What do you think of the way the Green Knight and his wife trick and seduce Gawain in "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Since this question requires the student's own opinion, his/her "reader reaction," the student should give this opinion. However, this opinion should be a judgment that is based upon, not just the content, but also the genre of this literary work. So, since Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is defined as a medieval romance, perhaps, then, the student's judgment of this poem can be based upon how well it follows the requirements of this genre of medieval romance.

  • Medieval Romances

1. The presence of supernatural elements create mystery and suspense.  Often there is a mystical creature (Morgan LeFay) and a supernatural setting with seemingly normal characters who possess a preternatural quality or ability. The Green Knight is such a creature, as he cuts off his own head

And as steady he sits in the stately saddle
As he had met with no mishap, nor missing were his head. (Book I)

The presence of these forces act as the antagonistic element which Sir Gawain must overcome. While the Green Knight apologizes to Sir Gawain at the end, the trickery and intentions of Morgan LeFay are strictly sinister, just as they are toward other knights since her nature is evil.

2. There is an idealization of Chivalry - Knights are very devoted to women and their behavior is courteous, respectful, and                                                   solicitous.  

Certainly, Sir Gawain is chivalrous: He promises Lord Bertilak when he stays with them that he will give his lordship what he gains, just as Lord Bertilak will do the same. However, Sir Gawain keeps the green girdle that Lady Bertilak gives him as a protection. When he learns that the Green Knight is Lord Bertilak, Sir Gawain confesses that he has kept the girdle, but Lord Bertilak returns it to Sir Gawain.

Although he wronged Lord Bertilak  while he has stayed with Lady Bertilak, Sir Gawain has been chivalrous by kissing Lady Bertilak when she makes advances upon him--

Sir Gawain, good was he, pure as refined gold,
Void of all villainy, virtue did him enfold-- (Book Two, Vi)

...gives her a comely kiss, as fit from a courteous knight...(XIX)

3. Romance is central to the narrative as the knight's devotion to his lady is a driving force. His love mobilizes him and moves the romantic element throughout the work.

Taking the green girdle from Lady Bertilak, Sir Gawain sets out bravely for Green Chapel. He rides to meet the Green Knight and to prove his valor to Lady Bertilak. Before he departs, he tells her,

Yet am I proud of this, the praise ye give to me
My sovereign ye, and I your servant; verily,
Do yield we your knight, and may Christ ye repay....

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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

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