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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is the greatest fourteenth

century text. It was written by an unknown author between 1375

and 1400. The story begins at Christmas time, and there are
many symbolic elements. The Green Knight is a color which
symbolizes Christmas. Also, changing seasons and the coming of
winter symbolize the passing of life and reminds us that Death is
unavoidable. The author also skillfully illustrates human
weaknesses in the descriptions of Gawain's temptations.
The story tells about adventures of Sir Gawain, who takes the
Green Knight's challenge. One year after cutting Green Knight's
head off, which did not kill him, Gawain has to travel to find the
Green Knight and take his blow in return. He finds a strange
castle, and while he awaits there for the final day, his knight's
ethical code is put to a test by the host and his wife.
In this part, Green Knight, in an unmannerly way, enters the hall
where King Arthur and his Knights feast and cleverly gets them

committed to take his game without revealing what it is he wants

to play.

A knight to remember
As Simon Armitage's new translation proves, 14th-century poem Sir Gawain and the
Green Knight is as vivid now as when it was conceived.

Charles Bainbridge
Thursday 18 January 2007 09.54 GMT

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The Green Knight's wife secretly visits Gawain.

One of the highlights of the new year has been the chance to revisit the
medieval poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in the new translation
by Simon Armitage. I first read the work about 20 years ago in a Penguin
Classics edition adapted by Brian Stone and was immediately captivated by
the vividness and ambivalence of a chivalric story that felt strangely
In comparison to the works of other late 14th-century poets (such as
Chaucer and even Langland) the language of the Gawain poem, written in a
north Midlands dialect by an unknown author, can be quite challenging:
Cloudes kesten kenly the colde to the erthe; With nyye innoghe of the
northe the naked to tene
The first line can be grasped without too much difficulty ("clouds threw
bitter cold down to the earth"), but the second is much more elusive. W R J
Barron in a prose adaptation translates the second line rather
uncomfortably as "with a bitter wind from the north tormenting to those illclad". The last phrase doesn't seem to get close to the elemental punch of
that word "naked".

The nobility and aristocracy placed great value on their ability in hunting and there
was great prestige attached to killing wild boars, bears, and deer. These were golden
opportunities to show off their skills at horsemanship and marksmanship. It was
also a great way of providing food for all the banquets. Hunting was dangerous as
the wild boars could kill with their large tusks. There were also risks from stray
arrows and being mauled by the animals themselves. There were also accidents
caused by reckless horse riding. There is a wonderful description of a medieval hunt
in the famous poem Sir Gawain and The Green Knight.
Class differences meant, of course, that hunting was strictly for the landowners and
nobility. The lower classes hated them with a vengeance. When they dared to poach
and were caught, the consequences were gruesome and savage. They were usually
hanged, but some were castrated and some were even blinded. Perhaps the worst
punishment of all was when a peasant thief was sewn into a deerskin, and was then
chased by ferocious hounds. A cruel death was inevitable