Questions for Thought, Reading and Writing: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

February 3, 2009 at 2:10 pm Leave a comment

Here are some questions for thinking, reading and writing that I wanted to offer you last Friday. Look through them all: I divided them up for each important section / stage of the poem. The questions can help you with reading, re-reading and interpretation. For your weekly writing, try to respond to one or two of them.

The Opening Historical Invocation Juxtaposed to the Scene of Camelot.

1. Why does the narrator of the poem give a history of England from ancient Rome up until the point in which the poem begins? What effect does this condensing of history have? Following the history, the poet describes Camelot and their holiday partying. Why does the Yuletide description of Camelot follow the history? What does the description of Camelot say about King Arthur’s court?

The Entrance of the Green Knight.

2. How is the Green Knight received in Camelot when he enters? What opinion does he have of Camelot? Why do you think that Gawain volunteers to take up the Knight’s challenge of the beheading game? Why is Gawain essentially putting his head on the block? Why do you think the Green Knight comes to Camelot to invite this challenge?


3. Knowing the importance of courtesy in the poem, examine how Camelot treats the Green Knight?  Yes, the Green Knight is extremely odd — the jolly green giant carrying an ax — but he bears a great deal of symbolic expression in his attire and his voice that Camelot should be able to understand.

Gawain’s New Role.

4. What does Gawain represent when he takes on the Green Knight’s challenge? Why does Gawain volunteer?

5. Examine the symbolic language of Sir Gawain’s armor, and the care with which he dresses for his journey.  What does his armor say about Gawain and the kingdom he represents?

Gawain’s Perilous Journey

6. On Gawain’s “perilous journey” battling beasts and trudging through snow, he prays when he nearly freezes to death, and the Baron’s castle appears. Why should Gawain be suspicious of the castle in an Oasis of lawn and deciduous trees? What should it remind him of?

7. How is Gawain received at the Baron’s castle? Consider how Gawain is dressed and the various instruments he bears with him on Gringolet. How do you think Gawain should be received in contrast to his reception at the Castle? How does his reception parallel and contrast to the reception that the Green Knight receives at Camelot in part I?

The Exchange Game and Courtly Love — The Test of Gawain’s Virtue.

8. What should the Game of Exchange that the Baron proposes remind Gawain?  Examine the significance of Exchange games/challenges. What do thy test? What aspects of Gawain’s character and values are being tested / challenged?

9. Examine the paradoxical and excruciating position he is in with the Baron’s Lady?  How, in many ways, does Gawain find himself in a no-win situation for a Knight?  Remember the post of key concepts I had publishes a few days ago concerning the Knight and Courtly Love.

The Green Girdle: A Seriously Absurd and Absurdly Serious Symbol.

10. What does the “green girdle” represent in the context of Gawain’s quest, his virtue, Christianity, the whole kit-and-kaboodle?  In many ways, the climax of the narrative comes when Gawain accepts the Lady’s gift of the green girdle.  The audience to this poem would have gasped in recognition of this climactic moment. Why?  What does Gawain’s acceptance of the gift symbolize and why is it so important? In particular, why is it important that he does not give it to the Baron at the end of the day when Gawain received the fox?

Surprise! Gawain Caught on Candid Camera.

11. Did the Baron’s disguise as the Green Knight at the end of the narrative come as a surprise?  Should it have come as a surprise?  What  might it say about Gawain that he is taken by surprise by the ruse?  How does his surprise parallel the many twists and turns that carry Gawain along in the journey / plot?

The Judgment of Gawain. (Go on, get out of here, you rascal.)

12. What is the Baron’s attitude toward Gawain?  How does he judge the Knight?  According to the Baron, what are the results, so to speak, of Gawain’s test? What does the outcome of Gawain’s test / challenge say about not just Gawain, and not just Camelot, but all of humanity?

The New Hero? A New Dawn for Camelot?

13. Does Gawain return to Camelot in triumph?  Defeat? A combination of both? Does the conclusion of Gawain’s journey represent anything about human beings?

14. In honor of Gawain, everyone at Camelot sports green girdles. Now this is clearly meant to be funny — almost slapstick. At the same time, what does the green girdle come to represent?  Why is it significant that everyone wears it?


Entry filed under: Assignments.

Important Ideas, Concepts and Terms in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Symbols. The Centrality of Symbolic Expression in Sir Gawain.

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