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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight excerpts from Fit III (Boroff translation):

Vocabulary alliterative revival, alliterative verse, archetype, bob-and-wheel, fit, folkloric motifs, leit-motif, medieval romance, temptation motif.

Character Identifications: Sir Gawain, Arthur, Gwenevere, The Green Knight (Sir Bercilak), Gringolet, The Host (Sir Bercilak in disguise), The Host's Wife, Morgan LeFey.

Lecture Questions

Why would medieval readers have found it odd that Sir Gawain is sleeping in late each morning?
How is a hunt a microcosm of medieval society and how does it involve the entire community?

Reading Questions:

  • According to the summary of missing material in the textbook, Sir Gawain and the host arrange to play a "Christmas game" during the three days while they await the New Year's deadline. What are the rules of the game they play? How is this similar to or different from the Green Knight's game the previous Christmas?
  • What activity is the host engaged in that keeps him away from the castle where Gawain is staying?
  • What animal do the men pursue during the first morning while Gawain stays at the castle and sleeps in late?
  • What noise does Sir Gawain hear that wakes him up early in the morning?
  • When the host's wife enters the room, how does she approach and what does her destination appear to be as Sir Gawain peeks from behind the covers?
  • What does Sir Gawain do or how does he behave when she first approaches? (I.e., in order to avoid confronting her, what condition does he pretend to be in?)
  • After the host's wife laughs and bids Gawain good morning, she chastises him for being a "slack sleeper." What does she say she will do to him if he does not make a truce and surrender to her?
  • When Sir Gawain asks permission to get up and put on some clothes, what is the lady's response to her "prisoner's" request?
  • What does the lady point out about her lord, his liegemen, the household, and the housemaids? Why (if it not too obvious) does she point these things out to Sir Gawain?
  • Why does the lady say her guest cannot possibly be Sir Gawain? i.e, what does she claim the "real" Sir Gawain would have claimed from a beautiful woman by the end of his tale or his speech?
  • While Sir Gawain and the lady are flirting and teasing each other at mass, what are the hunters doing to the deer they have captured? Why do you suppose the poet juxtaposes these two scenes?
  • When the host returns from the hunt, he provides Sir Gawain with the finest meat from the hunt. Why does he do this? What does Sir Gawain give him in return?
  • After the host receives Sir Gawain's "winnings" for the day, he asks Sir Gawain a question. What is it he wants to know? What answer does Sir Gawain give him to this question?
  • What animal do the host and his men hunt on the second day of the game?
  • Who comes to visit Sir Gawain while he is alone in bed on the second day?
  • What "counsel" does the lady claim to want from Sir Gawain? What excuse does Gawain give for not "counseling" her in this skill?
  • What response does the lady give Sir Gawain when he protests that it would be rude for him to presume to kiss such a beautiful lady?
  • In lines 1520-1527, the lady comments on Sir Gawain's reputation, and claims she hasn't yet seen any sign of his special skills. For what, according to her, is Sir Gawain particularly famous?
  • What response does Sir Gawain give when the lady declares that he should teacher her the "craft of true love" and "instruct" her a little while her husband is away?
  • While this seduction scene takes place in the castle, what's going on with the pursuit of the boar outside?
  • When it comes time for the host to trade his winnings of boar-meat with Gawain, what does Gawain give him in exchange? What does the Host declare about the game and Sir Gawain?
  • On the third day, what animal does the host hunt early in the morning? How does each hunt mirror (or fail to mirror) the strategems and events taking place in the bedroom each day?
  • According to lines 1750+ in the poem, what was Sir Gawain's sleep like the morning of the third day?
  • The woman comes out and plainly says that she wants Sir Gawain to sleep with her in lines 1771-1776. It is clear that Gawain knows giving in would be a sin and a violation of his host's good hospitality. Why doesn't he simply refuse and tell her to leave?
  • What gift does the lady first offer Sir Gawain as a love token? Why doesn't Sir accept that item?
  • What is the second gift the lady next offers Sir Gawain? According to the lady, what magical powers does this item have? What color is this item? Why is Gawain eager to accept it (if that's not too painfully obvious).
  • What religious unertaking does Sir Gawain take immediately after the temptress's final kiss?
  • While Sir Gawain is praying, what happens to the fox being hunted by the host?
  • When the host returns to trade the fox pelt for Sir Gawain's three kisses, Gawain declars "all that I owe here is openly paid." Is Sir Gawain correct in this assertion? Did he receive anything else that day he is obligated to give the host?

Sample Identification Passages:

A. And as he slips into slumber, slyly there comes
A little din at his door, and the latch lifted,
And he holds up his heavy head out of the clothes;
A corner of the curtain he caught back a little
And waited there warily, to see what befell.
Lo! It was the lady, loveliest to behold,
That drew the door behind her deftly and still
And was bound for his bed--abashed was the knight.

B. "Good morning . . . ." said that gay lady,
"A slack sleeper you are to let one slip in!
Now you are taken in a trice--a truce we must make,
Or I shall bind you in your bed, of that be assured."
Thus laughing lightly, that lady jested.

C. Thus jested in answer that gentle knight,
"But if, lovely lady, you misliked it not,
And were pleased topermit your prisoner to rise,
I should quit this couch and accoutre me better,
And be clad in more comfort for converse here."

"Nay, not so, sweet sir," said the smiling lady;
You shall not rise from your bed; I direct you better:
I shall hem and hold you on either hand,
And keep company awhile with my captive knight."

D. My lord and his liegemen are long departed,
The household asleep, my handmaids too,
The door drawn, and held by a well-driven bolt,
And since I have in this house him whom all love,
I shall while the time away with mirthful speech at will
My body is here at hand
your each wish to fulfill;
Your servant to command
I am, and shall be still.

E. "You are bound to a better man," the bold knight said,
"Yet I prize the praise you have proferred me here,
And soberly your servant, my sovereign I hold you,
And acknowledge me your knight, in the name of Christ. . . .
With feat words and fair he framed his defense.

F. "Good lady, I grant it at once!
I shall kiss at your command, as becomes a knight,
And more, lest you mislike it, so let be, I pray."

G. "In high good-humor he hails him then,
Counts over the kill, the cuts on the tallies,
Holds high the hewn ribs, heavy with fat.
"What think you, sir, of this? Have I thriven well?
Have I wonwith my woodcraft a worthy prize?"

"In good earnest," said [the knight], "This game is the finest
I have seen in seven years in the season of winter."

H. "What I have worthily won within these fair walls,
Herewith I as willingly award it to you."
He embraces his broad neck with both his arms,
And confers on him a kiss in the comeliest style.
"Have here my profit, it proved no better;
Ungrudging do I grant it, where it greater far."

I. "And you are the noblest knight known in your time;
No household under heaven but has heard of your fame,
And here by your side I have sat for two days
Yet never has a fair phrase fallen from your lips
Of the language of love, not one little word.
And you, that with sweet vows sway women's hearts,
Should show your winsome ways, and woo a young thing,
And teach by some tokens the craft of true love."

J. Speaker One: "I find you much at fault," the fair one said,
"Who can be cold toward a creature so close by your side
Of all women in this world most wounded in heart,
Unless you have a sweetheart, one you hold dearer,
And allegiance to that lady so loyally knit
That you will never ove another, as I know believe.
And sir, if it be so, then say it, I beg you;
By all your heart holds dear, hide it no longer with guile."

Speaker Two: "Lady, by Saint John,"
He answers with a smile,
"Lover have I none,
Nor will have, yet awhile."

K. "If my ring is refused for its rich cost--
You would not be my debtor for so dear a thing--
I shall give you my girdle; you gain less thereby. . . .
Unworthy though it were, that it would not be scorned.
For the man who possesses this piece of silk,
If he bore it on his body, belted about,
There is no hand under heaven that could hew him down,
For he could not be killed by any craft on earth."

 


 

 

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