The Character Of The Green Knight In Sir Gawain And The Green Knight

751 words - 3 pages

The Character of the Green Knight in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

In the most general sense, the Green Knight is an anomaly to the story of " Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," the only supernatural element in what is otherwise a very believable and wholly real rendering of a specific length of time. Gawain is momentarily tricked into believing‹or, rather, hoping‹that the garter is magical in nature, but both his fear and the Green Knight dispel him of that heathen notion. Thus on the one hand the poet warns us of the danger of accepting the supernatural qua supernatural, while on the other he demands that we understand the Green Knight to be an expression of the "power of Morgan le Fay," who is "well taught in magic arts." The effect of this then is to thrust the Green Knight into an even greater shroud of mystery than normal for Arthurian tales, which usually feature a whole cast of impossible characters.

From this isolated line of thought, it would seem as if the Green Knight ought to be held only to his own, strange, separate rules. Since he is the sole fantastical creature, why should he conform at all to any rules of the court, the rules of dress, the rules of promise-keeping, in short, the rules of chivalry? Why should he not be rather more like Grendel of Beowulf, a disgusting, evil thing, virtually indescribable, whose sole rules are the rules of mayhem? The simple answer that one must expect a chivalrous adventure of sort come Christmas Eve proves itself quickly to be a cheap escape to this question: the legend at court as The Quest of the Holy Grail lays it out is that the adventure must present itself before Arthur sits down to eat, whereas in Sir Gawain, "the first course [had] been properly served to the court, when there bursts in at the hall door a terrible figure." Abandoning this artificial paradigm gives us no alternative but to ask how it can be that this "aghlich mayster" can at the same time be yet another "hathel" on a...

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