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Themes

The plot of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight revolves around two games Gawain agrees to play, both with very similar rules. The first game involves an exchange of blows from an axe, while the second dictates an exchange of winnings between Gawain and Lord Bertilak. In both games, Gawain has a strong motivation not to follow the rules - his survival instinct. Yet Gawain’s code of conduct is also dictated by rules - a code of honor that requires him to keep his promises no matter what. In the end, Gawain’s survival instinct proves too strong to resist. Yet as Gawain learns, he can break all the rules and still remain himself - a man defined by his attempt to adhere to knightly, courtly, and Christian codes of conduct.

Questions About Rules and Order

  1. What are the rules of the beheading game the Green Knight proposes? Why do you think the Green Knight is so careful to make sure Gawain understands the rules of the game?
  2. What are the rules of the exchange-of-winnings game between Gawain and Lord Bertilak?
  3. The Green Knight tells Gawain that "true man must pay back truly" (2353). How does this rule explain the games he plays?
  4. Besides the rules of games, what other rules does Gawain try to follow?

Chew on This

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

The exchange-of-winnings game between Lord Bertilak and Gawain equates the hunt for animals with the winning of women’s sexual favors.

Gawain’s success at following the rules of the games he agrees to play depends upon his adherence to the rules of knightly conduct.

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