Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by Pearl-Poet

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Part Two, Verses 22-34, Lines 491-810 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Gringolet: Gawain’s horse

Peter: the porter who welcomes Gawain to Hautdesert Castle

Summary
The year passes quickly. Gawain celebrates at the court of Arthur on November 1, All Saints’ Day. On the following day, All Souls’ Day, he takes leave of his companions and sets out on his horse Gringolet to find the Green Knight.

Gawain wears splendid armor, and his shield is adorned with the symbol of the pentangle painted in red gold on the outside and a picture of the Virgin Mary on the inside. The narrator describes the symbolic meaning of the pentangle, which he said was conceived by Solomon. It is called by the English, he says, “the endless knot,” since it may be drawn with a single line. It has five points, a mystic number.

Nobody Gawain meets knows the way to the Green Chapel. The journey proves perilous, and he must battle many adversaries: dragons, wolves, wild men, bulls, bears, boars and ogres. The land is cold and inhospitable.

Finally Gawain passes through a grove of ancient trees, and glimpses a beautiful castle in the distance. It is surrounded by a double moat, above which rise many towers and turrets. As Gawain approaches, a porter comes to greet him.

Analysis
Gawain sets out on All Souls’ Day, which is a Christian holiday set close to the time of the Celtic celebration of Sauin, when the border between the world of human beings and that of spirits, according to tradition, would disappear. The Christian overlay never entirely replaced the original meaning of the period, and many celebrations associated with it are similar to those of Halloween. Both All Souls’ Day and Halloween, for example, often involves the lighting of candles and even contacting the dead.

The story of the Sir Gawain and the Green Knight fuses many traditions, and the author was doubtless aware that the time had both religious and popular significance. While Gawain undertakes his journey out of high ethical standards appropriate to a Christian knight, the journey involves him in a world of archaic magic. It is a quest that his companions at the Round Table fail to understand.

The author must have attached great importance to the description of the pentangle on Gawain’s shield, since it is the only time in the poem that he departs from the role of narrator to speak in philosophical terms. The symbol goes back to the earliest civilizations of the Near East. The primary use of the symbol has been in alchemy and the occult, though it sometimes appears in ecclesiastical materials as well. It later came to be regarded as a Satanic symbol, which is the way many people think of it today, though the Gawain poet certainly had nothing of the sort in mind.

Medieval lore often centered on mystic numbers. The poet tells us at great length how the number five, corresponding...

(The entire section is 734 words.)