Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is an Arthurian legend in the genre of English Medieval romances. It is written in alliterative verse in which the first hemstitch has two alliterated letters followed by a caesura and one alliteration in the second hemstitch in the word immediately following the caesura: two alliterated words in the first half of the poetic line, which precede a caesura pause that is followed by a third alliterated word in the second half of the line. The 2,503 line poem arranged structurally into 101 stanzas combines symbolism from Celtic and Christian theology and culture, as does Beowulf. The Medieval romance genre reflected adventure and moral tests as is reflected in the tale of Sir Gawain, who is King Arthur's youngest knight, as his vows of chastity and his courage and honor are tested by Morgan le Fay and the Green Knight. The author, known as the Pearl Poet, who is said to be a contemporary of Chaucer, wrote in a difficult northwest Midlands dialect, hence the tale is usually read in translation now.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, part of classical and medieval literature, falls into the genre of Medieval Romance, particularly as an Arthurian legend. However, unlike other legends the tone is somewhat ironic and the point of view is that of the main character, Sir Gawain, as it is told from the vantage point of the Gawain-poet.
Like other Medieval romances this epic poem contains most of the following elements:
- Embodies the ideals of chivalry
- Set in a remote time and place
- Emphasizes rank and social distinctions
- Conveys a sense of the supernatural
- Presents a hero engaged in pure adventure
- Has a loose structure, lacking in unity
- Includes love as a major plot element
- Features spontaneous, unmotivated fighting