Monday, August 5, 2013

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Part 1 Summary contd

File:Sir Gawaine.jpg

From the picture book of Howard Pyle

  • OK, let the story begin!
  • We're now in Camelot, King Arthur's famous court, and it's Christmas time. Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table, and a bunch of other guests are celebrating.
  • The Christmas celebrations include fifteen days of feasting and entertainment, including jousting and dancing.
  • We hear a good deal about how amazing King Arthur is and how brave his knights are.
  • It's the New Year and everyone is gathered, celebrating and giving gifts.
  • At dinnertime, Queen Guinevere sits in the middle, decked out in beautiful and expensive clothes and jewelry. The narrator assures us that's she's the most beautiful woman ever.
  • Arthur doesn't want to start the feast until someone tells a pre-dinner story about some exciting adventure, or until some kind of marvelous event happens. (This is a little tradition of his.) So Arthur holds off on dinner, joking with his nobles and refusing food until something interesting happens.
  • In the meantime, we're introduced to some of the people surrounding Arthur, including Gawain, the king’s nephew and a very good knight.
  • Some trumpets sound, and the first course of the feast is set out.
  • Before long, something interesting does happen: a giant of a man bursts into the hall, riding a horse.
  • We're treated to some detailed descriptions of this giant, including hearing about his broad shoulders, trim waistline, and thick limbs. (He's starting to sound like the hero of a romance novel.)
  • And then we find out that he's completely green. His clothes are green. His skin is green. Even his horse is green.
  • His clothes are fancy, decorated with elaborate embroidery, gems, and silky ermine.
  • His hair is long and nicely styled. Even his horse's hair is combed and braided.
  • This green giant doesn't have any armor, but holds in one hand a holly branch, and in the other an enormous axe.
  • He glares at everyone, then asks to speak to their leader.
  • Everyone is completely astonished. They think he might have come from the land of the fairies.
  • Silence settles over the feast hall as everyone sits stone-still, waiting for King Arthur to speak.
  •  Part 1, Lines 250 - 490 Summary

    • The fearless King Arthur speaks up and greets the knight politely, saying, "Sir, welcome to this place. I am the head of this house, and my name is Arthur. Get off your horse and relax, and we will learn what your wish is after a while."
    • But the large Green Knight isn't interested in hanging around. He's come because Camelot and Arthur's knights have a reputation for being the best of the best.
    • He says that the holly branch he's carrying shows that he's come in peace, as does the fact that he isn't dressed for battle.
    • The Green Knight assures Arthur that he hasn't come to pick a fight. But if he were here to fight, he's sure that none of these little knights could beat him.
    • So what does he want? To play a little Christmas game, of course.
    • The Green Knight explains the rules, saying, "If anyone here believes himself so hardy and quick as to be able to give stroke for stroke, I will make him a gift of this fine axe. I will attempt to withstand the first blow from it, totally unarmed. If anyone is inclined to take my challenge, make your way to me quickly and pick up this weapon. He may keep it as his own. And I will withstand his stroke unflinching, right here, right now."
    • Hmm. What's the catch?
    • The Green Knight has one condition. A year and a day from today, he'll get the chance to take a swing at the challenger with an axe.
    • No one responds, so the Green Knight starts insulting Arthur and his knights, saying they're not as brave and fierce as they pretend to be.
    • Arthur is embarrassed and tells the Green Knight that his game is ridiculous, but that he will meet the challenge.
    • Arthur goes up the Green Knight and grabs the axe. The giant seems totally unconcerned.
    • But then Gawain steps up. He thinks it's wrong for the noble Arthur to take such a silly challenge. He proposes that he take his uncle's place.
    • Arthur agrees, gives Gawain the axe, and tells him to hit the Green Knight hard.
    • Gawain goes up to the Green Knight, who is still completely unafraid.
    • The Green Knight asks for the name of his challenger, and Gawain says that he's Gawain. He also agrees that in twelve months he'll receive a blow in return from the Green Knight.
    • The Green Knight wants to add one more detail to the terms of the agreement: after twelve months, Gawain has to come looking for him.
    • When Gawain wants to know where the Green Knight lives, the knight responds that he'll give Gawain the name of his homeafter Gawain hits him with the axe. If the Green Knight can't speak after the axe-blow, then Gawain doesn't have to come looking for him in a year's time.
    • So the terms of the agreement are set.
    • The Green Knight exposes his naked neck.
    • Gawain swings the axe and hacks off his head.
    • The Green Knight's handsome head drops to the ground and rolls around.
    • Though he's decapitated and his fancy green clothes are covered in blood, the Green Knight's body remains standing.
    • Then he walks forward and picks up his head. Holding his head, he mounts his horse.
    • The Green Knight turns his nasty, severed head to Arthur and his guests. The head speaks and reminds Gawain of his promise. He says he's known as the Knight of the Green Chapel, and Gawain can find him at the Green Chapel on New Year's Day, twelve months from now. If he doesn't show up, he's a total coward.
    • Then the decapitated Green Knight gallops out of the building.
    • Arthur and Gawain laugh and grin about the green man, agreeing that they have indeed witnessed a marvel. Guess they can eat their feast now.
    • Arthur, Gawain, the Queen, and all of the knights and guests have double helpings of the holiday meal, plus desserts. They listen to music and generally have a good time. 

      Part 2, Lines 491 - 690 Summary

      • Time passes and it's soon Lent.
      • More time passes and spring arrives, followed by summer. We hear about the pretty blossoms and plants growing.
      • Now it's the harvest, followed by autumn.
      • Finally, the cold weather sets in and Gawain thinks anxiously about his impending trip. Yet until All Saint’s Day, Gawain lingers with Arthur, who prepares a farewell feast. Everyone is sad or worried to think of Gawain going to meet the Green Knight.
      • Gawain tries to act upbeat, saying things like, "Why should I worry? A man must confront his fate, be it good or bad."
      • The next morning, he preps to leave.
      • He dresses in fancy silk clothes and an ermine-lined cape.
      • He puts on his polished armor, including leg coverings, a mail-shirt made of steel, elbow pieces, gloves, and his trusty sword.
      • Gawain prays at the high altar, then says goodbye to Arthur, the other knights, and all of the lords and ladies.
      • He hops on his horse, Gringolet, who is also decked out with a shiny new saddle and bridle.
      • The narrator gives us some more descriptions of Gawain's fancy gear.
      • His helm (helmet) is studded with gems and has a silk border, lavishly decorated with embroidery. It looks like many women in town must have worked on it for seven years.
      • The circlet that wraps around his head is made with diamonds.
      • His shield is then brought out, with a golden pentangle (five-pointed star) on it.
      • The narrator takes a quick break from the main action of the story to tell us why Gawain has taken the pentangle as his coat of arms.
      • The narrator tells us that the pentangle is a sign that Solomon composed to stand for truth, because it has five points and lines, all of which interlace with the other. It is endless; the English call it the endless knot.
      • This sign suits Gawain because he has five important aspects to his personality, all of which fall into groups of five. Let's go through them all:
        1. He is known to be faultless in his five senses. (Guess he doesn't need glasses or anything.)
        2. His five fingers are extremely sure and dexterous.
        3. He puts all his earthly faith in the five wounds of Christ on the cross.
        4. Whenever he’s in battle, his thoughts are all on the five joys that Mary had in Jesus. (Gawain even has a picture of Mary painted on the inside of his shield, as a reminder.)
        5. The fifth group is kind of a grab-bag of virtues: Gawain is devoted to generosity, fellowship before all else, purity, courtesy, and, most important of all, charity
      • Now that we've got that straight, let's get back to the story.
      • Everyone says goodbye to Gawain, sure they'll never see him again.
      • Gawain rides off on his horse.
      • Part 2, Lines 691 - 842 Summary

        • The narrator tells us about how crummy Gawain's trip is – he's lonely, hungry, and can't find good places to spend the night.
        • Gawain travels to North Wales and into the wilderness of Wyrale.
        • As he travels, he asks everyone he meets if they have ever heard of the Green Knight of the Green Chapel, but no one has.
        • He continues his trip, passing through many strange lands, and encountering some fierce enemies. Sometimes he battles worms, or wolves, or the wild men who live in the rocky cliffs. He meets with bulls, bears, boars, and ogres that chase him across the high plains.
        • But none of this compares with the miserable freezing winter weather.
        • Basically this trip stinks.
        • By Christmas Eve, Gawain is pretty desperate and prays to Mary and Jesus to guide him to a place where he can hear mass and pray.
        • His prayer seems to work, because he has hardly crossed himself three times before he notices a magnificent castle perched above a field and surrounded by a moat and trees.
        • Gawain thanks Jesus and Saint Julian, then rides up the path toward the castle.
        • As he approaches, Gawain realizes that the castle is an impressive fortress. The bridge that crosses the moat is drawn up, the gates are tightly fastened, and there are garrets all around.
        • He calls out, and soon a pleasant porter arrives and greets the wandering knight.
        • Gawain asks for lodging. The porter says he's welcome to stay as long as he likes.
        • The bridge is let down, and he's allowed in, where he's greeted by a bunch of different people eager to serve him.
        • Gawain is introduced to the lord of the castle, who welcomes him and even hugs him.
        • Things are definitely looking up for our boy Gawain.

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