Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, written by an anonymous fourteenth-century poet in Northern dialect, combines two plots: "the beheading contest, in which two parties agree to an exchange of the blows with a sword or ax, and the temptation, an attempted seduction of the hero by a lady" (Norton p.200). The Green Knight, depicted as a green giant with supernatural powers, disrespectfully rides into King Arthur's court and challenges the king to a Christmas game -- a beheading contest. Sir Gawain, a young, brave and loyal knight of the Round Table, acting according to the chivalric code, takes over the challenge his lord has accepted. The contest states that Sir Gawain is to chop off the Green Knight's head, and in one year and a day, the antagonist is to do the same to the hero. The whole poem is constructed in a way that leads the reader through the challenges that Sir Gawain faces -- the tests for honesty, courtesy, truthfulness. Throughout, we see his inner strength to resist the temptations.
Lines 566 through 634 portray the hero as he dresses up and gets ready to go to find the Green Knight on November first, almost a year after the beheading contest in the king Arthur's court. Remembering the beheaded Green Knight on the horse with his head under his arm, King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table try to talk Sir Gawain out of going on this dangerous and, possibly last, mission, but the hero, keeping his part of the bargain, acts as the true and honorable knight should act: he goes to find the villain.
The first stanza depicts the protagonist who orders his armor to be brought to him. A rare and expensive carpet is brought and spread on the floor. Then the hero is dressed in the "coat of Turkestan silk"(Norton, p.214, l.571), "kingly cap-`a-dos … with a lustrous fur"(Norton, p.214, l.572-573), steel shoes, plates to protect the knees "affixed with fastening of the finest gold" (Norton, p.214, l.577), protective plates for the arms, gloves, "sharp spurs to prick with pride"(Norton, p.214, l.587) and "silk band to hold the broadsword"( Norton, p.214, l.588-589). The hero's helmet, "embellished with the best gems"(Norton, p.214, l.609) and "with diamonds richly set"( Norton, p.214, l.617), has been made by many women who had to work for seven years in order to create such beauty. Besides being very heavy, the knight's suit is also described as being composed and decorated with the most lavish and expensive materials such as silk, gold and diamonds. This strikes the reader as being odd. When we first meet him, Sir Gawain describes himself as poor, humble, insignificant and the weakest of all the knights, and, yet he has such goodly clothes and armor. This little detail could be overlooked (because, after all, the hero is King Arthur's nephew), but it makes the contemporary reader realize that the things in the King Arthur's...