Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a poem which tells the tale of a knight who undergoes trials-testing the attributes of knighthood-in order to prove the strength and courage of himself, while representing the Knights of the Round Table. One of King Arthurs most noblest and bravest of knights, Sir Gawain, is taken on an adventure when he steps up to behead a mysterious green visitor on Christmas Day-with the green mans’ permission of course. Many would state that this tale of valor would be within the romance genre. To the modern person this would be a strange category to place the poem in due to the question of ‘where is the actual romance, where is the love and woe?’ However, unlike most romances nowadays, within medieval literature there are many defining features and characteristics of a romance-them rarely ever really involving love itself. Within medieval literature the elements of a romance are usually enshrouded in magic, the fantastic and an adventure. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight follows Sir Gawain over the course of one year, from one New Years to the next, as was the deal he and Bertilak, the green knight, struck.
Closely associated to the romance tradition are two idealized standards of behavior, especially for knights: courage and chivalry. The protagonist within many medieval romances proved their worth by going on quests, as many a knights went in those times, thus returning with great tales of their travels and deeds. Many modern people think of chivalry as referring to a man's gallant treatment of women, and although that sense is derived from the medieval chivalric ideal, chivalry could be seen as more than that. Knights were expected to be brave, loyal, and honorable-sent to protect the weak, be noble towards women, to be pious and most importantly have the highest prowess in combat. However, with all this in mind, to what extent should one consider this tale as a romance; as it holds the aspects of what one would consider a romance-are there features within the poem that contradict what a romance is, in turn making this less of a romance then some medieval tales? The adventure of Sir Gawain is comprise of magic, trials and a quest to fulfill a promise.
The supernatural, or magic as some call it, are words to describe the scientifically unexplainable. Within Sir Gawain and the Green Knight there are reaccuring supernatural elements and motifs; the prominent one being the Green Knight, or as we later know him as Lord Bertilak, who interrupts King Arthurs New Years celebration. This
“monster of a man, immeasurably high,
a hulk of a human from head to hips,
so long and thick in his loins and his limbs
I should genuinely judge him to be a half giant
[...] no sould had ever seen
a knight of such a kind-
entirely emerald green.
[...] And the horse: every hair was green, from hoof
A steed of pure green stock.”
This unexpected visitor astonished the guests with his “grass green”(190) shade, for