Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by Pearl-Poet

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Part Two, Verses 35-45, Lines 811-1125 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Lord Bertilak: Lord of Hautdesert Castle who welcomes Gawain, and who will be later revealed as the Green Knight (not actually named until the end of the poem, but we will use this name earlier for convenience)

Lady Bertilak: the wife of Lord Bertilak, notable for her great beauty, who will later attempt to seduce Gawain

Old Crone: a woman who accompanies Lady Bertilak, and is as ugly as her companion is beautiful; occupies the place of honor at the celebrations, and later turns out to be the sorceress Morgan le Fay

Summary
The porter who has come to greet Gawain at the castle invokes the name of St. 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 he lightly embraces the younger one and gives him 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 entire section is 956 words.)