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The Author. Composed this poem in the late 14th century. The poet is unknown, but he is referred to as "the Pearl poet" since he also wrote "The Pearl.". He was probably a member of a court since he is so familiar with court life, costumes, and entertainment.

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the author
The Author
  • Composed this poem in the late 14th century. The poet is unknown, but he is referred to as "the Pearl poet" since he also wrote "The Pearl."
  • He was probably a member of a court since he is so familiar with court life, costumes, and entertainment.
  • The poet was a contemporary of Chaucer, and he wrote in a dialect much less modern than that of Chaucer.
a typical romance
A typical romance
  • In romances, the laws of nature are suspended, allowing mysticism or the supernatural where heroes fight the forces of evil
poetic structure
Poetic Structure
  • Bob and wheel- the author of Sir Gawain incorporates a bob-and-wheel at the end of his stanzas. The "bob" is a short connecting line, sometimes only two syllables in length, that connects a four-line ABAB rhyming section in iambic trimeter to the rest of the stanza.
bob and wheel example
Bob and Wheel example

The phrase with wynne is the bob. It bridges the alliterative section with the wheel by creating an ABABA rhyme scheme

literary techniques in sir gawain
Literary Techniques in Sir Gawain
  • Allusion
  • Foreshadowing
  • Theme
  • Symbol
  • Motif
  • A reference to something or someone often literary.
    • Ex If you said, “Use the force,” to a friend that would be an allusion to Stars Wars. The verb form of allusion is to allude.
    • Ex While talking about the Redskins a sportscaster says, “The running back is the team’s Achilles heel” they would be alluding to the Greek warrior Achilles.
  • A technique in which an author gives clues about something that will happen later in the story.
    • Ex- Star Wars Episode I Anakin is told he will bring balance to the force. He turns into a villain but later Luke restores balance.
    • Ex- In the Wizard of Oz the mean landlady rides past and eerie music plays. Later, she turns out to be the witch.
  • The central idea of a work that says something about life or how people behave
    • Ex- The Avengers movie demonstrates that people with different personalities and views can unite under a common goal
    • Ex- Harry Potter shows us good will always triumph over evil
  • The use of one things to represent another.
    • Ex- Harry Potter can be seen as a symbol of Christ. He suffers because of the actions of others and is destined to redeem humanity
    • Ex- Lenny and George talk about “owning a few acres” in Of Mice and Men. The dream represents freedom and free will.
  • A theme or pattern that recurs in a work.
    • Ex- Tests in Harry Potter. In each novel in the series Harry has to prove his worth by overcoming obstacles, trials and tests.
    • Ex- In Of Mice and Men there is a motif of the corrupting power of women.
the chivalric hero
The Chivalric Hero
  • Sir Gawain is marked by absolute courtliness.
  • He is always courageous, honorable (he keeps his word), devout, loyal, and gracious toward all men and (especially) women.
  • Chivalry: code of conduct developed by nobles and knights
his test
His Test
  • He thinks it is his courage that is being tested. He does not realize that he is enduring another kind of test.
  • When he arrives to face his test at the end, he finds that he has already been tested--that his test is, in fact, over.
as you read ask yourself
As you read, ask yourself:
  • What is really being tested? (This is not a simple question.)
  • How does Sir Gawain do?
  • What are we supposed to think of the Green Knight? the wife? King Arthur? his court? Sir Gawain himself?
test motif
Test Motif
  • An applicant has to pass a test to prove himself worthy. Sinners often had to suffer through painful tests (ordeals) as penance (punishment) for their sins
  • In this poem, Gawain is a chivalrous, heroic knight who is being tested for his courage, fidelity and sexual morality as he embarks on a quest
words to know
Words to know:
  • Chivalry: code of conduct developed by nobles/knights
  • Feudalism: social order in medieval Europe, loyalty to the lords
setting (time): The mythical past of King Arthur’s court (sometime after Rome’s fall, but before recorded history)
  • place: Camelot; the wilderness; a castle; the Green Chapel
  • major conflict: Gawain’s struggle over whether his knightly virtues are more important than his life. Man vs. what?
Narrator/point of view: Third person omniscient
  • type of work: Alliterative poem
  • Genre: Romance, Arthurian legend
  • Language: Middle English (translated into modern English)
  • time and place written: Ca. 1340-1400, West Midlands, England
characteristics of the medieval romance include
Characteristics of the medieval romance include
  • Stories that are full of adventure, conveying a sense of the supernatural, giving a glamorous portrayal of castle life, and chivalric ideas of bravery, honor, courtesy, fairness to enemies and respect for women
  • As you read, determine HOW Gawain displays ideals of chivalry
the court and its knights
The Court and its Knights
  • Like the culture itself, Arthur is young and inexperienced. The knights are equally clueless.

Since everyone is starting from scratch, the knights typically go out on adventures and face the forces of good and evil, uncertain how to balance bravery and Christianity.

A Christian knight must decide how best to act in ambiguous situations.
  • Most important for the development and instruction of society, the knight must return to the court and report his actions.
  • Only in this way can the court learn from the individuals' experiences. Then, future knights will have more to guide them.
Gawain goes out into the wilderness to face the Green Knight as he has honorably promised. He prides himself on being the perfect Christian knight.
But here is the problem facing the Christian knights: how can one emulate Christ and be a soldier living in the real world?
  • Is it possible to be like Christ? Have the knights set themselves a goal they will never achieve?
Faced with magic, and a lady who tempts him, Gawain stumbles as a perfect knight. He takes the story of his humiliation back to the court so that they all might learn from his mistakes.
  • He serves his king and helps develop new values for his civilization.
green knight as fertility god
Green Knight as Fertility God
  • The Green Knight represents the life force in nature and in human beings.
  • The life force is what makes human beings try so hard to survive and what makes human beings reproduce.
  • Look at his color, his clothes and his wearing of the holly.
a christian poem
A Christian Poem
  • This poem is truly Christian, not the unformed Christianity of Beowulf.
  • The season for the story's setting is Christmas, the biggest ritual in the Christian world.
  • Of course, the Bible does not give us Jesus' birthday.
The early Christian Church, trying to make Christianity an easy to follow religion, chose Dec. 25 for Christmas. The pagan people (fertility-worshipping) were used to having a major celebration about this time around the Winter Solstice (Dec. 22, the shortest day of the year).
The early Church fathers more or less said, “You can still have your winter holiday, but we're going to call it Christmas, the celebration of the birth of your new god, Jesus.”
The same thing happened at Easter. The celebration of the Spring Equinox became the celebration of the Resurrection
This superimposing the new religion on the old is one of the reasons for the success of Christianity in Europe.
the beheading game
The Beheading Game
  • The Beheading Game occurs in earlier eighth and ninth century Irish (Celtic) romances.
  • In this poem, the Green Knight invites Gawain to exchange blows, not to chop off his head.
  • Watch how Gawain is tempted by anger.
  • He's insulted because the Green Knight belittles the valor of Arthur's court.
guiding questions
Guiding questions
  • Is Gawain good, bad or a little of both?
  • How do we judge him?
  • Does Gawain represent the best or the worst of human possibilities?

** These answers will help you develop your final exam essay!

green handouts
Green (!) handouts
  • Let’s work as partners (if you prefer) to complete the work with the poem
  • Please turn to page 171