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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, like Lanval, is an example of Arthurian literature, although Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was apparently written about two hundred years later than Lanval was. How are the two poems similar? How are they different?

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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Lanval are both stories of magical temptation and testing centered around King Arthur's court, but they differ in their plots and in the motivations of their characters.

Sir Gawain, a knight in King Arthur's court, receives his test when he accepts the challenge...

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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Lanval are both stories of magical temptation and testing centered around King Arthur's court, but they differ in their plots and in the motivations of their characters.

Sir Gawain, a knight in King Arthur's court, receives his test when he accepts the challenge of the Green Knight. He cuts off the Knight's head, but the Knight (who is clearly magical) merely picks it up and reminds Gawain that he must receive a blow in return in a year. When the time comes, Gawain keeps his promise and sets out, arming himself with the symbols of Christianity on his gear and virtue in his heart. He manages to hold onto that virtue through a series of attempted seductions by Sir Bertilak's wife (who is testing Gawain). Yet Gawain fails in one way. He accepts the green girdle in hopes that it will protect him from the Green Knight's blow. He gives in to superstition, and he laments his cowardice.

Lanval is also a knight in King Arthur's court, but he differs in that he falls in love with a mysterious, magical woman who gives him wealth and promises that she will come to him when he calls only if he never tells anyone about her. Lanval, however, succumbs to temptation when the Queen herself tries to seduce him (notice the parallel to Sir Gawain's experiences, except here, the Queen really means the seduction; it is not a test). Lanval speaks of his lady to try to save his reputation. The Queen, who has a vicious streak, tells Arthur that Lanval tried to seduce her, and Arthur decides that he will have Lanval executed unless his lady shows up. She does in the end, and the two lovers go off together away from the sinful court.

We can see the similarities here in the trials and temptations as well as in the magical elements of the stories. However, their plots are quite different, and the King's court is much more sinister in Lanval.

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