Jan. 26: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Sir Gawain bravely asks to take on the Green Knight’s quest in place of King Arthur as seen in lines 343-361. He understands that he is given a year and a day to complete his challenge when he repeats the quest “in exact terms” (line 392) to the Knight. He also has no idea where the Green Chapel, home the the Green Knight, actually is. Why do you think Sir Gawain delays his departure until November first, giving him a little over two months to find the unknown whereabouts of the Green Chapel? And furthermore, why do you think he wastes more time at the castle when the deadline for his challenge, which he so bravely accepted, grows ever nearer?

11 thoughts on “Jan. 26: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

  1. I believe that the reason that he gives himself about two months to find the castle is because, as you said, he hasn’t a clue where to find it, and so he gives himself sufficient time to find it and the Green Knight. It seems to me that the reason that he “wastes more time at the castle” when he knows that the deadline is nearing was only that he trusted the lord who owned the castle in which he was staying. The lord told Sir Gawain that he knew whereabouts of the Green Chapel that he was seeking and that it was less than two miles away (lines 1075-1078). And so, knowing that the Chapel wasn’t far, he thought it would be okay to stay longer.

    • It should be noted that Gawain arrives at the castle on Christmas Eve and stays until the morning after St. John’s Day (December 27th) before he finally decides to ask somebody if they know where the Green Knight can be found, giving himself only three days to find the Green Knight with no leads. It is almost by dumb luck that the lord happens to know the location of the Green Chapel at all, as nobody else that Gawain asked knew. I believe Gawain stayed so long without asking about the Green Knight because he was simply exhausted from traveling and got lost in merrymaking. Lines 1042-45 seem to show that Gawain isn’t afraid enough to die that he would sacrifice his honor and stay which leads me to believe that he really just lost track of time.

      • I agree, at first I thought that Gawain might of wanted to stay longer because he was afraid but in all actuality there wasn’t much he could do because he had no idea of where he was going. However I do think it was foolish of him to even stop for so long at all because he knew that he would eventually need to find the chapel by new years. I found it a little peculiar that the King so happen to know where the chapel was. Apart of me thinks he is lying or it might not be the right chapel and in result Gawain will miss the dead line for his quest.

  2. Sir Gawain delays his departure till the first of November because he knows that he likely will not return from this quest. To fulfill the terms of his agreement with the Green Knight, Sir Gawain must receive a blow unarmed from the hand of the Green Knight. Unlike the mysterious figure of the Green Knight, Sir Gawain knows that with his head severed from his body his chances for survival are less than ideal. Therefore, he delays his departure as long as possible, so he can enjoy his fleeting days of pleasure at Arthur’s court. Those who watch Gawain depart express their certitude of his death when they cry “What a pity indeed/ that your life must be squandered” (674-675). Gawain delays his departure because he is putting off the inevitable; his death.

    • I agree that Sir Gawain may have left off his departure until November because he was (either consciously or subconsciously) avoiding a likely death. However, I find it quite strange the situation he lands in on his journey to find the Green Chapel. A castle suddenly appearing before him. A huge feast and beautiful women afforded to him. The Lord saying he knows the location of the Green Chapel and that it lies only 2 miles away. It all seems like some sort of trap as opposed to a strike of good luck, which is how Sir Gawain treats it. The conversation even ends with their making an agreement (1105-1111), which reminds me of the one he made with the Green Knight only a year earlier. All of this makes me think that Sir Gawain is letting his guard down and giving in to material things rather than focusing on the task at hand and accomplishing his mission, his end of the bargain. He foolishly puts his trust in people that he hardly knows even though his reputation is on the line with this mission.

  3. I believe that Sir Gaiwan allots himself two months to locate the Green Castle because he is traveling in a relatively small country and believes he will be able to reach his destination within that time frame. Furthermore, the Green Knight himself expresses to Gawain that he is “widely known, So if you make search to find me you cannot possible fail” (454-455). Gawain probably assumed that it wouldn’t take long to come across someone that knows of the Green Knight, and it would then be a relatively quick and easy journey to the Green Castle. I think he has all this in mind even while staying at castle, and in the end it turns out he was right–when he finally learns of the Green Castle’s whereabouts from the king, it is “not two miles away” (1078) that he must travel.

    • Realistically, Gawain is doing something that I’m sure we all have experience with: procrastinating. The Green Knight did say that he would be easy to find, but he also emphasized that he would only find him if he searched for him (454-455). The point here is that Gawain was meant to put in serious effort in order to complete his challenge – he was meant to fight in order to be given the chance to prove himself, even if that meant he would die. He did essentially find the Green Knight by chance; yes, he searched, but not for a year and a day and not to the extent that most stereotypical heroes of this time would have in order to prove their honor. He was trying to put off what he believes to be inevitable; he thinks that he will not live to return home, even though his honor will be solidified by the completion of the quest (668-669). When he gets to the castle, he is inundated with pleasantries, and he wishes to enjoy the last of his days in that kind of revelry, especially since he is told that the castle is nearby. Most hero figures of this time would have been singleminded in their focus when fulfilling their quest, but he pauses and delays, and to me it seemed as if he was not fully resigned to giving up his life for glory. This would be a very different perspective than other knights and the general idea of courtly life in this time.

  4. I believe Gawain waits so long to depart on his quest for two reasons, the first being as Wilson said previously; it’s common knowledge that he most likely will not survive this ordeal, so he spends as many days as he can afford in the comforts of the castle with his friends and fellow knights before going to his death. This is what makes his offer to volunteer as tribute in Arthur’s place (341-365) such a worthy sacrifice. He’s offering to subject himself to the certain death at the giant’s demands instead of the beloved King of Camelot.
    Secondly, he probably does this because it is more convenient for the story. To make the plot more dramatic, Sir Gawain cuts it really close and arrives at the Green Chapel just before time runs out. But if he were to leave Camelot the moment he was given the quest and still arrive at the Chapel in the nick of time, it may reflect poorly on Gawain as a character, making the hero of the story appear weak or foolish that he couldn’t find the Green Chapel in such a large expanse of time. This way, Gawain finds the Chapel just under two months, whilst fighting off dragons, wolves, wild men, ogres, and whatnot (715-725), making him appear more valiant and noble while simultaneously adding a layer of tragedy by addressing that he knows he won’t make it out of this alive.

  5. I believe that Gawain waits until November 1st to find the Green Chapel because he thinks he is going to die. As he leaves Arthur and his fellow knights at court, he “bade[s] them all farewell, not to return, he thought” (668-669). By volunteering to take on the Green Knight, he has finally proved himself to be a noble and worthy knight, more than just Arthur’s nephew. Believing that the Green Knight will kill him, Gawain wants to live for as long as he can, not wanting to sully his feelings of valor with the reality of his “grim quest” (535). I think he wastes more time at the castle for similar reasons, but also because he has finally found both comfort and lust. He is treated like royalty at the castle, constantly being pampered and tended to. Also, he feels lustful toward the young and beautiful lady at the castle. When he finds out that the Green Chapel is only two miles away, this is a convenient excuse for Gawain to extend his stay until the day of his confrontation.

  6. As stated above, I believe he planned his departure for November 1st to give him ample time to find the Green Chapel. He goes to the castle that first night in search of a Christian mass on Christmas and only stays longer once the King explains that the Green Chapel is nearby. However, I find his willingness to stay quite a while before even asking about the Green Chapel interesting. In the beginning of Part 2, Gawain’s attire is described at length, specifically his golden pentangle on his shield. Each point is to represent something: the knight’s 5 virtues including his senses, dexterity, spirituality, generosity and compassion. Once Gawain enters the castle it seems some of these lose importance; the King explains that he will lead him to the Chapel, therefore he does not need to use his senses and his dexterity, or physicality, becomes obsolete in the castle when he gets drunk and stays there for three days doing nothing. I foreshadow the other three will go kaput.

  7. I see Sir Gawain’s continual delaying as a sign of anxiety of his aforementioned likely death. I found the section where he sleeps in the forest, hearing beasts and having nightmares to be very indicative of his mental condition. A modern read of these events would show the beasts in the forest to be very indicative of what Gawain believes lies before him, and of his fears. When he decides to linger at the castle, I believe Gawain is enjoying a temporary escape from reality. I actually found this scene quite interesting; as it all seemed very spiritual and mystical, from the castle appearing out of Gawain’s prayers, it also was somewhat alarming, in its stark contrast from Gawain’s journey. Particularly off putting was the description of the beautiful vivacious wife of the king, in contrast to the time spent describing the ugly woman. From all we have read so far of old english, it does not seem usual for there to be portrayals of physically hideous females. I had to wonder weather the poet was trying to give the reader some kind of warning with this odd detour. It seemed an ominous one, and also good justification for Gawain to linger.

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