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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

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It is during a Christmas celebration taking place in Camelot that a Green knight emerges and straight away goes to King Arthur, challenging him to an axe contest as in pg 225 where he regards Arthur as “The captain of the crowd”.  On his behalf, Sir Gawain agrees and wins the battle, beheading the knight. Miraculously, the knight survives and presents another fight to take place the following year, one day from the actual bout. Lord Bercilak takes Gawain in as he searches for the Green Knights chapel and tests his honesty. Gawain passes the moral test after refusing the advances of Bercilak’s wife. At the end it is established that Bercilak is the Green knight. Gawain survives his encounter with the Green Knight, back to Camelot carrying with him a green colored girdle. Gawain fails to fulfill his task by accepting Bercilak’s wife girdle and failing to surrender it as demanded by the wager. Arthur and Bercilak access the performance of Gawain and find him as the most honorable of all Knights. (Little, 1997)

It is hard to pin down the exact meaning of the green girdle with regards to the Sir Gawain and the Green Knight story, though it widely considered as the main contributing factor to the dwnfall of Gawain. Critics interpret the story as having religious representation and that the green symbolizes Sir Gawain religious letdowns and own shortcomings. Others regard the girdle as a tool for teaching Gawain and improving his view of Christianity on a worldwide scope. According to Sidney Berger, the girdle is a way of escaping the “Christian pilgrim way of improving oneself “. R.Allen. Shoaf further describes the girdle as a representation of Gawains overdependence on self Judgment and understanding for” surfeit of signs” surrounding him. (Stolyarov II, 2007)

On the positive side, Shoaf praises the girdle for opening up Gawain to the recognition and acceptance of his own natural limits. In Sir Gawain and the Knight, Gawain belief in the girdle as having superpowers is evident and likened to the way the poet readers of the 14th century would believe Gawain. According to Philipa Harman, the girdle was introduced in the poem to mislead Gawain into making the wrong decision. This is supported by Juan Waserman and Liam Pardon who view the green belt as the main focus that caused Gawain to sin and also his denial that made his first admission, false. (Stolyarov II, 2007)

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Sidney Berger describes Gawain fear for death as what drew him away from the spiritual proper path and is surprised by his decision saying that it is “…not the attitude a wayfarer should have” (Berger 91) Gawains resilience in revealing the girdle and resulting insincere confession to the priest shows how far he had drifted away from his the peregrinato values and principles .The Peregrinato  religion believed strongly that it is the level of one’s admission during confession that determines the true character of a person(Berger97). (Stolyarov II, 2007)

It is no dispute as to how far Gawain will go to defend the green belt (girdle) as he is willing to even disobey the Christian values to explore the girdles powers .this is why Berger says that Gawain “cannot be a servant of God if he relies on the …Girdle to save him” (Berger99).it is only Bertilak that makes him see the powerless nature of the Girdle. Allen Shoaf does not view girdles relation to religion as negative but studies the poets use of Knots in describing the Girdle. He describes the Girdle as a Knot that is Manmade and therefore “easy to tie and untie open, and easy to understand. (Stolyarov II, 2007)

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