illustration of a green shield with an ornate design

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

by Pearl-Poet

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Part 1, Verses 11–21, Lines 232–490 Summary

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Arthur and the knights of the Round Table are silent and stare in amazement at the Green Knight. 

After some time, Arthur courteously introduces himself and invites him to stay, but the Green Knight refuses, saying that he has come for combat and that one of the Knights of the Round Table will answer his call. 

He taunts the knights and offers a challenge: any knight can use the Green Knight’s axe to cut off his head, but they must seek him out in one year’s time to let him behead them in return. 

Nobody rises to accept the challenge and the Green Knight continues to goad the knights until Arthur himself volunteers. However, before Arthur can strike the Green Knight, Sir Gawain steps forward and takes up the challenge on behalf of Arthur instead, who agrees and tells Gawain to strike the knight with such a blow that he will be unable to retaliate. 

The Green Knight is satisfied to have a challenger, and Gawain asks where the knight lives and, only to be told that he must fulfill the first part one of their agreement. 

Sir Gawain cuts off the Green Knight's head, which rolls around the hall until the Green Knight picks it up and carries it to his horse. He mounts his horse, and the severed head tells Gawain that he must fulfill part two by seeking the knight out at the Green Chapel. The Green Knight tells Gawain that the people who live near there will be able to show him the way. With that, the Green Knight leaves.

Afterward, Arthur orders that feast continue as if nothing happened, stating that such events are appropriate during Christmas season, and tells Gawain to hang up the ax for now.

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Part 1, Verses 1–10, Lines 1–231 Summary

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Part 2, Verses 22–34, Lines 491–810 Summary