illustration of a green shield with an ornate design

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

by Pearl-Poet
Start Free Trial

In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, how does Camelot represent good and the Green Chapel evil?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Camelot is introduced as a charming and civilized space. Set during Christmastime, a period of merrymaking and community, the author describes Camelot as bustling with activity and youth:

This King lay royally at Camelot at Christmas tide with many fine lords, the best of men, all the rich bretheren of...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Camelot is introduced as a charming and civilized space. Set during Christmastime, a period of merrymaking and community, the author describes Camelot as bustling with activity and youth:

This King lay royally at Camelot at Christmas tide with many fine lords, the best of men, all the rich bretheren of the Round Table, with right rich revel and ceaseless mirth. There full many heroes tourneyed betimes, jousted full gaily; then returned these gentle knights to the court to make carols.

The knights and their ladies are in harmony, dancing and laughing together. Everyone is described as being "in their prime." The food is bountiful. Overall, the author is suggesting Camelot is the pinnacle of civilization, as close to perfect as a society can be.

There is a downside to all of this though. The men inside, being young, are unprepared for the arrival of the Green Knight. Not only is the Green Knight a powerful outsider, but he is also an ancient being and a representative of mortality, an unwelcome reminder of death. It must also be noted that aside from Gawain, the other men, even the noble Arthur, are reluctant to risk their lives to play the Green Knight's game with the ax. The Green Knight is chaos, and in the orderly world of Camelot, chaos is the antithesis.

Later, when Gawain arrives at the Green Chapel, the atmosphere is entirely different. It resembles less a proper chapel but rather a grave:

[Gawain] turns to the hill and walks about it, debating with himself what it might be. It had a hole at the end and on either side, and was overgrown with grass in clumps everywhere, and was all hollow within—nothing but an old cave or a crevice of an old crag.

This is a total reversal from the gaiety and cheer of Arthur's court. The eeriness is not lost on Gawain, who says, "Here about midnight the devil might tell his matins." This suggests that this is an unnatural place, a perversion of a real place of worship. The resemblance to an opened grave increases the suspense of the situation, yet it also prefigures that Gawain will, in a sense, die to his old self. To become a true knight, he cannot stay in the orderly, safe world of Camelot; he must face evil, though less so from the Green Knight and more from within himself.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team