Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by Pearl-Poet

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Download Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Part Three, Verses 46-66, Lines 1126-1647 Summary and Analysis

Summary
Bertilak leads his followers on a hunt for venison. The stags are spared in accord with the season, but the hinds are driven into valleys, then shot with arrows. Those few that manage to escape are killed by the hounds.

Meanwhile, Gawain lingers in bed. Lady Bertilak enters his room, bolts the door. At first, he pretends to be asleep. She pulls the curtain from the canopy of his bed and watches him. After lying still for a considerable time, Gawain decides it would be best to speak to Lady Bertilak, opens his eyes and pretends to be amazed. Lady Bertilak speaks to him very seductively, reminding Gawain that Bertilak and the others are away. Then she openly offers her body to Gawain.

Gawain pretends not to understand, managing to reject the advances without offending the hostess. He repudiates the flattery of Lady Bertilak, saying that her husband is better than he. Finally, she says that he could not truly be Gawain, for such a renowned man would not have lingered with a lady without craving a kiss. Gawain replies that, to avoid offending her, he will give her the kiss, in accordance with the rules of courtesy. They exchange a kiss, and Lady Bertilak leaves. Gawain dresses and goes to mass. He spends the afternoon in civilized conversation with Lady Bertilak and the old crone.

Meanwhile, at the hunt, the hinds are piled up. They are systematically butchered, and the parts are ceremoniously divided among the participants in the hunt, from Lord Bertilak to the hounds. They return as it grows dark.

Bertilak brings all of the venison he has obtained to Gawain, who is very impressed. According to their agreement, he gives all of the game to Gawain. The guest, for his part, gives Bertilak the kiss he received, saying that is all he obtained. Bertilak thanks Gawain, then asks how he got the kiss. Gawain cleverly replies that he need not answer, for that was not in the agreement. Both laugh, and they go to supper.

The next day, Bertilak and his retinue hunt an enormous boar. This animal kills several hounds, and arrows fail to pierce its hide. The hunters, however, continue the pursuit.

At the same time, Gawain lingers again in bed. Once more, Lady Bertilak approaches him. This time she is even more sexually aggressive than before. She rebukes Gawain for lack of courtesy, because he refused her advances. This time Gawain is more direct in his refusal, and tells her to take back what she has said. She replies that Gawain is so strong that, even if she were so rude as to resist him, he would be able to force his will. Gawain replies that bullying is not admired in his country. Lady Bertilak continues her attempt to seduce Gawain, alternating flattery with taunts. Finally, after giving Gawain two kisses, she gives up and leaves.

Bertilak, meanwhile, is still pursuing the boar, which darts into a hole by a stream. The other hunters, many of whom have been wounded, are afraid to approach it. The master of the castle, however, dismounts and stalks the boar with his sword. They battle in the water until Bertilak kills the beast.

After the boar is disemboweled, Bertilak takes it home and presents it to Gawain. To fulfill his side of the bargain, Gawain gives Bertilak the two kisses he received. The lord of the castle expresses satisfaction.

Analysis
Critics and scholars have especially high praise for part three of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, because of the sophisticated construction of the plot. Scenes of the hunt alternate with scenes of the castle, suggesting many parallels between the two places. This technique also enables the author to communicate many emotional nuances through contrasting the activity indoors and outside.

Hunting was a fundamental part of life among the medieval aristocracy. Not only the men but also ladies frequently took part. Not only did hunting serve a variety of practical purposes beyond the obtaining of food, but it also was overlaid with many social and symbolic meanings.

For one thing, hunting supplied training...

(The entire section is 1,567 words.)