... y evolves. She obviously represents a certain theme within the story. Lustful greed penetrates Gawain's shield during the time with Lady Bercilak. His pride reaches far beyond that when he takes her sash only for his own survival reasons. He takes the green sash with the understanding that it represents the relationship he had with Lady Bercilak.
She offers it to him, knowing he will only take it with the incentive she adds to it at the end their conversation. She promises him it will protect him from any man, and that no man on earth shall kill him (Gibbons 2). In addition to specific characters, The Gawain poet also uses medieval symbolism to portray the many diverse themes. The poem begins within a symbol. It opens within the Christmas season, which is inevitably followed by New Year's. This concept of a year and a day is rhetorical and symbolic throughout the poem.
As the Green Knight once says, .".. for well you deserve to be readily requited on New Years morn" (162). In fairytales, legends, and mythology this concept tends to represent the same idea. This idea of birth, re-birth, new beginnings, end of one cycle, and the beginning of a new cycle creates the concept of one of the symbols in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Samuels). There is also another symbol in the beginning of the poem. The challenge offered by the Green Knight is symbolic of King Authur's court being tested.
The test symbolizes Authur's court maturing from an age of early innocence to the reality within experience. Courage, virtue, and chastity of the ideal knight are being challenged by beheading, hunting, and temptation from the Green Knight (Samuels). Besides the many symbols in the beginning, there are many more that follow the introduction. One is the Virgin Mary. Gawain is completely devoted to her; he is known by the translator, Gardner, as "Mary's Knight" (Galenet). She represents chastity, honor, and Christian protection.
Also in Gawain's favor, he possesses the pentangle on his shield. This symbol looks like an infinite knot. It represents the five Stations of the Cross, the five wounds of Christ, and the five virtues of a knight. Respectfully, this means virtue, faith, and completeness. Another symbol is the arming of Gawain. He takes this very seriously, and he begins to think of what could happen.
He shows his first signs of fear during this scene. Lastly, there is the fierce weather. It becomes very cold on Gawain's journey to find the Green Knight. Celtic belief suggests that demons, satan, and evil are associated with the cold (Samuels). Lastly, the color green is possibly the deepest and most meaningful symbol of the entire poem.
First of all, there is the Green Knight. Every article of clothing he has is green, which is shown by his words: "For the cloth is as green as my gown" (168). His skin and hair are also colored green. He greatly resembles a fertility god.
He also symbolizes hope, which is extremely ironic considering the situation. Next, there is the green chapel. This is actually a grave site, which is very significant since this is where Gawain has come ostensibly to die. However, in the paralleling chapel at the Castle, he confesses and begs for forgiveness for keeping the girdle. He has done wrong, but it is a small sin. He comes out of the situation unknowingly being successful.
He matures and learns from his experience. The color green is finally understood. It represents hope, and that is what Gawain needs (Samuels). Furthermore, Gardner shows the various themes through the different settings he uses during the poem. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight opens in King Authur's court at Camelot. The opening of the poem in Camelot sets the basis for the themes revealed throughout the story.
Camelot is a large and very respected kingdom. This shows the significance of the poem before it actually starts. By using such a strong setting in the introduction, The Gawain poet creates the meaningful atmosphere for the entire story. Camelot represents the future capability of the morals the story may teach and of the lessons it may touch upon.
Camelot shows the strength of the piece without literally beginning the poem. This setting is not very important considering the time that the story spends there, but its true significance is very meaningful to the story when looked at from a more in depth perception (Galenet). In addition to King Authur's court in Camelot, a very important setting is Bercilak's castle. Sir Gawain stops here while he is on his journey to fulfill his obligation to the Green Knight. The lord of this castle is Bercilak de Haut desert, the Green Knight. As Gardner translates, "One day he (Gawain) comes upon the most beautiful castle he has ever seen" (166).
Gawain does not know this is the Green Knight and proceeds to accept the hospitality from Bercilak. The castle has a much more obvious purpose than Camelot. The castle challenges the virtues of Gawain. His chastity is challenged by temptation, and his loyalty is challenged by deceit. Within the castle, Gawain succeeds with part of the test.
However, he deliberately makes one of his mistakes in the castle. He lies about the girdle that was given to him. Not to mention, he takes the girdle in the first place. The castle represents the flaws Gawain makes and the mindset Gawain has created by being the ideal knight (Gardner). Of course, there is the Green Chapel. This also has a very obvious meaning to the themes of the poem.
At the Green Chapel, the poem is at its best. Here Gawain unconsciously says, "May fire and fury befall this fiendish Chapel" (166); this is before he understands the righteous advances he will make because of the Green Chapel. The contemplating, teaching, and learning take place here. Gawain realizes that the Green Knight is Bercilak and therefore understands the requests from Bercilak at the castle. The Green Knight gains more and more respect for Gawain as he analyzes Gawain's reasons for the mistakes that were made. Gawain grows tremendously during this time.
The Green Chapel shows the bright future that Gawain has ahead of him. It also shows the hope for the moment he takes the blow. The Green Knight is also seen differently. He is now seen as a mentor rather than an enemy. The ending can then be seen as completely brilliant, considering the outcome of the inevitable situation (Galenet). In conclusion, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is an excellent piece of literature.
Today there is still much more the story offers that has yet to be found. The poem remains to be an intricate puzzle that people cannot quite conquer. It is fascinating and intriguing due to the elusive story line it presents. The Gawain poet is considered to be one the finest medieval poets. Richard Hamilton Green sums it up perfectly: "Sir Gawain is the most skillfully made of the English romances, and the most complex in intention, exhibiting a subtlety of presentation and density of implication which we have only begun to appreciate." In other words, we have only skimmed the thoughtful and meaningful intentions of the Gawain poet. We have only started to appreciate and understand the poem.
All in all, there is so much more to find within the piece, more lessons to be learned, and morals to be taught. Gardner, John. "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight." Elements of Literature. Orlando, Florida: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1997: 161-172.
Gibbons, Frances Vargas. Sir Gawain's Mentors. London, England: Landmark Press, 1998: articles 1-2. Samuels, Jonathan. The Gawain Poet: Criticism and Symbolism in SG GK.
Ed. Harold Morgan. New York, New York: Johnston Press, 1987." Gardner, John Champlin, Jr." The New Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia. Dallas, Texas: Grolier Inc. CD-ROM. Disc 1." Sir Gawain and the Green Knight." Galenet.
Gale research 1999 < web.