13 thoughts on “Jan 26: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Question

  1. I believe that the motif of green isn’t singular in describing the Green night, but only half of his “color array”. The green itself could represent nature itself, wild and mysterious. His choices and motivations are unknown, very much like what nature was like back then. He was described as being a “terrible figure”, “forbidding” yet “elegant in shape”. This could also be used to describe nature, like a beautiful tree. His green is also described as a “hue” that “astounded them”. This is no Army issue camo, it’s incredibly rich and luscious coloring just like a mossy grove on a summer day (lines 136-150).

    He’s also bedecked in gold, which is very important as well. He’s a regal knight, no matter what else there is to say about him. He’s something to behold, showing his power through the amount of gold he wears, as well as precious stones and gems (line 159, 162, 172, 189-195). Even his axe, his weapon that will ultimately get a bit bloody, is bedecked in “green and gold steel” (line 211).

    His mysteriousness and power are undeniable just based on his fashion alone. The mixture of green and gold is an unforgettable duo of power and beauty, an image few will ever forget.

  2. When the Green Knight rides into Arthur’s hall, his physical beauty astounds the courtiers, as does his gem-studded, vibrantly green appearance. As the central celebration in Part 1 takes place in midwinter, the Green Knight’s coloring contrasts to the washed-out colors of winter. Further, it suggests some magical connection, as the Green Knight is linked with nature several times, with the “butterflies and birds” embroidered on his fine silk and the holly-branch that is “brilliantly green when forests are bare” (line 166, 207). Even in the dead of winter, this mysterious, giant knight is green and full of life. In addition, the gold accents suggest wealth, and the narrator marvels over the gold and the gems several times.

    • I agree that the green definitely signifies nature. It’s interesting that instead of having a sword or another common knightly weapon, the green knight chooses to use a holly branch and an axe. But another interesting aspect of the color green in this story is how it signifies both the natural and supernatural. While green is used in conjunction with multiple natural images in the narrative, the fact that the knight has green skin seems to suggest that he is a supernatural being. So green symbolizes these two conflicting ideas, just like the knight.

      • I agree with your interpretation of the green as nature, specifically the the holly branch connecting the green of the wilderness to the green of the Green Knight. I think this leads to an interesting characterization of Gawain as a man that battles nature. During his travels on the way to the green chapel, Gawain fights many wild creatures. The poem reads, “Sometimes he fights dragons, and wolves as well, / Sometimes with wild men who dwelt in the crags; / Both with bulls and with bears, and at other times boars, / And ogres who chased him across the high fells” (p. 179, lines 720-723). His journey seems to be filled with battles against beasts of nature or “wild” men. Nature itself, however, seems to be a bigger foe than monsters for Gawain. The text reads, “For fighting troubled him less than the rigorous winter” (p. 179, line 726). Even when he is not facing the Green Knight, Gawain is fighting all variations of the forces of nature.

  3. The way that color is used to characterize the Green Knight is interesting because throughout parts one and two the character is eerie, supernatural, and debatably evil as he has, in a way, tricked Gawain. Normally one wouldn’t picture that kind of character, especially in older religion heavy literature, as being this grand, handsome, red headed knight decked out in green and gold. You’d think he would be a lot creepier with darker and more drab colors being associated with his physical appearance. While there is still something supernatural and eerie about the character, the descriptions and use of the colors associated with him make the Green Knight more difficult to decipher. They add an element of regality and pridefulness as well as some complexities to a character who could have just been described out of the gate as your run of the mill demonic force.

    Apart from the Green Knight, color and light seem to be utilized mostly when describing armor and other knightly things. Such as Gawain’s circlet “made with perfect diamonds of every brilliant shade” (lines 617-618) and the knot on Gawain’s shield that was tied “royally with red gold upon red gules” (line 663). To this point colors have consistently been very regal and bright, giving everything associated with them an especially heroic and bold flair.

    • So the knightly trappings of green and gold hide the (in your perspective) deceptive nature of the Green Knight then? Are we, in the view of a medieval audience, supposed to question the moral nature of the Green Knight? Your analysis suggests that we might see an “exemplum” in this story, that the Green Knight is a Satanic figure, rather than a chivalric hero. I like how you point out the comparative use of colors among the knights; It’s interesting that Gawain has the same sort of regal description with his diamond circlet, and the Green Knight is described in almost lurid detail:
      “Most attractive was this man attired in green,
      180 With the hair of his head matching his horse.
      Fine outspreading locks cover his shoulders;
      A great beard hangs down over his chest like a bush,
      That like the splendid hair that falls from his head
      Was clipped all around above his elbows,
      185 So that his upper arms were hidden, in the fashion
      Of a royal capados3
      that covers the neck”.
      Most definitely I agree about how color is utilized in the poem to attribute goodness and chivalry towards “knightly things”.

  4. The Green Knight is vividly described in Part 1 of the poem. During a lavish Christmas dinner, the Green Knight bursts into the hall and disrupts the entire court. The Green Knight is described as massive, but trim and proportionate, and completely green. He is also wearing an ermine coat and has silk and gold embroidery in his clothing- it is clear that whoever this stranger is, he is very rich. I think it is also important to note the language used to describe the court’s response to the Green Knight. He is described as “Most attractive was this man attired in green,” (179) and when Arthur goes to greet him the poet writes “Arthur confronts that wonder” (250). Referring to the Green man, who is a foreign giant, as “attractive” and a “wonder” leads one to believe that the crowd is in awe of him but do not see him as a threat. I think part of this is that he clearly has money, due to his fine attire and his beautiful horse.

    So, I think the color green is used to show the Green Knight’s wealth and thus make him more welcome in King Arthur’s court.

  5. I concur with all that has previously been said about the color green. To add, I believe the color green is not only a motif to characterize the Green Knight, but also a way of progressing the story forward. When King Arthur was waiting for a story at dinner, it is the marvelous green giant who enters in. Green represents growth and new life, reflected in the changing seasons, which move the story forward. When Gawain leaves King Arthur’s court, traveling through the “dense forest, wondrously wild” his character development begins. (179) Green represents a new world, a magical mysterious place that Gawain is not exactly sure how to find.

  6. In addition to nature, the color green has also been known to represent energy, specifically “new, youthful” energy, which characterizes the relationships between the Green Knight and three supporting characters, specifically: Guenevere, Arther, and Gawain. First, however, we must characterize the Green Knight, as he’s described. The Green Knight rides in on “a green horse huge and strong / A proud steed to restrain…plaited with gold thread around the fine green” (ll. 175-189). If his stature is to represent his physical prowess, the gold which adorns the Green Knight’s steed is to represent his aristocratic prowess, as well. Second, Guenevere is described as “the loveliest to see,” but she “glanced around with eyes blue-grey,” implying that, despite her outward beauty, she has an inner sadness, signified by the color blue, and desperation, signified by grey; the Green Knight may be the one to instill Guenevere with a new life, a new happiness, which is especially hinted at when the Green Knight holds his severed head toward her (ll. 81-82). The Green Knight’s “energy,” if you will, although plausibly positive for Guenevere, is the opposite for Arthur. The Green Knight is seen “ferociously rolling his red eyes about,” to which Arthur responds by growing “red with rage” (ll. 304-319). It seems as if the Green Knight is seeking to take Guenevere from Arthur,s court, which would likely make the king quite upset. Lastly, Gawain slices the Green Knight’s head upon taking the knight’s challenge, at which point he “cut through the white flesh…And all withered is the grass that was green before” (ll. 424-527). The latter half of the previous quotation can be literal in describing the actual grass, but is most likely a metaphorical statement regarding the Green Knight’s development. Gawain has “sliced” the Green Knight of his purity (white), and we may see this evolve in the parts III and IV. Furthermore, when Gawain is to journey to the Green Knight’s castle, his armor is described as “trimmed with white ermine on the inside…all covered with gold studs on a background of red / So that the whole glittered and shone like the Sun” (ll. 573-604). His armor represents his inner purity (white), relationship to King Arthur and the aristocracy (gold), and power (red). It’s also to be noted, as well, that the color red is the complementary (more or less, opposite) color to green, showing a juxtaposition between the two characters, Gawain and the Green Knight, with none being inherently good (white), nor bad (black), but simply different.

  7. Throughout Sir Gawain and the Green Knight the author repeatedly uses colors as a motif to describe the relationship between the objects said colors are found upon and the significance each are intended to express. We meet our colorful character, the mysterious Green Knight when Arthur’s court is celebrating the holiday season on the New Year. This is a time when the world is barren and dreary. As mentioned before the Green Knight undoubtedtly symbolizes not only the rugged and harsh reality of nature he also invites the mysterious notion of the supernatural. The Green Knight, like a spring thaw offers Gawain a promise of solving this selfcreated mystery so that he may fulfill his deal of the game. It is a challenge that forces Gawain to enter the wide green world and acheive glory for his noble king Arthur.

  8. I also agree with the previous posts on the topics of the green motif. We see the green knight entering during the Christmas dinner in an outfit “completely emerald green”(150). From head to toe, even riding “a green horse huge and strong” (175). As previously stated, the green could symbolize an association with nature which can create another form of mystery since state of the outside is white and stark. This contrast would highlight the green knight’s presence and importance. Green is a color that can also be associated with fruitfulness and fertility which could be one of the indicators that the green knight would not be slain at the challenge. The green knight also dons accents of gold which help signify his importance and marks him of noble status. Later when Sir Gawain ventures out to fulfill his quest, he too armor “gleaming with gold” (591). The motif of green could also symbolize or foreshadow notions of misfortune that could point to the downfall of either Sir Gawain or the green knight.

  9. I agree with the idea that the green represents a linkage to nature , but also to highlight the disconnect between the Green Knight and the Arthur’s knights. He is more attractive, stronger, richer, and well, seemingly better than them, with “every part of his body equally elegant” (164). Perhaps the green also brings out the envy that the other knights feel towards this superior knight because of how out-of-their-world he seems. This notion is further supported when he comes in and has such a strange request, alienating him further from Arthurian culture along with his green. This could also hint to some foreshadowing of their second fight– nature loses all its green in the winter, so maybe this is foreshadowing weakness in the Green Knight.

  10. “The horse that he rides [is] entirely of that colour,in truth.A green horse huge and strong,A proud steed to restrain,Spirited under bridle,But obedient to the man.”
    Green connects nature. They carry a holly branch and an axe which is green. Of the the most natural places is the green chapel. Overall Green shows growth and strength much like a tree that grows.

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