Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Tradition and Customs Theme
The world of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is one in which every aspect of life is bound up with rules and customs. The rituals of celebration and hunting are no exception. The narrator’s focus on the way Arthur’s court does what is "proper" at Christmas time reveals a values system in which what is customary is right. We see this in the exchanging of gifts, saying "Nowel!," and in the way the characters sit in a strict hierarchical order at the feast. We also see attention paid to custom in the hunting scenes. The butcher must cut the animal up in a specific order and reserve various parts of the animal for the hunts’ participants. In the case of the boar, the butcher must cut the animal so as to construct a perfect trophy for display. To deviate from these customs would be to reveal oneself as ill-educated in hunting, which was considered an art at this time period.
Questions About Tradition and Customs
- Based on the Christmas celebrations at Arthur and Bertilak’s court, what are these peoples’ Christmas traditions?
- Who takes responsibility for the continuation of traditions in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight? How?
- What is the order of the butchering of the deer? How is it different from the butchering of the boar? What can we learn about the different purpose each animal serves by paying attention to the way in which it is butchered?
Chew on This
Responsibility for the continuation of traditions in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight most often falls to the lord of the castle.
The narrator’s attention to what is "proper" betrays his deep conservatism - his belief that what is customary is what is right.