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Symbolism In Sir Gawain And The Green Knight.

1981 words - 8 pages

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a medieval poem by an unknown author, written in Middle English in the 14th century. This poem is uncanny to most poems about heroism and knightly quests as it doesn’t follow the complete circle seen in other heroism tales. This poem is different to all the rest as it shows human weaknesses as well as strengths which disturbs the myth of the perfect knight, or the faultless hero. The author uses symbolism as a literary device in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight to give the plot a deeper and more significant meaning. Symbolism is used to emphasise the difference of this heroism story against others and therefore symbolism is of great importance in this poem. The importance of the following symbols will be discussed in this paper; the pentangle, the colour green, the Green Knight, the exchange of winnings game, the axe and the scar. This paper argues the significance of the use of symbolism as a literary device in the poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
The first symbol in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight that I will discuss is Sir Gawain’s knightly shield. On Gawain’s shield is a pentangle, the five points on this pentangle represent the five virtues of the perfect knight; piety, friendship, generosity, chastity and courtesy. Each of the five virtues is tested on Gawain throughout the poem creating an emphasised importance on the shield’s representation and meaning. “Now alle þese fyue syþez, for soþe, were fetled on þis knyȝt, And vchone halched in oþer, þat non ende hade, And fyched vpon fyue poyntez, þat fayld neuer” (SGGK, 656-8). This quote tells of the pentangle’s design, how each line of the pentangles composition is endlessly linked to one another, suggesting that each virtue depends on the other in an interrelated form. The sequence of the lines in this quote stresses the similar fashion in which each virtue continually flows to the next. Moreover, the pentangles five points create a structure for the poem to follow as ‘its five points fall at significant junctures of the poem” (Derrickson, 11). Therefore, Gawain’s shield fashions an important symbol in the poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight as the pentangles five virtues form the journey that Gawain embarks on in the poem. The use of the literary device of symbolism that is seen here, gives the poem its shape and a structure to follow, and assimilates the events in the poem.
The colour green in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is another important symbol used in this poem. The colour green is evident in the character of the Green Knight and in the green girdle that Gawain accepted of Lady Bertilak. The connection between the colour of the Green Knight and of the green girdle can be seen as a symbol of the inevitable failure of Gawain. As Gawain accepted the girdle he failed to keep his word to Bertilak and the Green Knight and also failed two of his knightly virtues, chastity and courtesy. The colour green therefore can be seen as a symbol of Gawain’s...

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