Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
How we cite our quotes:
Yet until All Saints’ Day he lingers in court,
[. . .]
And after the feast, sorrowfully he addressed his uncle,
Raised the matter of his quest, and openly said,
"Liege lord of my being, I must ask for your leave;
You know the terms of this matter, and I have no wish
To bother you with them, saving one small point;
But tomorrow without fail I set out for the blow,
To seek this man in green, as God will direct me."
(536, 543 - 549)
By setting out right after All Saints’ Day (on Nov. 2), Gawain gives himself a full two months to reach the Green Chapel. This seems like lots of time, but keep in mind that Gawain doesn’t know where he’s going. He has to go on horseback, a much slower method than by car, plane, or train.
Where dinner was finished and Gawain had risen,
The time had drawn almost to night:
Chaplains made their way to the castle chapels,
Rang their bells loudly, just as they should,
For devout evensong on that holy occasion.
(928 - 932)
Gawain has reached Bertilak’s castle on Christmas Eve. Another calendar that structures the tale, in addition to the cycles of the seasons and the Church’s feast calendar, is the cycle of sunrise and sunset and the different calls to prayer – matins, prime, nonce, evensong, etc – followed by the monastic orders.
Great joy filled that day and the one following,
And a third as delightful came pressing after;
The revelry on St John’s Day was glorious to hear,
And was the end of the festivities, the people supposed,
The guests were to leave early the next morning.
(1020 - 1024)
Many things come in threes in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Here, there are three days of feasting, followed by three days in which Gawain rests in the castle while lord Bertilak hunts. Gawain also gives and receives three blows on the third day of his rest, and finally, receives three blows from the Green Knight on New Year’s Day.