Who is the Green Knight?
The Green Knight is described as an unusual and supernatural figure in the fourteenth century story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Throughout the story he is portrayed as a very confident individual who intends to play a game with one of the knights of the Round Table. In doing this, the Green Knight hopes to show that the knights of the Round Table indeed have flaws and weaknesses; this is the Green Knight's overall goal. However, the Green Knight himself can be viewed as a being prone to flaws and experiencing weaknesses. As the deceitful master plan he creates develops throughout the story, so does the truth behind his intentions for such a plan. Thus, the role and purpose of the Green Knight is to be known.
The Green Knight's physical features are well depicted in the story. He is noted for his green skin pigmentation and giant size: "One of the greatest on ground in growth of his frame: From broad neck to buttocks so bulky and thick" (161). The Green Knight is looked upon as "half a giant on earth" and highly regarded because of this. Arthur's court becomes amazed to see such a creature of such enormous size. The Green Knight's language is charming and abrupt when he asks firmly: "Where is the captain of this crowd? Keenly I wish to see that sire with sight, and to himself say my say" (163). To a king this may seem a bit rude to addressed in such a way.
The Green Knight's plan is to test the court. He wants to test one of Arthur's knights. Because of their fame and how well they are known for their chivalry and courage, the Green Knight seizes this as an opportunity to place before them a challenge. Sir Gawain takes on the challenge. The Green Knight offers his head to be cut off in exchange for a counterattack from Sir Gawain. Sir Gawain is able to win this first challenge. However, the Green Knight now places a much more difficult challenge upon Sir Gawain, one that Sir Gawain cannot meet. He offers his head to be cut off in exchange for a counterattack.
What is unusual about the Green Knight is that he is known as the Green Knight throughout the story until Sir Gawain asks him for his name: "How runs your right name?" (208). The Green Knight explains to Sir Gawain how he has come to be known as the Green Knight. He explains to Sir Gawain that Bercilak de Hautdesert is his real name, and because of a magical lady known as Morgan le Faye, he is transformed into such a being. The Green Knight continues to explain that the reason she does this to him is all part of a plan to undermine Arthur's knights to cause his self-destruction. Morgan le Faye, who is Arthur's half-sister, later makes her goal to destroy her brother's kingdom and place her son, Mordred, on the throne. Because of this, the Green Knight is created by her to confuse Arthur and his men, "She put this shape upon me to puzzle your wits" (208), as well as to scare Guinevere.
In the end, the plan works, as Sir Gawain fails the test...