Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Summary

When festivities are spread across the minds of the people, King Arthur’s troops of men and women rejoice in the celebrations at his court. King Arthur, although not consuming in the celebrations initially, later meddles in conversation with his brave stories of adventures including the one which got him interested in the festivities. Ironically, the interesting feat did not have to wait long to happen as a Green Knight enters the court and seizes everyone’s attention. Even his exterior appearance consisted of having green skin, riding on a green horse and carrying aa adorned axe as his weapon.

The Green Knight urges all the other knights of the king seated on the roundtable to have a duel with him. But this was a rather unusual dual. The Green Knight challenged to test the honor of the knights by receiving a blow from an axe to the head from them, only to give back a blow from his axe in return after a year and a day. The Knight of King who would accept this will have to travel to the Green Knight’s place after a year and a day to receive the same blow in order to keep their word of honor. After his declaration of this weird and sadistic request, everyone in the court stays quiet and no one comes forward to volunteer. This makes the Green Knight mock the court filled with officials and knights for their lack of courage and honorability and eventually he even calls on King Arthur himself to take up the challenge. But before Arthur could stand up to take the blow, his nephew, Sir Gawain, an honorable knight of the King, steps up to take the challenge and prove his honorability and exclaims that a king must not engage themselves in childish feats like this.

Sir Gawain does exactly what was expected of him from the Green Knight. He carefully places the axe and strikes a blow to the Green giant’s head which causes it to be severed from his body and drop on the floor. This leaves the court in utter shock, which is further heightened when they realize that the Green Knight had not actually died from the blow from the axe. Instead, they watch him get up and pick up his separated head from the ground and tell Sir Gawain about his end of the deal that now needed to be fulfilled. The Green Knight, standing in front the court with his head in his hands, tells Sir Gawain that after a year and a day, he was now supposed to go to the Green Knight’s Green Chapel and receive his share of the same blow to keep his word of honor.  Then the Green Knight rides back on his green horse and out of the court, leaving the people of the place in disbelief from what they had seen.

Time flew past with its changing seasons and it was again almost Christmas Time. This only meant one thing; Sir Gawain now had to make preparations to keep his end of the deal and set out for the Green Chapel to receive his end of the blow from the Green Knight.  He sets out on his way on All Saint’s day for the chapel in order to prove the worth of his honor. The path to the chapel, however, was not easy. Sir Gawain had to come across and deal with monsters and battle them for his life and even endure the harsh snowfalls and shivering cold so that he doesn’t die from on his way. He had to ride through enchanted lands and find his way to his destination in one piece. He was nearly defeated by the weather conditions and had succumbed to prayers to the Virgin Mary image that was plastered on his shield and asked for a way that would lead him to the chapel. Just then, he was able to see a castle which was called the Castle Haut Desert. He sets off towards the castle in hopes to find shelter and rest up to set off on his journey again later as he was too exhausted and beaten up by the cold to continue now. By good luck, he was openly welcomed inside the castle by Lord and Lady Bertilak who were ready to host him there and make him comfortable. Sir Gawain was only glad that the residing people were nice enough to let him in and that castle stood a place where it stayed protected from all the enchantments and monsters, ensuring himself the safety he needed.

The next day, after the Christmas food and feasts, Gawain prepares to leave for the chapel. However, Lord Bertilak stops him and tells him that he knew the way to the Green Chapel and that it was not far from the castle. He could relax and enjoy his stay there and the lord would later guide him to the chapel when needed so there was no need to be in a rush. Furthermore, to make it more interesting for the knight, Lord Bertilak introduces a game to him which he can play while he stays in the castle. The game said that during Sir Gawain’s stay in the castle, he was to return whatever he received from the castle to the Lord. This exchange was basically anything that the two would win and give to each other. Persuaded by the words of the lord, Sir Gawain decides to stay and enjoy their hospitality.

The next morning, Lord Bertilak sets out to hunt a deer and Sir Gawain sleeps in. He wakes up to Lady Bertilak who had come to his room to socialize with someone with such an honorable and dignified reputation. They converse for a while with each other but then the lady decides to leave. However, shocked by the behavior of Sir Gawain, she asks him if it was really him who is called Sir Gawain. Confused by the question, Sir Gawain asks her what she meant. She then explains that someone with his reputation would not let a woman leave without a kiss. Conflicted between the act of chivalry and the act of honorability, Sir Gawain chooses to kiss her so that his reputation still remained intact and her view of him didn’t turn sour. This was the first thing that Sir Gawain had gotten from the castle and according to the game, he had decided to return it to the Lord when he came back from hunting.

The events repeat themselves again for the second and third days when the lord leaves again for hunting and Sir Gawain and the lady spend a pleasant day conversing with one another. With another set of kisses exchanged between them, Sir Gawain knew that this too, must be given back to the Lord when he comes back home. When the lord is back, Gawain gives him back kisses he’d received from the lady, showing sign of honesty and honorability.

In the last day, the lady of the castle decides to give Sir Gawain a green girdle also known as the “lover’s token”, and she informs him that this has magical properties that make the wearer invincible from death. This thought struck Sir Gawain and he immediately knew this was something he needed before he faces the Green Knight. In order to save himself from the deadly blow from the Green Knight, contradicted by his honor, he decides to not give back the green girdle to Lord Bertilak. The next morning Sir Gawain sets out with the guide who shows him the way to the Green Chapel. The guide also repetitively warns him about going there as the place is very dangerous. 

Sir Gawain, upon entering the Chapel, finds the Green Knight with his severed head, sharpening the axe, getting ready for his share of the strike. When they were ready, Sir Gawain puts his head down to receive the blow. The Green Knight raises the axe to strike but stops midway, seeing Sir Gawain flinch to the move out of fear. The second time when the Sir Gawain had promised not to flinch anymore and take the bow courageously, midway the green Knight stopped again saying he was testing if the knight was truly ready or not. During the third attempt, The Green Knight, instead of blowing off his head from the body, decided to lightly cut the skin with his axe. When asked why it was revealed that the Green Knight was Lord Bertilak and that he had shown mercy only because Sir Gawain had been loyally returning the kisses to him which he received from his wife. The third blow was compensated because he never returned the green girdle but the lord understood this was done because Gawain was only afraid for his dear life. This was a lesson Sir Gawain would take for the rest of his life for the sake of his honorability and then he returned home.