List of Characters
Master List of Characters
King Arthur—The legendary king of Britain, at whose court the story begins. Husband of Guinivere and uncle of Gawain, he presides over the famed Knights of the Round Table at Camelot, which are the subject of numerous romances from the start of the Middle Ages through the present. Some scholars believe he was originally a tribal chieftain in Britain, while others trace him to a solar deity.
Queen Guinevere—The wife of Arthur. According to legend, she had an affair with Sir Lancelot which brought about the fall of the Round Table. Her adversary is the enchantress Morgan le Fay, who, we learn at the end of the poem, conjured the Green Knight in order to terrify Guinevere.
Sir Gawain—The nephew of Arthur and a knight. He accepts the challenge of the Green Knight, whom he must behead, then seek out next year (see separate section).
Bishop Baldwin—Religious figure, who in the beginning of the poem, sits next to King Arthur
The Duke of Clarence—Attends the feast in the beginning of the poem.
Sir Ywain, Sir Eric, Sir Dodinal le Sauvage, Sir Bors, Sir Bedivere,
Sir Lionel, Sir Lucan the Good and Sir Mador de la Porte—Knights of the Round Table.
Sir Agravain á la dure main—A knight; Gawain’s brother.
Sir Lancelot—A knight; has an affair with Queen Guinevere.
The Green Knight—The mysterious man in Green whom Gawain, in...
(The entire section is 497 words.)
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Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Sir Gawain, the bravest, most virtuous of the Knights of the Round Table. He accepts the Green Knight’s challenge to uphold the honor of Arthur’s court and sets out in autumn on the quest that is essentially a test of his virtue. Temptation awaits him at the castle of Bercilak de Hautdesert, where he must resist the amorous attentions of his hostess without violating the courtesy he owes her as her guest and, at the same time, keep his bargain with his host to exchange whatever he receives at home for the game Bercilak kills while he hunts. Gawain is faithful for two days, but on the third he succumbs to his fear for his life and accepts from the lady a green girdle that protects its wearer from injury. This very human lapse brings him a mild wound from the Green Knight, and he returns to Arthur’s court a chastened, shamefaced hero.
King Arthur, the merry young ruler of Britain who is prepared to fight for his own cause if none of his knights will challenge the Green Knight.
Guenevere (GWEHN-eh-veer), his beautiful young queen, the object of Morgan le Fay’s hatred.
Sir Bercilak de Hautdesert
Sir Bercilak de Hautdesert, the good-humored knight who is Gawain’s host. An avid sportsman and lover of good entertainment, he proposes to Gawain an exchange of the gains of each day as amusement...
(The entire section is 331 words.)
The Figure of Sir Gawain
Gawain was probably the earliest of the Arthurian heroes. Scholars associate him closely with the Irish hero Cú Chulaind. An adventure of Cú Chulaind in the tale of Bricriu’s Feast, which is usually dated to the eighth or ninth century, appears to be an early version of the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Cú Chulaind and two other warriors have each claimed to be the champion at the court. To settle the dispute, a judge sends all three to the sorcerer Utath, who proposes a test. The champion must behead Utath, who will then return the next day and cut off the head of the warrior. Only Cú Chulaind has the courage to accept this challenge. After being decapitated, Utath picks up his head and walks away. He returns the next day with his head back on his shoulders, and, fulfilling the bargain, Cú Chulaind stretches out his neck. Utath brings an ax down of Cú Chulaind’s neck three times, but does not hurt him. Instead, the sorcerer tells Cú Chulaind to rise and declares him the champion.
Gawain is mentioned in Geoffrey of Monmoth’s History of the Kings of England as Arthur’s nephew and as the greatest of British warriors. He later retains some of the roughness of his Pagan heritage. In the Arthurian romances of Cretien de Troyes, Gawain is associated with magic and unrestrained sexuality. In later Arthurian romances, he is generally overshadowed by figures such as Lancelot, Percival, Galahad and Bors. He often is described as a...
(The entire section is 488 words.)
The Figure of the Green Knight
The mysterious Green Knight is the most unique, and perhaps most memorable, feature of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Scholars have long debated whether he owes more to Pagan mythology, to poetic invention or folkloric ceremony. However that may be, he represents a spirit of vegetation. Trees can live far longer than human beings, and they have regenerative powers that people have always envied. A person who loses a limb is permanently handicapped, but a tree that loses a limb will simply grow in another direction. The Green Knight has this ability. On being decapitated, he simply picks up his head, which continues to speak in his hand. The next year, the head is back on his torso where it belongs.
While he has, as we shall explain later, numerous possible predecessors in literature, the Green Knight is a figure primarily known through the visual arts. The Green Man is a familiar figure in the sculpture of churches, especially from approximately eleventh century on. He would be composed of vegetative forms, often leaves. Sometimes he would grimace at the worshippers. He might also smile or simply stare in front of him. At times, he would be a knight, but he is not consistently identified with any sector of medieval society. It may be that there were legends associated with the Green Man, but he could also have been used primarily for decorative purposes.
Nevertheless, possible literary predecessors of the Green Knight may go back...
(The entire section is 834 words.)