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Themes

As we might expect in a poem that features the color of one of its characters as part of its title, appearance really does matter in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The Knight’s greenness, for example, might represent his connection to nature, while the richness of he and his horse’s apparel testifies to his wealth and prosperity. Similarly, the décor and luxuries at the courts of Arthur and Bertilak are important status indicators for these two men, as are the beauty of their women. In much of medieval literature, moreover, a person’s appearance indicates something about his character. When Gawain sees the healthy and strong Sir Bertilak, for example, he knows him to be a good leader of men, just as we recognize Lady Bertilak’s bared neck and shoulders to be indicators of her sexual availability.

Questions About Appearances

  1. What does the Green Knight look like? What can we learn about his character from his appearance?
  2. How does Gawain dress and arm himself when he leaves Arthur’s court? What can we learn about his character from his apparel and the objects he carries with him?
  3. What does the castle of Sir Bertilak look like on the outside? On the inside? What conclusions can we draw about his kingdom based on the appearance of his property?
  4. What does Lady Bertilak look like? What does she wear? How does her appearance contrast with that of her elderly companion?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The Green Knight’s appearance indicates his connection with the natural world.

The appearances of Gawain’s apparel and the objects he carries give us important information about his character.

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