- After opening with a discussion of Troy, what is the
setting of the poem's opening in terms of time and place?
(Be more precise than "Britain.") What time
of the year is it? Why are all the knights gathered in
- Where did the narrator first hear this story, according
to his words in the second stanza?
- What are some of the amusements the
court participates in as part of the celebration? (see
stanzas three and four).
- When Arthur is first introduced, how
is he described? What vow has Arthur made to himself out
of pride? How does this interfere with the guest's dinner?
- What are some the possible entertainments Arthur proposes?
- As soon as the trumpets finish their flourish for the
first dish, who shows up at the hall?
- When the poet describes the strange intruder, what is
the first trait he notices as unusual about this weird
knight? (Hint, he doesn't notice the color first!) What's
the second thing he notices?
- What is unusual about the strange knight's clothing?
About his horse? What are some of the decorations on his
- What is unusual about the strange knight's hair-do?
- In the tenth stanza, the poet lists some of the things
the knight is not carrying or
wearing. What are these items? Why might the narrator
think it odd that the knight doesn't carry or wear these
- What does the strange knight carry in one hand? What
strange item does he carry in the other hand?
- How long is the head of the ax-haft that the Green Knights
wields as a weapon?
- When the Green Knight demands to speak to Arthur, what
do folk deem (think) the Green Knight is? How do all the
guests initially react to his outrageous demand, and what
do they say? (trick question!)
- When King Arthur greets the Green Knight, he states
"The head of this hostelry Arthur am I." What
is a hostel? Why is it ironic that Arthur says he is the
head of such a place? (i.e., what is Arthur implying about
the way the Green Knight is treating King Arthur after
barging into his court without invitation?)
- What evidence the Green Knight offer that his purpose
is playful and non-violent?
- What reason does the Green Knight offer for not wanting
to fight with the men he sees sitting on the banquet benches?
- What prize will one of King Arthur's knights win if
he agrees to play the game with the Green Knight (and
- If the Green Knight survives the blow from one of King
Arthur's knight, what will he get to do to that knight?
What date or duration is the set time for this "payback"?
- What color do we learn are the Green Knight's eyes when
he stares out over the crowd to intimidate them?
- Before Sir Gawain steps up to play, who first leaps
down out of anger to play the game? Why is this a really
bad idea politically when it comes to the welfare of Camelot?
- Note Gawain's requests and his language in lines 341-60.
He asks permission to play the game instead, and he asks
permission to get up and leave the table, and he asks
permission to stand by the king (if such an action does
not displease Gwenevere). What do these requests and his
diction reveal about Gawain's character? How is this a
foil or contrast for the Green Knight's behavior at the
- Why does Gawain say it will be no great loss if he dies
while playing the Green Knight's game?
- What is Gawain's familial relationship to King Arthur?
How is he related to him?
- King Arthur says, "Keep . . . what you cut
with this day, / And if you rule it aright, then readily
I know, You shall stand the stroke it will strike after."
What advice is he giving Gawain with these words? What
does such advice reveal about King Arthur's understanding
of the Green Knight's powers?
- What does Sir Gawain want to know about the Green Knight
before he strikes the blow? What does his question reveal
about Sir Gawain's understanding of the Green Knight's
powers, which contrasts with King Arthur's understanding?
- When the Green Knight bows down and extends his neck
in order to have his head chopped off, what does he carefully
move out of the way so his neck can be clearly seen?
- Where does the Green Knight's head roll after it is
chopped off? How do you imagine the guests reacted when
they found it there?
- Where does the Green Knight's head tell Sir Gawain to
come before New Year's Day of next year? What does he
say will happen if Sir Gawain does not show up?
- What does Arthur tell Queen Gwenevere when she looks
horrified at what just happened?
- What does Arthur ask Gawain to do with the ax-blade
he has won?
Sample Passages for Identification--Be able to identify what work these quotations come from, what the author is (if known), what character (if any) is speaking, and briefly comment upon the quotations significance or importance in the work:
A. But [the King] would not eat till all were served;
So light was his lordly heart, and a little boyish;
His life he liked lively--the less he cared
To be lying for long, or long to sit,
So busy his young blood, his brain so wild.
And also a point
of pride pricked him in heart;
For he nobly had willed, he would never eat
On so high a holiday, till he had heard first
Of some fair feat or fray some far-borne tale,
Of some marvel of might, that he might trust,
By champions of chivalry achieved in arms.
B. Great wonder grew in hall
At his hue most strange to see,
For man and gear and all
Were green as green could be.
C. But in his one hand he had a holly bob
That is goodliest in green when groves are bare,
And an ax in his other, a huge and immense,
A wicked piece of work in words to expound:
The head on its haft was an ell long.
D. This horseman hurtles in, and the hall enters;
Riding to the high dais, recked he no danger:
Not a greeting he gave as the guests he o'erlooked,
Nor wasted his words, but "Where is," he said,
"The captain of this crowd? Keenly I wish
To see that sire with sight, and to himself say my say."
E. "But as the praise of you, prince, is puffed up so high,
And your court and your company are counted the best,
Stoutest under steel-gear on steeds to ride,
Worthiest of their works the wide world over,
And peerless to prove
in passage of arms,
And courtesy here is carried to its height,
And so at this season I
have sought you out.
You may be certain by the branch that I bear in hand
That I pass here in peace, and would part friends."
any in this house such hardihood claims,
Be so bold in his blood, his brain so wild,
As stoutly to strike one stroke for another,
I shall give him this ax, that is heavy enough, to handle
as he likes,
And I shall bide the first blow, as bare as I sit. . .
And I shall stand him a stroke, steady on this floor,
So you grant me the guerdon to give him another sans blame
In a twelvemonth and a day
He shall have of me the same;
Now be it seen straightway
Who dares take up the game."
G. "Would you grant me the grace . . .
To be gone from this bench and stand by you there,
if I without discourtesy might quit this board,
And if my liege lady misliked it not,
I would come to your counsel before your court noble.
For I find it not fit, as in faith it is known,
When such a boon is begged before all these knights,
Though you be tempted thereto, to take it on yourself. . . ."
H. . . . "Forget riot to go as agreed,
And cease not to seek till me, sir, you find,
As you promised in the presence of these proud knights.
Tot he Green Chapel come, I charge you, to take
Such a dint as you have dealt--you have well deserved
That your neck should have a knock on New Year's. . . .