Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by Pearl-Poet

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Part Four, Verses 88-101, Lines 2212-2630 Summary and Analysis

Summary
At first the mound seems deserted, and Gawain wonders if he has been led to the desolate place by the Devil himself. Then Gawain hears a whirring noise, an ax being sharpened. He calls out, and the Green Knight answers that he will come immediately to claim what he has been pledged.

The Green Knight emerges from a cavern in the mound, carrying a huge ax. Gawain tells the Green Knight to take only a single stroke, then bows his head. The Green Knight raises his ax. As the ax descends on his neck, Gawain flinches and looks up. The Green Knight suddenly checks the stroke, and says that his adversary is too cowardly to truly be Gawain. The man with the ax reminds Gawain that he, the Green Knight never flinched when his own head was cut off.

Gawain swears that he will not flinch again. He bows a second time and stands still as a tree. The Green Knight raises his ax once more, but he again brings it down without making contact. Gawain continues waiting until the Green Knight begins to taunt him.

When he realizes what happened, Gawain grows angry at the delay. He accuses the Green Knight of being afraid to deliver the blow. He bows his head for a third time. The Green Knight raises the ax and brings it down, wounding Gawain lightly on the neck but doing no serious damage.

When Gawain sees the blood in the snow, he leaps up, filled with new life. He quickly puts on his helmet, draws his sword and declares that he has fulfilled the contract, and will fight if the Green Knight delivers another blow.

The Green Knight replies in a friendly manner that Gawain has endured his stroke according to the contract and all further obligations are cancelled. The first two strokes, the Green Knight explains, were for the first two times when the mistress of Hautdesert Castle, his wife, came to Gawain’s chamber. He checked the blows, since Gawain had withstood the temptation. The third blow, which nicked Gawain but did not hurt him, was for the third time. Gawain, the Green Knight explains, had withstood the other temptations, but the guest was dishonorable in taking the sash and keeping it from the lord of the castle.

The Green Knight explains that he and his wife were working together to test Gawain, and he had known of everything that happened all along. Gawain, though not perfect, had acquitted himself extremely well. Gawain, however, reproaches himself for cowardice and covetousness. He takes off the sash and tosses it back to the Green Knight.

The Green Knight replies that Gawain has absolved himself of any wrongdoing. He gives Gawain the sash as a gift and a souvenir of the adventure at the Green Chapel. Gawain, the Green Knight says, may think of it as he moves in the society of Camelot after his return. The Green Knight then invites Gawain to return to Hautdesert Castle for the festivities of New Year’s Eve. His wife, the Green Knight continues, will treat him without deception, in spite of the way she tricked him before.

Gawain refuses the invitation politely, wishing well to the Green Knight, his wife and the old crone. He then compares his experience to that of other men corrupted by women: Adam taken in by Eve, Solomon by Sheba and others, Samson by Delilah and David by Bathsheba.

As for the sash, Gawain says, he will wear it, not for its beauty but as a check on excessive pride. Whenever he is tempted to bask in glory, the sash will remind of his shortcomings. Then Gawain asks the Green Knight, as a final favor, for his true name.

The Green Knight, giving the name for the first time, says he is Bertilak of Hautdesert Castle. The sorceress Morgan le Fay, the old crone who stays there, had learned her magic from the wizard Merlin. She enchanted him into the form of the Green Knight and sent him to deliver the challenge at Camelot. She wishes to amaze the court and to frighten Guinevere.

Morgan, Bertilak continues, is also the half-sister of Arthur and the aunt of Gawain. Once again, Bertilak invites Gawain to Hautdesert Castle, but the...

(The entire section is 1,930 words.)