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The Enlightenment of Sir Gawain

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6 pages
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  1. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
  2. The Green Knight's appearance at the court of King Arthur
  3. Gawain's spiritual education
  4. The beheading of the Green Knight
  5. Gawain's arrival at Sir Bertilak's castle
  6. The use of the word 'gaze'
  7. As in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night
  8. Conclusion
  9. Bibliography

In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Sir Gawain is a model knight in all things material; he excels in his physical prowess as well as the arts of conversation and courtly love. Although he also exhibits outward signs of devotion and piety, his spirituality is called into question through the challenge of the Green Knight. The latter's greenness is a thematic trap that reveals the temptation to experience the spiritual and eternal in physical terms. The Green Knight, who may at first seem to represent the pagan Green Man, is actually a Christ figure who uses his natural image to entice Sir Gawain into the beheading game that is ultimately about the salvation of Gawain's soul, which is effected by teaching him to convert green into the gold of spiritual immortality through Christ's sacrifice.
The Green Knight appears at the court of King Arthur, significantly during the Christmas festivities. The initial description of him establishes him as within the realm of the supernatural while deceivingly arrayed in natural guise: ?Great wonder grew in hall/ At his hue most strange to see,/ For man and gear and all/ Were green as green could be? (Gawain 147-150). John Speirs and other critics have thus seen him as the Green Man, an old vegetation god, but this interpretation seems to be inconsistent with his role in the poem and the Christian environment which he inhabits. The Green Knight may very well be renewed like vegetation, but taking this to define his identity is falling into the trap of the natural green.

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