to most medieval writers. She also employs rhythmic liveliness by narrating the poem using a combination of long and short lines.
The Literary and Cultural Background
Like most medieval literature, Ann Martinez’s approach comprised of investment on old material that epitomize most tales of adventure and magic (Martinez 118). Therefore, understanding the literature and cultural background is an important part of the narrative. The author embraces the used of fantasy and magic as it is common in most European romantics. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is elaborated using supernatural dialect. Like most mediaeval romance stories, the narrative contains knights, nobility, beautiful women and elements of the supernatural. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is one of the most fascinating poetic romance novels. The dialect and language in the novel is accessible and eloquent but the concepts that are explained are sophisticated. More so, the author contextualizes the readings in both literary and critical sense.
The Evidence in Play
The evidence in play is typical of most romance stories, the story begin with a noble court where the Knight receives a challenge before setting off to accomplish a challenge from a mysterious visitor. Most of the romance stories comprise of basic set pieces such a brave hero and names of famous warriors such as King Arthur.
Romantic Rhetoric in the Poem
The composer of the poem focused on romantic rhetoric. In the medieval sense, Gawain is expected to be skilled in romance and other social rules of the court. In fact he is forced to choose between secular courtesy or refuse the lady without taking offence to his skills as a knight and as a man. The Knight’s code requires him to accept the girdle from the lady but he had also agreed has to give Bertilak whatever he had gained that day (Armitage 23).
Interpretation Based on Cultural Scenes
The argument relies on close reading from the text. To understand the theme and flow of the poem, vast knowledge of middle ages culture is important. Also, the poem is interpreted based on cultural scenes as seen from the first two paragraphs. Cultural scenes are notable from how the author describes the passing of seasons from winter to autumn. By deconstructing romance, the author uses technical language in describing the wild and untamed world of nature and how humans used to interact with each other in the middle ages. The story comprises of a cultural environment characterized by embroidered fabrics, ornamented castles, skillfully cooked meals and skillfully crafted armor. All these factors count as evidence of the mediaeval times and their way of life (Armitage 25).
The Theme of Temptation and Testing
The theme about temptation and testing is clearly elaborated in the story. Gawain believes in societal values because he did not have doubts on whether he would keep his end of the promise. More so, he volunteers to protect the King from the Green Knight because that was his Chivalric duty. Also, while he was accommodated by Bertilak, he tries his best not accept the move from the Lord’s wife. The composer of the poem seeks to demonstrate the weaknesses and superficiality of the human world (Armitage 34).
Moral Idealism and Survival in the Imperfect World
In my view, the piece aims at challenging an individual’s moral idealism. For instance, Gawain is confronted by a number challenges including supernatural men, beasts, hunger among other natural perils. More so, the move by the Lord’s wife poses another challenge on a human’s chivalry. Essentially, the author seeks to drive the point that no man is too perfect or too moral to survive in our imperfect world. Just like the biblical story of Adam and Eve, the poem seeks to drive two points: First, temptation was the key reason for the fall and eventual loss of human innocence. Secondly, men have to labor for them to survive.
Armitage, Simon. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. , 2007. Internet resource.
Martinez, Ann. Bertilak's Green Vision: Land Stewardship in Sir Garwain and the Gren Knight. 2016. Scriptorium Press.