‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’ ctd.

The heavy flirtation continues: the lady says “I’ve heard you’re the most wonderful knight in Christendom and I am your slave”. “No, you must be mistaken, I am not that wonderful at all, you must mean some other guy”, says ever-modest Gawain. “But there are ladies who would give everything they’ve got for an hour with you”. says the lady. “Thank you for your compliment, but it’s not true”. “Oh but it is. If I were the richest woman in the world and had my pick of all the men I would marry nobody but you”. “But you already have a far better husband than me”, parries Gawain. They go on like this until noon, but nothing more happens, partly because Gawain can’t forget about the possible death awaiting him and that doesn’t put him in a particularly amorous mood (although I guess a lesser man would think “What the hell, let’s go for it”).

Finally the lady gets up to leave, but as she is about to go, she says “I don’t think you’re the real Gawain, after all”. “How come?”, asks surprised Gawain. “The real Gawain wouldn’t let me go without a kiss”. “Good lady, I grant it at once!”, exclaims Gawain. So they kiss and the lady leaves his bedchamber, after which he could finally leave his bed, get dressed (is it true that people in the Middle Ages slept naked? I wonder), and then go to a pleasant meal with the lady and the mysterious crone.

In the meantime, the lord is busy hunting and we get two whole stanzas of very technical details about how the killed deer is skinned and carved up. I can think of no good reason for this unless the author wants to show off “Look, I did my research” (a little bit like in some of Umberto Eco’s novels) or wants to foreshadow what the lord would do to Gawain if he returned a bit earlier from the hunt.


‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’ ctd.

At the beginning of Part 3, the Christmas guests are taking off and the lord is also off to a hunt. They are hunting only does in winter – no idea why. Is it because they are off limits during the breeding season, so in winter the huntsmen want to redress the balance and switch to killing females? Anyway, it doesn’t matter because a far more interesting hunt goes on back in the castle – and there a male is a prey. Gawain is waking up when he notices the lady entering his bedchamber alone. She pulls away the curtain and sits down on his bed. Uncertain what to do, he feigns sleep and then waking up with much yawning and stretching. What follows is the most delicious flirt in the history of English literature and if it was indeed written by a monk from a northern monastery, the guy must have known very, shall we say, secular way of life.

“I’ve got you, Sir Gawain, now you are my prisoner”, says the lady.

“Oh yes, I surrender, I am your slave”, says ever gallant Gawain. “But if you could permit me to rise and dress myself, I could fulfill my servant duties better”.

“Oh no, you shall not rise. I am going to pin you down to your bed. We are here quite alone, my servants have not risen yet, my husband is away and the door is well bolted. And since you are Sir Gawain, whom the whole world admires, I cannot but admire you too. My body is here at hand/your each wish to fulfill”.

More sexual harassment of the most noble knight tomorrow.

‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’ ctd.

Gawain celebrates Christmas with his hosts and gets on famously with the lady of the house… but no, not in the way that you may think. It’s only speeches “well-sped, spotless and pure”. On St John’s Day (December 27 – Christmas in medieval England lasted a long time) the party starts to break up and Gawain is getting ready to leave too. When his host presses him to stay, Gawain reveals that he has to go in search of the Green Chapel and he is in great trouble because he has no idea where this might be. The host says “You’re in luck, the Green Chapel is less than two miles away, so that means you can easily stay until New Year’s Day and still you won’t be late for your appointment”. Gawain is greatly relieved to hear that – he gave his word, you see, and his honour depended on getting there. Then the host proposes a game: “I will go hunting early in the morning but you are still tired after all your journeys so why don’t you sleep in and then go to morning service and have breakfast with my wife? And then after I return we will exchange whatever we managed to win on that day”. Gawain agrees and the rest of the evening passes in the pleasant expectation.

‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’ ctd.

After dinner Gawain introduces himself and everybody is excited that it is Gawain “the father of fine manners”, the man who sheds “the polished pearls of impeccable speech” [no, really]. After dinner Gawain and his host go to hear the night Mass. After the service they are joined by the lady of the castle and one more elderly and rather mysterious lady. Everybody treats her with utmost respect, so she is not a servant, but who is she? The wife of Gawain’s host is young and beautiful, why her companion is neither. Nevertheless, Gawain behaves like the paragon of courtesy – he greets the older lady with a bow and the younger with a kiss [and he thinks they won’t notice the difference?] and offers to be their servant. Then they order some spiced wine and amuse themselves with conversation before they retire to bed.

‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’ ctd.

There is Monty Python and the Holy Grail on TV tonight, which seems like a perfect background. Ahem. Gawain contemplates for some time the castle, which looks as perfect as the paper castle that was a popular table decoration in the Middle Ages. Then he asks the porter about the lodging and is received with hospitality. His horse is taken to the stables and he himself is greeted by the lord of the castle, a ruddy middle-aged man. Then he is led to a beautifully decorated room where he has a chance to take off his armour, wash himself and change his clothes for new onew, also graciously provided by the host. After that he is invited to dine; however, the meal doesn’t include any meat. So it seems I had my timeline wrong and it is the Christmas Eve. The servants tell Gawain “Tonight you’ll fast and pray/tomorrow we’ll see you fed”, which is kind of ironic, taking into account that the meal he got consisted not only of soups, but also fish “some baked, some breaded, some broiled on the coils/some simmered, some in stews, steaming with spice”. Is it such a privation? Answer yourself, sweet reader, especially if you compare contemporary prices of fish and cheaper cuts of meat.

‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’ ctd.

Gawain roams the country for nearly two months – reaches the coast of North Wales and then turns eastward to the forests of Cheshire. On his way he has to fight serpents, wolves, boars, giants, wild men etc. He also keeps on asking people (those who don’t want to fight him, presumably) about the coordinates of the Green Chapel but nobody can help him. In the meantime the weather is getting colder, the freezing rain and sleet start to form icicles on Gawain’s armour. On Christmas Day Gawain is worried that he is going to miss the mass and he prays earnestly to find some church or chapel. And then, on cue, he comes across a beautiful castle, which will probably have a chapel and a chaplain. Gawain takes of his helmet and thanks Jesus and St Julian (the patron of hospitality) for helping him to find the way. The weather descriptions are very evocative and may I add, very English.

‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’ ctd.

Gawain, now dressed, hears a mass and then he gets ready to mount his horse Gringolet, which is as richly dressed as he. The last things Gawain puts on is his helmet, ornamented with diamonds and the visor encased with silk over whose embroidery seven women worked seven winters. [No matter how brave Gawain is, isn’t dressing so richly before a journey into the unknown asking for trouble?] Finally he takes his shield, which has on the outside the symbol of pentangle (i,e, pentagram). Is Gawain a secret satanist? Far from it. This pentangle stands is the Seal of Solomon, a mystic symbol invented by this wise king. The fact that it can be drawn without lifting your pen up is the symbol of infinity. The pentangle stands for all the things that are dear to Gawain:

1. His five senses, in which he is faultless

2, His five fingers, which never fail him [errr… shouldn’t it be eight, strictly speaking? or ten?]

3. Five wounds of Christ

4. Five joys of the Virgin Mary, a traditional motif of medieval piety – usually they included Annunciation, Nativity, Resurrection, Ascension [on a human level – why?] and Assumption. The image of the Virgin is on the inside of Gawain’s shield, so he can see her at all times.

5. Gawain’s own five virtues: beneficence (remember how important generosity was in Lanval?), brotherly love, purity of mind, purity of manners, and compassion.

So we have five things times five and all of them are interlinked and equally important, just like five points of the pentagram.

Then Gawain takes his sorrowful leave of all the lords and ladies, as he thinks forever. As he is leaving the castle, people sigh seeing him go. It is sad to see Gawain go to what seems a certain death, because he is a wonderful young man and could potentially become a great leader. They hold it against Arthur a little bit: it was his rash wish for an adventure that brought the Green Knight to the castle.