The Color Symbolism in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

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Chivalry is fighting fair and for what is right. Gawain gives himself up to play the Green Knight’s game so his king won’t have to die. What are some unusual characteristics of the Green Knight? Be sure to list as many as you can! Think about what he carries in his hands, and what this might represent about the symbolism of the color green. The Green Knight has many strange characteristics. Some of these characteristics are his red eyes, green skin, green hair, green horse, his lack of armor, his 4ft bladed axe, and his holly branch.

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How do the knights react to the Green Knight? Use two separate responses from two different characters. Dialogue is useful here.The knights of the round table laugh nervously about the Green Knight and are too scared to accept his challenge. Arthur is angered by this and he accepts the challenge out of embarrassment.

What game is proposed?

The Green Knight proposes that someone takes a swing at him with his axe and in a year and a day he will do the same to the person who accepts. Draw a plot line of the main action from Part I here. Put it on its own page, and make it pretty. Be sure to include the elements of the exposition that we talked about, as well as the requirements of the game proposed by the Green Knight.

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The author makes reference in this section to “Lent”. What is this, and how does it relate to what you know about the culture. Lent is when people give up items that they enjoy. This is significant because it parallels with Gawain’s sacrifice of his life for his King.

Why is it significant that Gawain leaves Arthur’s court during this season to begin his quest?

Gawain leaves Arthur’s court on November 1st, which is considered the beginning of the Christmas season in this story, therefore, it is also the beginning of winter. Winter represents isolation and death, and since Gawain is going to what he believes is his death, this is fitting.

Notice the description of Gawain’s armor. Why does the author tell us about this?

Gawain’s armor is described as red and gold and filled with embroidered silks. Red is the color of passion and danger, while gold represents wealth and sacredness. The designs on his armor represent knighthood, for example, the pentangle.

Who is Gringolet?

Gringolet is Gawain’s horse.

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The pentangle represents the 5 virtues of knighthood. These virtues are Chivalry, Charity, Church, Chastity and Courtesy.

What does Gawain despair about missing on Christmas Eve?

Gawain is upset that he will be unable to pray at Christmas Eve mass.

How is Gawain received at the castle?

The people at the castle receive Gawain in an extremely welcoming way. They are almost too welcoming and eager to serve him. It seems suspicious, however Gawain is pleased with this.

Describe the lord of the castle. Are there any characteristics in common with any other character?

The lord of the castle has a red beard, red hair, rosy cheeks, and red clothing. This is similar to Gawain, as his armor has a lot of red in it, along with gold. Once the guests of the castle realize that they are in the presence of Gawain, what do they expect of him? What do they think they know about him? They expect grand stories, riches, glory, and goodness from him, as he is a Knight of the Round Table.

What two women does Gawain meet after evensong? How are they described? How does Gawain treat them?

He meets a beautiful woman, who is pale with a large forehead, and a “loathly lady” who is ugly and gnarled. Gawain treats them courteously, as it is his knightly duty to do so.

What is the challenge or game? What do you think about this?

The game the lord proposes is that whatever he wins during the day, he will turn over to Gawain, and whatever Gawain wins during the day, he will have to turn it over to the lord. I feel as thought that is a strange game, however I’m interested to see what Gawain could possibly win if he simply remains in a castle.

What happens to Gawain while he is still in bed?

The lady of the castle enters his bedroom and locks the door behind her.

What does he pretend, and why?

He pretends to be asleep because he is embarrassed that he is not fully clothed in front of a woman, as that is considered discourteous.

What metaphor do Gawain and the lady use in their conversation? What does the lady seem to have in mind?

The lady says “Your sleep is so innocent that anyone could catch you, and now you’re caught!” She wants a kiss from him, and she managed to corner him because he was asleep.

Does Gawain respond in a chivalric fashion? How do you know?

Yes, because he goes to mass happily instead of fearfully. He feels as though he has no need to confess at mass, and he feels good about it.

What does the lady give to Gawain?

She gives him a single kiss.

What animal is hunted by the lord this day?

The lord hunts deer.

Symbolic analysis?

The lord hunts the deer by cornering them in a valley, similarly to how the lady corners Gawain by locking the door.

What animal does the lord hunt on the second day?

The lord hunts a boar.

What does this animal seem to parallel?

The boar represents strength. Gawain is strong for remaining faithful to the virtues of the pentangle. He is also physically strong, however he would never use it on a lady.

What does the lady propose the second day, and how does Gawain respond?

The lady proposes that Gawain takes a kiss from a lady when her looks ask it, and he responds by saying he feels that would be disrespectful and he wouldn’t want to take a kiss that was unwanted.

Why does the lady complain?

She says that Gawain was being discourteous because he will not take her kisses from her when her looks ask.

What does the lady give to him?

She gives him two kisses.

What does the lord hunt on the third day?

The lord hunts a fox.

What happens between Gawain and the lady this day?

She wants to sleep with him, and when he refuses, she tries to offer him a red and gold ring, and a green and gold belt.

What choice does Gawain face?

He faces the choice to either accept or refuse the green belt.

What is the ‘right’ thing to do? Why?

Refer to the chivalric code. Decide for yourself and explain. The right thing to do is to say no, however should he accept the belt, he should give it to the lord of the castle, as to uphold their deal.

What does the lady give Gawain? What does she ask for?

She gives him three kisses and the green and gold belt. She asks that he keep it for himself and not give it to the lord of the castle.

What does he accept, and why does he do this?

He accepts the green and gold belt because the lady insists that it will protect him on his venture to the green chapel.

What happens in the last hunt? What is significant about the fox? Does his color remind you of anything?

The fox is eventually outwitted by the hunting dogs and is killed. He is a red fox, sharing the color popular among Gawain and the lord of the castle.

When the lord returns home on the third day, what happens?

The fox skin is presented to Gawain, however Gawain only presents the king with three kisses. He keeps the belt for himself.

Does Gawain meet the terms of his oath? How does he sleep that night, and why?

No, Gawain disregards charity in his oath with the lord. Gawain is assumed to have slept poorly, as he believes that his death will come the next day.

Why do you think that this section begins with a storm?

Storms represent confusion, worry and conflict, all of which Gawain is feeling. He is feeling this way over both the Green Knight and the green sash that the lady presented to him.

What are your impressions of Gawain now?

I feel as though he is a scared little boy who is trying his best.

Is the Green Chapel what you expected? Why or why not?

No, I expected it to be a large, polished place with green bricks and stained glass and other things found in churches and chapels. All of the overgrowth is meant to symbolize wickedness because people are moving away from the Pagan traditions of worshiping nature.

Summarize what happens when the axe is raised to strike Gawain. What happens?

The first time, Gawain flinches away and the Green Knight taunts him. The second time, the Green Knight fakes Gawain out again, however he doesn’t flinch. The final time the axe is raises, it hits Gawain, however the Green Knight misses Gawain’s neck, and merely clips him with the edge rather than decapitating him.

What is the purpose of these three strikes? How is Gawain judged, by the knight, by himself?

The purpose of the three strikes is to see whether Gawain is truly as brave as a knight of the Round Table should be. He is taunted by the Green Knight and Gawain judges himself harshly, feeling as though he is a total failure.

Who is the Green Knight?

Name him, then cite his relationship to Sir Gawain.

The Green Knight is the husband of the lady of the castle.

A. Who is the old woman at the castle?

B. Why is she critical to the action?

C. What were her intentions?

The old woman was truly Morgan Le Fay, Gawain’s aunt. She caused this whole situation to happen. She bid the Green Knight to go to Arthur’s Court in order to get Arthur to accept the challenge and scare Guinevere to death.

A. What is Gawain’s attitude when he returns to court?

B. How is he received?

He feels as though he is a failure and begs on his knees to be forgiven. Everyone in the Court is so glad to see Gawain that they are not bothered by his “sins”.

What does the girdle come to represent in the court of King Arthur?

The girdle represents honor, and the celebration and support of Gawain.

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The Color Symbolism in Sir Gawain and The Green Knight. (2022, Jun 28). Retrieved from