Thursday, August 8, 2013

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Part 4 Summary

by Howard Pyle

Part 4, Lines 1998 - 2211 Summary

  • It's the morning of New Year's Day, and there's a winter storm going on outside. The sky is dumping snow.
  • Gawain lies in bed, thinking of his upcoming task.
  • Gawain gets up and dresses in warm clothing, his mail-shirt, and armor. The servants have taken care of his clothes and gear, so everything looks shiny and new.
  • Before he leaves, Gawain ties on the lady's green girdle, hoping it will save his life today.
  • Gawain goes outside and finds that his trusty steed, Gringolet, has been well taken care of. The knight is very thankful for the kind and courteously treatment he has received in the lord's castle.
  • Gawain mounts his horse and declares his wish that this castle always have good luck. Then he leaves with his guide to go find the Green Chapel.
  • The journey is slow and treacherous, but the guide brings Gawain close to the stop. He won't join Gawain all the way and thinks Gawain should turn back.
  • He warns that the man who lives at the Green Chapel is powerful and ruthless; he strikes deathblows upon anyone who enters his land. He'll kill anyone, even a priest.
  • The guide again begs Gawain to turn back. He assures the knight that he'll never tell anyone that Gawain turned and fled.
  • Gawain thanks the guide, but he's determined to go meet the Green Knight. He refuses to be a coward, and instead trusts in God to protect him.
  • The guide gives Gawain directions for the last leg of his journey. He wishes Gawain luck and then returns to the castle.
  • Gawain rides on and finds himself in a wilderness, with no sign of buildings anywhere, only high hills on both sides and rugged crags of gnarled stones. He definitely doesn't see a chapel, only a little mound, a barrow by a stream.
  • Gawain examines the barrow. It seems to be hollow inside.
  • He's confused. It doesn't look like a chapel, and now he's worried that it might be an evil place, a chapel where the devil goes to say his prayers. Gawain is sure that it's a cursed church.
  • Gawain climbs to the top of the barrow. From there he hears a loud noise coming from behind a rock, in a bank beyond the brook.
  • Boom! It clatters on the cliff as if it will break it, as if someone were sharpening a scythe on a grindstone.
  • Gawain assumes that the loud noises are meant to be a greeting for him. He says to himself, "May God’s will be done."

Part 4, Lines 2212 - 2477 Summary

  • Gawain shouts at the top of his lungs that he's ready and waiting. The Green Knight better show up, because it's now or never.
  • The Green Knight tells Gawain to hold on for a few more minutes.
  • Gawain continues to hear loud sounds, like a large blade being sharpened.
  • The Green Knight appears carrying an enormous new Danish axe.
  • The Hulk-like knight is as green as ever, including all of this clothing.
  • The Green Knight commends Gawain for keeping their appointment. He restates the terms of their agreement, says that Gawain can't put up any kind of fight or complain, and then asks Gawain to remove his helmet.
  • Gawain guarantees that he won't complain, then he bares his neck, waiting for the axe to fall.
  • As the Green Knight picks up the axe and swings with all his might, Gawain flinches. The green giant stops mid-swing to chew out Gawain, saying that he never flinched or trembled when Gawain hacked his head off. What gives? Gawain must be a coward.
  • The Green Knight declares that he's definitely a better man than Gawain.
  • Gawain promises not to flinch again, but also points out that oncehis head is hacked off, he won't be able to put it back on again.
  • The Green Knight raises his axe again and swings… and stops again. Gawain hasn't moved a muscle, and the green man says he's glad to see that Gawain isn't being a wimp.
  • Gawain tells him to get on with it already.
  • The Green Knight raises the axe a third time and brings it down on Gawain's bare neck.
  • But the sharp blade just barely cuts through Gawain's skin. He's bleeding, but his head is still on his shoulders. Whew!
  • Gawain grabs his helmet, his shield, and his sword. He declares that he withstood the Green Knight's attack and met the terms of their agreement. Now he'll defend himself if the Green Knight tries to strike again.
  • The Green Knight keeps his distance and admires Gawain's bravery.
  • He explains that he didn't strike Gawain the first two times because, as per their agreement, Gawain honorably turned over all of his day's winnings to him on the first two nights. He declares that true men return what they owe and have nothing to fear.
  • The third blow was delivered because Gawain failed to turn over the green girdle as one of the things he won on the third day.
  • Confused yet? Well, the Green Knight is actually the lord of the castle.
  • He explains that he knows all about Gawain's kissing and flirting with his wife. Why? Because he planned it all.
  • He sent his wife to tempt Gawain, and Gawain passed the test. He's the greatest of all knights.
  • But Gawain didn't pass with an A+. He failed a little when he didn't turn over the green girdle. But, he forgives Gawain since the act was committed for self-preservation, and not out of lust or greed.
  • Gawain feels ashamed and blushes. He takes off the green girdle and returns it.
  • He declares that fear led him to be false and deceitful. He knows that his good name is damaged, but he would like to regain the Green Knight's trust.
  • The Green Knight, however, laughs and says that Gawain is absolved. He's repented and learned his lesson. He even gives Gawain the green girdle as a gift.
  • The Green Knight invites Gawain to celebrate the New Year with him and his wife, back at the castle.
  • Gawain turns him down, but sends his regard to the beautiful lady, saying that she beguiled him with her kiss. He lists some great and wise men who were tricked by women: Solomon, Samson, David, and Adam. And what lesson has Gawain learned? To love women, but not to trust them. Hmm.
  • Gawain says that he'll keep the green girdle as a reminder of his weaknesses, and how easily he was tempted. He'll use it to keep him humble.
  • Before they part, Gawain asks for the Green Knight's true name.
  • The Green Knight says that he's Bertilak de Hautdesert.
  • He gets his powers from Morgan le Fay, a sorceress who lives in his house.
  • Morgan sent the Green Knight to Camelot to find out if the Knights of the Round Table could really live up to their reputation. She also wanted to frighten Queen Guinevere to death, with that whole stunt of the Green Knight picking up his own head.
  • The Green Knight tells Gawain that Morgan is the old woman at his castle. She's also Arthur's half-sister, and therefore Gawain's aunt.
  • He asks Gawain again to come celebrate at the castle with his aunt, but Gawain again refuses.
  • They part as friends, and Gawain rushes off back to King Arthur's court.

Part 4, Lines 2479 - 2530 Summary

  • Gawain rides back through the wild country toward Camelot. He has plenty of adventures along the way, including vanquishing many foes, of course.
  • His neck wound heals, but he wears the green girdle as a baldric(kind of like a sash that holds a sword) as a symbol that he was dishonored by his failure.
  • When he reaches Arthur's court, everyone greets him warmly, probably because they never expected to see him again.
  • Everyone is eager to hear about his adventure, so he shares all the details. Even the embarrassing ones. He blushes and even cries remembering his failure.
  • He shows Arthur the green girdle and declares that he'll wear if for the rest of his life, as a reminder of how he's dishonored himself.
  • King Arthur and everyone else just laugh at Gawain and try to comfort him.
  • The lords and ladies of the Round Table agree that each man shall wear a green baldric like Gawain’s, for his sake.
  • The Round Table becomes renowned for that symbol, and any man who wears it is honored.
  • The narrator circles back to the beginning, and says that this adventure happened in Arthur's day, which came after Brutus settled Britain following the Trojan War.
  • He ends by praising Jesus.

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