Part 2, Verses 35–45, Lines 811–1125 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on January 4, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 861

Summary

The porter who has come to greet Gawain at the castle invokes the name of Saint Peter. He then hurries off, and servants come to help Gawain take off his armor. Soon the lord of the castle, Bertilak, comes to welcome Gawain, saying he may stay and treat everything...

(The entire section contains 861 words.)

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Summary


The porter who has come to greet Gawain at the castle invokes the name of Saint Peter. He then hurries off, and servants come to help Gawain take off his armor. Soon the lord of the castle, Bertilak, comes to welcome Gawain, saying he may stay and treat everything in the castle as his own.

Lord Bertilak is an unusually large man with a bright beard the color of a beaver’s pelt. Gracious but fierce, he leads Gawain to a place by the fire, surrounded by splendor and luxury. When the master of the house learns that his guest is Gawain, he laughs with pleasure.

After dining, Gawain meets Lady Bertilak, who is exceedingly beautiful, even lovelier, Gawain thinks, than Queen Guinevere. Lady Bertilak, however, is accompanied by an old crone, who is as ugly as her partner is beautiful. Gawain politely bows to the older woman, then lightly embraces the younger one and gives her a polite kiss. He pledges his service to both of them. After pleasant entertainments, Gawain goes to bed.

The next day, there is a feast. Gawain is paired with Lady Bertilak, while the old crone sits in the place of highest honor. Lady Bertilak and Gawain engage in lively conversation but say and do nothing improper.

After the celebration, Bertilak leads Gawain to a chamber for the night. The lord of the castle tells Gawain that the visit is an honor, and he is welcome to stay longer. Gawain replies that he cannot stay, since he must find the Green Chapel within three days. Bertilak tells Gawain not to worry, since the place is just a short distance away.

Bertilak tells Gawain that he plans to hunt the next day. Gawain, he says, tired from the journey, should sleep late. Lady Bertilak then will keep him company when he takes his meal. Finally, Bertilak proposes a bargain. He will give Gawain whatever game he brings back from the hunt. Gawain, for his part, shall give Bertilak anything he obtains during the day. Gawain heartily agrees, then goes to bed.

Analysis


The porter who welcomes Gawain at Hautdesert Castle invokes the name of Saint Peter. The symbolism here is ambivalent. Peter was the keeper of the gate to heaven, but he was also guilty of denying Christ three times (the number of times that Gawain will later be tempted). While the place is certainly wondrous, the implicit comparison to heaven is partly ironic. Hautdesert Castle is similar to Camelot, which certainly appeared magnificent but was actually troubled.

One message here is that one should look beyond appearance. Everything, Gawain will learn later, is not what he imagined. Everyone from Lord and Lady Bertilak to the courtiers is constantly referring to the great reputation of Gawain, but that is flattery designed to lead him astray. Gawain may think he is only being entertained at Hautdesert Castle, but he is constantly being tested.

Despite the warmth which Gawain is received, there are many subtle hints of danger. Bertilak, who turns out later to be the Green Knight, has a beard the hue of a beaver’s pelt. This is an animal that cuts down trees, and the neck of Gawain is about to be placed under the axe. When Bertilak learns of the identity of his guest (something he probably knew to begin with), he laughs. If the reader already suspects that Bertilak is the Green Knight, the laughter will appear sinister. The exchange which Bertilak proposes to his guest at the end of this section is reminiscent of the agreement between Gawain and the Green Knight.

There are also subtle hints of seductiveness in the description of Lady Bertilak. She is compared with Guinevere, who, according to legend, was guilty of adultery. Furthermore, the narrator assures the reader that there was nothing improper in the conversation between Gawain and Lady Bertilak, hinting at potential for an affair.

Finally, there is the presence of the mysterious old crone, whom we will later learn is Morgan le Fay. She never says a word, but her power and importance is obvious. In another medieval tale, Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnall, Gawain is romantically involved with a sorceress, who appears before him alternately as an old crone and a beautiful young lady. Lady Bertilak and the old crone are closely associated, and, especially for readers familiar with that story, they can seem like different aspects of the one human being. Medieval writers and artists liked to remind people of mortality and physical decay. The author may be saying that the beautiful young woman and the old crone are the same person at different stages of the life cycle.

The actual nature of Hautdesert Castle, however, will remain a mystery even at the end of the poem. None of the people there apart from Bertilak and Morgan le Fay is ever actually named in the poem, and they do not seem entirely real. The place is certainly uncanny, but we never know whether it is a genuine castle or simply a magical illusion. Perhaps it represents the dreams of glory which can be so seductive to a romantic young man.

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Part 2, Verses 22–34, Lines 491–810 Summary and Analysis

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Part 3, Verses 46–66, Lines 1126–1647 Summary and Analysis