Last Updated on January 4, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1094
Over dinner, Gawain is engaged in conversation with Lady Bertilak. After festivities, Gawain tells Bertilak that he wishes to depart in the morning, but Bertilak urges him to stay one more night. They should not let the opportunity for enjoyment pass, he urges, for the future is uncertain. Gawain...
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Over dinner, Gawain is engaged in conversation with Lady Bertilak. After festivities, Gawain tells Bertilak that he wishes to depart in the morning, but Bertilak urges him to stay one more night. They should not let the opportunity for enjoyment pass, he urges, for the future is uncertain. Gawain agrees and, once again, lingers in bed the next morning.
The next day, the lord of the castle chases a fox. It tries to elude the hounds by changing direction and taking unexpected paths. At times the fox appears to elude the party, but they take up the trail again.
Meanwhile, the mistress of the house comes, once again, to Gawain’s bed, wearing a splendid robe. She finds him unsettled, troubled by dreams about his appointment with the Green Knight, and bends over to give him a kiss. Gawain gently repulses her advance. She asks if he is so restrained because he has another love. Gawain replies that it is not so.
At this, the lady is abashed. Giving up the idea of seducing Gawain, she asks for a token to remember him by. Gawain replies that he has nothing worthy to give, since he has not taken any baggage with him on the journey. The lady replies that she, in that case, will give something to Gawain.
First, she offers him a precious ring. Gawain refuses it, saying that since he can give nothing in return, he can also not accept anything. Lady Bertilak replies that perhaps the ring is too valuable, so a less costly gift would be more appropriate. She offers him her green sash instead. When Gawain refuses that as well, she says that it has magical properties and can preserve the wearer from weapons.
Thinking the sash might protect him from the Green Knight, Gawain at last accepts. The lady implores Gawain not to tell her husband about the sash. He agrees, and she leaves after having given Gawain a total of three kisses.
Gawain dresses and goes to the chapel to confess, preparing to be beheaded by the Green Knight. The priest absolves him of his sins. He then joins in the Christmas festivities.
While this takes place, the party is still following the fox. Bertilak waits in ambush, then throws his sword in front of the fox. Before the animal can turn, the dogs seize it.
When Bertilak returns, Gawain does not wait to find out what he has brought. Gawain greets Bertilak, giving him the three kisses he received but saying nothing about the sash. Bertilak says, regretfully, that he has only a paltry fox-pelt to give in exchange, then tells Gawain how the fox was slain.
After the meal and festivities, Gawain asks Bertilak to provide him with a guide to the Green Chapel the next morning, and the lord of the castle agrees. He says farewell to the lords and ladies of Hautdesert Castle, then sleeps uneasily thorough the final night before setting out.
During the eighteenth century, when hunting deer was no longer the exclusive privilege of the nobility, they turned to the fox hunt for recreation. In the Middle Ages, however, the lords and ladies generally hunted large animals such as deer, while hunting foxes was generally left to the common people. Such game was considered unworthy of a knight. People probably found the idea of a huge party with dogs pursuing a little fox to be a bit ridiculous, just as some do today.
Nevertheless, the spectacle corresponds, once again, to the behavior of Gawain. Just as the fox constantly swerves and changes direction to avoid capture, Gawain is wavering and irresolute. In the morning, his sleep is troubled by the thought of his imminent execution by the Green Knight. The expectation that he is about to die makes the temptations more intense. Gawain can no longer postpone enjoyments but, he believes, must have them at once or not at all.
When Gawain tells the mistress of the house that he is not pledged to any other woman, nor does he expect to be for a time, she takes that as a final rebuff of her attempt at seduction. The reason is not immediately clear. This could mean that she was looking for an affair without commitment and wished for somebody pledged to another woman.
As we learn later in the poem, however, Lady Bertilak knows about Gawain’s appointment with the Green Knight. Perhaps, then, the declaration of Gawain tells her that he has accepted the finality of death and all the loss it entails. This explanation certainly does more credit to both parties.
Lady Bertilak changes her approach and asks Gawain for a gift to remember him by. In view of his expected death, the request seems ironic. The temptation here is renown, prized by the ancient warriors. Thinking back on the founders of dynasties mentioned in the opening lines of the poem, we will recall that posthumous fame was often linked with dishonor. Unlike Aeneas and many others, Gawain places integrity above that sort of immortality.
The temptation of the ring may be that of wealth. Gawain, however, realizes that he cannot take riches with him to the grave. The last temptation, the green sash, however, is the most subtle. It is the idea that, through trickery, a person may evade fate.
After initially refusing the green sash, he takes it from Lady Bertilak in hope of saving his life. He then conceals this from Bertilak. After Bertilak throws his sword to block the way of the fox, the fox, uncertain which way to turn, is killed through irresolution. It loses time and is caught by the dogs. Possibly the sword thrown by Bertilak might be compared with the belt, offered by the mistress of the house as a last resort after her other schemes have failed.
On the previous days, Gawain had waited for Bertilak to present his winnings before offering the kisses he received. This time, Gawain takes the initiative and gives Bertilak the kisses at once. This might be a way to evade questions. Bertilak gives Gawain the fox pelt and tells how the animal was slain. Gawain, once more, does not reciprocate by telling how the kisses were obtained.
Though Gawain has taken the green sash, his subsequent behavior suggests that he does not have a great deal of confidence in its power. He then confesses and prepares himself for death. We do not know whether he confesses taking the sash or whether he fully realizes that he has done something wrong.