Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Man and the Natural World Quotes Page 4
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And thrusts the sword firmly straight into his throat,
Drove it up to the hilt, so that the heart burst open,
And squawling he gave up, and was swept through the water
(1593 - 1596)
Recall that at the same time as Bertilak hunts the boar, Gawain faces his lady’s attempt to seduce him. This passage alludes to the sexual tension of that situation by portraying Bertilak’s slaying of the boar in language suggestive of sexual intercourse. Bertilak drives his sword (in medieval romance a phallic object) up to the hilt into the animal’s throat (in Middle English, the ‘slot’) just as a penis might penetrate a woman’s vagina.
[The fox] scampers ahead of them, [the hounds] soon found his trail,
And when they caught sight of him followed fast,
Abusing him furiously with an angry noise.
He twists and dodges through many a dense copse,
Often doubling back and listening at the hedges.
At last he jumps over a fence by a little ditch,
Creeps stealthily by the edge of a bush-covered marsh,
Thinking to escape from the wood and the hounds by his wiles.
(1704 - 1711)
The fox gives the huntsmen more of a run for their money than even the boar with his very human-like "wiles." Instead of running a straight race, he sometimes doubles back to confuse the hounds and runs for cover, perhaps planning to wait it out and escape when the time is right. The hunters’ ability to capture him, then, will represent the ultimate triumph of man over nature. The fox may also represent Gawain who, in his meeting with the lady on this day, must deploy rhetorical twists and turns to thwart her seduction attempt, which is more aggressive than ever before.
They struggled up hillsides where branches are bare,
They climbed up past rock-faces gripped by cold.
The clouds were high up, but murky beneath them,
Mist shrouded the moors, melted on the hills.
Each summit wore a hat, a huge cloak of mist.
Streams foamed and splashed down the slopes around them,
Breaking white against the banks as they rushed downhill.
(2077 - 2083)
As Gawain and his guide get closer to the Green Chapel, the landscape appears progressively more wild, with sheer rock-faces, a moor (or high plain) covered in fog, and streams whose foaming and splashing appears aggressive and menacing. This wildness may represent the Green Knight’s wildness, his separation from the civilized world.