June 08, 2021

#08-094: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight - Part II

manuscript illumination of a bearded man lying in an opulent bed, while a woman seems to be giving him food or drink
The Lady Bertilak tempts Sir Gawain

Note: In this part of the story, Gawain trades kisses in a strange castle with a mysterious couple, and nearly pays for it with his life.

Get Ready: Would you fulfill an honorable promise, even if doing so might lead to your death?

In Lesson #08-093, we learned that King Arthur's nephew is on his way to have his head chopped off, the result of a challenge by a giant Green Knight. He is staying at the castle of a friendly lord, who has promised to give him whatever he brings back from the hunt--if Gawain will do the same.

While the lord is a-hunting the first day, the lady of the manor enters Gawain's bedroom and attempts to seduce him. Being an upright man, Gawain refuses, but allows the woman one small kiss, so as not to offend her. The lord returns and gives Gawain the deer he has shot; Gawain reciprocates with a kiss.

The next day, the same thing happens. But this time Gawain accepts two kisses, which he passes on to the lord in exchange for the boar he has killed.

But the third day is different. Aside from three kisses, the lady offers Gawain a ring--which he refuses--but then she offers him a green sash which, she says, is charmed, and will protect him from harm--and he accepts it, considering his circumstances. She furthermore makes him promise to keep the sash a secret, and so he does.

When the lord returns, he gives Gawain a fox, for which Gawain gives him the three kisses--but says nothing about the sash.

The next day is the day of reckoning. Preparing for what may be his last day on earth, Gawain wraps the sash like a belt twice around his waist, and sets out for the Green Chapel, following the directions he has been given. The "chapel" is just an earthen mound, and there he finds the Green Knight--sharpening an axe!

As agreed, Gawain places his head on the block, and the Green Knight takes his first swing. Gawain flinches--and the Knight mocks him for it--but is unharmed. Again the Knight swings, again pulls back--and this time Gawain holds firm, and urges the Knight to finish the job.

On the third swing, the Knight nicks Gawain's neck, and announces that the game is over. Gawain springs up ready for a fight, but the Knight laughs heartily and explains: he is none other than Bertilak de Hautdesert, the lord of the castle, who has been transformed by magic. 

Furthermore, he explains, Gawain was unharmed during the first two swings because he had kept the bargain the first two days, giving all that he had received--the kisses. But his withholding of the sash on the third day earned him the slight wound.

The whole affair, the Green Knight says, was dreamed up by the old lady Gawain had seen upon his arrival, who was in fact the evil sorceress (and Arthur's sister) Morgan le Fay. She had a two-fold purpose: to test Arthur's men, in hopes of bringing shame on them; and to frighten her sworn enemy Queen Guinevere at the feast.

Gawain is ashamed by his deceit, but the Green Knight declares with a laugh that Gawain is the most blameless knight in Arthur's kingdom. He tells Gawain to keep the sash, and he does, as a reminder of his shame. Upon his return, the other Knights of the Round Table absolve him of his shame and agree that they all will wear such a sash, in honor of Gawain--and as a reminder to be honest.

Some see in this an origin story for England's chivalric Order of the Garter, even today one of the highest honors a British citizen can receive.


Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sir_Gawain_and_the_Green_Knight

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. absolve
  2. blameless
  3. boar
  4. deceit
  5. flinches
  6. nicks
  7. reciprocates
  8. sash
  9. seduce
  10. withholding

  1. winces; shrinks from pain
  2. cuts slightly
  3. a wild pig
  4. a kind of belt
  5. try to make love to
  6. keeping back
  7. without fault
  8. an act of lying
  9. gives in return
  10. release from guilt

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for June 8, 2021

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. j; 2. g; 3. c; 4. h; 5. a; 6. b; 7. i; 8. d; 9. e; 10. f