In "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," what does King Arthur mean when he says, "If contest here you crave, you shall not fail to fight"?

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tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the Medieval story of "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," King Arthur is hosting a party during New Year's Eve when a challenger enters the hall on his horse, interrupting the party. His presence seems threatening even though he is ironically holding a holly branch for peace and a huge ax. This obviously would cause some confusion, but King Arthur is not one to back down from a threat. King Arthur's court was known for training the best knights in the land, so Arthur would never back down from a challenge. His reputation was important to uphold.  In fact, no one answers the Green Knight's challenge and Arthur steps up himself. That is when his nephew, Gawain, accepts the challenge. Hence, even though it was a party the Green Knight was crashing, King Arthur would always accept a fight out of pride and reputation; anything else would be considered cowardly.

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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

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