Study Guide

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Summary

It’s Christmas time at King Arthur’s court, and all the knights and ladies have gathered to celebrate and feast. Arthur, however, refuses to eat until he has witnessed something marvelous or heard a great adventure story. Luckily, just when everyone’s sitting down to eat, a mysterious, gigantic stranger with emerald-green skin and clothing bursts into the hall. As if that weren't weird enough, he's riding a gigantic green horse and carrying an elaborately-decorated axe.

The Green Knight announces that he’s come to test the honor of the legendary knights of the round table, and proposes a game: he will withstand a single axe-blow from the hands of one knight, as long as that knight agrees to meet him in a year and a day to receive an axe-blow in return. Stunned by the total weirdness of his request, no one volunteers.

The Green Knight mocks them cruelly, calling out Arthur himself to take up the challenge. But before Arthur can strike a blow, his nephew, Sir Gawain, declares that it’s shameful for the king to have to participate in such a silly game. So Sir Gawain volunteers himself.

Gawain brings the axe down on the Green Knight, chopping his head off. Instead of dying, the Green Knight picks up his own head, turns it to face the court, and tells Gawain to meet him at the Green Chapel in a year and a day. He gallops out of the hall on his horse as the members of the court try to pick their jaws up off of the floor.

The seasons pass, and soon it’s the holiday season again. Gawain leaves King Arthur's court on All Saint’s Day in search of the Green Chapel. He rides through enchanted lands teeming with marvels, battling monsters, and withstanding extreme cold and snow as he travels. As Christmas approaches, Gawain is relieved to see a huge, well-protected castle in the middle of an enchanted forest. When he arrives there he is warmly welcomed and invited to spend the holidays, enjoying the rich hospitality of the magnificent lord and his beautiful lady.

After the Christmas feasting, Gawain gets ready to leave, but the lord persuades him to stay by saying that he can guide Gawain to the Green Chapel. The lord proposes a game, moreover: as Gawain lounges inside by the fire all day, the lord will ride out to hunt. At the end of the day, the two will exchange whatever they’ve won. Gawain happily agrees to the game, impressed by the lord’s love of merriment and games.

The next morning, as the lord rides out in pursuit of deer, Gawain sleeps in late. He’s awoken by the lady of the castle. She says she's come to enjoy the company of a knight with such a wonderful reputation. They chat for a bit, and then the lady gets up to leave. But before she goes, she surprises Gawain by doubting that he’s really the Gawain she’s heard so much about. When Gawain asks why, she replies that a man with a reputation for being a ladies' man would never depart from a lady without kissing her. Especially when her flirtatious behavior has indicated she’s willing. Taking the hint, Gawain kisses the lady, who then departs.

When the lord returns to the castle that night, he presents Gawain with a multitude of well-dressed deer, for which Gawain exchanges the kiss he’s received from the lord's wife. Gawain and the lord continue the same game for the next two days. The lord hunts a boar and a fox while Gawain flirts with the lady of the castle. Gawain then exchanges the kisses he receives for the animals the lord has killed.

On the last day of the game, however, the lady convinces Gawain to accept something else as a "lover’s token": a green girdle, or belt, which she claims will make the wearer invincible, unable to be killed. Gawain realizes that this is just the thing to save his life during his impending meeting with the Green Knight. When the lord of the castles comes home at the end of the day, Gawain breaks the rules of the game and doesn't exchange the green girdle.

The next morning, Gawain rides out of the castle with a guide, who points him to the Green Chapel. The guide begs Gawain to reconsider, because the man who guards it is so dangerous. When Gawain reaches the clearing, all he sees is a small mound with patches of grass on it. He assumes this must be the chapel. He hears a noise like someone sharpening a blade. He calls out to the sharpener to come meet him.

The Green Knight emerges with his huge axe, and commends Gawain for keeping the terms of the agreement. He moves to strike the first blow, but stops his hand when Gawain flinches. He chews Gawain out for being a sissy. After Gawain promises to flinch no more, the knight moves to strike a second blow, but again stops his hand. This time he claims he was testing to see if Gawain was ready. Finally, the Green Knight strikes a third blow. This time, the axe breaks the skin but doesn't decapitate Gawain. (Whew!) Gawain leaps up and arms himself, telling the Green Knight that he has met the terms of the agreement and will now defend himself if threatened.

Laughing, the Green Knight explains to Gawain that he is actually the same lord of the castle where Gawain spent his holidays. The first two blows, he claims, were in return for the way Gawain returned the kisses of his wife, following the rules of their game as an honest man should. The third blow, he says, was for Gawain’s failure to return the green girdle to him on the last day. But because Gawain’s failing was only because he wanted to save his life, and not because he's just dishonorable, the Green Knight forgives him. He leaves Gawain with only with a scar and a girdle as a reminder of his very human sin.

Sir Gawain, however, is totally mortified. He asks the man’s name and learns that he is Lord Bertilak. His powers come from Morgan le Fay, who is Gawain's aunt and a powerful sorceress. She enchanted Bertilak and sent him to King Arthur’s court to test the honor of the knights there and to frighten Queen Guinevere.

Refusing Bertilak’s offer of further hospitality, Gawain returns to Arthur’s court. He tells the story of his adventure, and declares that he will wear the girdle for the rest of his life as a reminder of his failure. The court, however, laughs at Gawain and proposes to all wear a similar girdle for his sake. This tradition is carried down through generations and becomes a symbol of honor.

  • Part 1, Lines 1 - 36

    • These first 36 lines serve as a kind of introduction to the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
    • We kick it off with a kind of mythological history lesson, including some references to the Trojan War and Aeneas (which you can learn more about in our guide to Virgil's Aeneid and Homer's Iliad).
    • The narrator says that when the siege of Troy had ended and the city was burnt to the ground, the man who had committed treason against Troy was tried for his treachery.
    • Aeneas (the star of The Aeneid and a Trojan nobleman) and his family then conquered kingdoms and became lords over all the riches of the western isles.
    • After that, Romulus traveled to Rome and founded it. (FYI, Romulus is the legendary founder of Rome. He's one of Aeneas's descendents, and he and his twin brother, Remus, were raised by a wolf. You can learn more about him in Ovid's Metamorphoses.)
    • We jump ahead in our mythological history lesson and learn that a guy named Felix Brutus settled Britain. We get the picture that Britain has had a rough past, including wars and general turmoil.
    • Since Britain was founded by Brutus, many brave men have been born there, but the narrator says that the awesomest was King Arthur.
    • The narrator says he's going to tell us about an adventure from the time of Arthur. He claims he'll tell it to us exactly as he heard the story, which has been passed down in Britain for a very long time.
  • Part 1, Lines 37 - 249

    • OK, let the story begin!
    • We're now in Camelot, King Arthur's famous court, and it's Christmas time. Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table, and a bunch of other guests are celebrating.
    • The Christmas celebrations include fifteen days of feasting and entertainment, including jousting and dancing.
    • We hear a good deal about how amazing King Arthur is and how brave his knights are.
    • It's the New Year and everyone is gathered, celebrating and giving gifts.
    • At dinnertime, Queen Guinevere sits in the middle, decked out in beautiful and expensive clothes and jewelry. The narrator assures us that's she's the most beautiful woman ever.
    • Arthur doesn't want to start the feast until someone tells a pre-dinner story about some exciting adventure, or until some kind of marvelous event happens. (This is a little tradition of his.) So Arthur holds off on dinner, joking with his nobles and refusing food until something interesting happens.
    • In the meantime, we're introduced to some of the people surrounding Arthur, including Gawain, the king’s nephew and a very good knight.
    • Some trumpets sound, and the first course of the feast is set out.
    • Before long, something interesting does happen: a giant of a man bursts into the hall, riding a horse.
    • We're treated to some detailed descriptions of this giant, including hearing about his broad shoulders, trim waistline, and thick limbs. (He's starting to sound like the hero of a romance novel.)
    • And then we find out that he's completely green. His clothes are green. His skin is green. Even his horse is green.
    • His clothes are fancy, decorated with elaborate embroidery, gems, and silky ermine.
    • His hair is long and nicely styled. Even his horse's hair is combed and braided.
    • This green giant doesn't have any armor, but holds in one hand a holly branch, and in the other an enormous axe.
    • He glares at everyone, then asks to speak to their leader.
    • Everyone is completely astonished. They think he might have come from the land of the fairies.
    • Silence settles over the feast hall as everyone sits stone-still, waiting for King Arthur to speak.
  • Part 1, Lines 250 - 490

    • The fearless King Arthur speaks up and greets the knight politely, saying, "Sir, welcome to this place. I am the head of this house, and my name is Arthur. Get off your horse and relax, and we will learn what your wish is after a while."
    • But the large Green Knight isn't interested in hanging around. He's come because Camelot and Arthur's knights have a reputation for being the best of the best.
    • He says that the holly branch he's carrying shows that he's come in peace, as does the fact that he isn't dressed for battle.
    • The Green Knight assures Arthur that he hasn't come to pick a fight. But if he were here to fight, he's sure that none of these little knights could beat him.
    • So what does he want? To play a little Christmas game, of course.
    • The Green Knight explains the rules, saying, "If anyone here believes himself so hardy and quick as to be able to give stroke for stroke, I will make him a gift of this fine axe. I will attempt to withstand the first blow from it, totally unarmed. If anyone is inclined to take my challenge, make your way to me quickly and pick up this weapon. He may keep it as his own. And I will withstand his stroke unflinching, right here, right now."
    • Hmm. What's the catch?
    • The Green Knight has one condition. A year and a day from today, he'll get the chance to take a swing at the challenger with an axe.
    • No one responds, so the Green Knight starts insulting Arthur and his knights, saying they're not as brave and fierce as they pretend to be.
    • Arthur is embarrassed and tells the Green Knight that his game is ridiculous, but that he will meet the challenge.
    • Arthur goes up the Green Knight and grabs the axe. The giant seems totally unconcerned.
    • But then Gawain steps up. He thinks it's wrong for the noble Arthur to take such a silly challenge. He proposes that he take his uncle's place.
    • Arthur agrees, gives Gawain the axe, and tells him to hit the Green Knight hard.
    • Gawain goes up to the Green Knight, who is still completely unafraid.
    • The Green Knight asks for the name of his challenger, and Gawain says that he's Gawain. He also agrees that in twelve months he'll receive a blow in return from the Green Knight.
    • The Green Knight wants to add one more detail to the terms of the agreement: after twelve months, Gawain has to come looking for him.
    • When Gawain wants to know where the Green Knight lives, the knight responds that he'll give Gawain the name of his home after Gawain hits him with the axe. If the Green Knight can't speak after the axe-blow, then Gawain doesn't have to come looking for him in a year's time.
    • So the terms of the agreement are set.
    • The Green Knight exposes his naked neck.
    • Gawain swings the axe and hacks off his head.
    • The Green Knight's handsome head drops to the ground and rolls around.
    • Though he's decapitated and his fancy green clothes are covered in blood, the Green Knight's body remains standing.
    • Then he walks forward and picks up his head. Holding his head, he mounts his horse.
    • The Green Knight turns his nasty, severed head to Arthur and his guests. The head speaks and reminds Gawain of his promise. He says he's known as the Knight of the Green Chapel, and Gawain can find him at the Green Chapel on New Year's Day, twelve months from now. If he doesn't show up, he's a total coward.
    • Then the decapitated Green Knight gallops out of the building.
    • Arthur and Gawain laugh and grin about the green man, agreeing that they have indeed witnessed a marvel. Guess they can eat their feast now.
    • Arthur, Gawain, the Queen, and all of the knights and guests have double helpings of the holiday meal, plus desserts. They listen to music and generally have a good time.
  • Part 2, Lines 491 - 690

    • Time passes and it's soon Lent.
    • More time passes and spring arrives, followed by summer. We hear about the pretty blossoms and plants growing.
    • Now it's the harvest, followed by autumn.
    • Finally, the cold weather sets in and Gawain thinks anxiously about his impending trip. Yet until All Saint’s Day, Gawain lingers with Arthur, who prepares a farewell feast. Everyone is sad or worried to think of Gawain going to meet the Green Knight.
    • Gawain tries to act upbeat, saying things like, "Why should I worry? A man must confront his fate, be it good or bad."
    • The next morning, he preps to leave.
    • He dresses in fancy silk clothes and an ermine-lined cape.
    • He puts on his polished armor, including leg coverings, a mail-shirt made of steel, elbow pieces, gloves, and his trusty sword.
    • Gawain prays at the high altar, then says goodbye to Arthur, the other knights, and all of the lords and ladies.
    • He hops on his horse, Gringolet, who is also decked out with a shiny new saddle and bridle.
    • The narrator gives us some more descriptions of Gawain's fancy gear.
    • His helm (helmet) is studded with gems and has a silk border, lavishly decorated with embroidery. It looks like many women in town must have worked on it for seven years.
    • The circlet that wraps around his head is made with diamonds.
    • His shield is then brought out, with a golden pentangle (five-pointed star) on it.
    • The narrator takes a quick break from the main action of the story to tell us why Gawain has taken the pentangle as his coat of arms.
    • The narrator tells us that the pentangle is a sign that Solomon composed to stand for truth, because it has five points and lines, all of which interlace with the other. It is endless; the English call it the endless knot.
    • This sign suits Gawain because he has five important aspects to his personality, all of which fall into groups of five. Let's go through them all:
      1. He is known to be faultless in his five senses. (Guess he doesn't need glasses or anything.)
      2. His five fingers are extremely sure and dexterous.
      3. He puts all his earthly faith in the five wounds of Christ on the cross.
      4. Whenever he’s in battle, his thoughts are all on the five joys that Mary had in Jesus. (Gawain even has a picture of Mary painted on the inside of his shield, as a reminder.)
      5. The fifth group is kind of a grab-bag of virtues: Gawain is devoted to generosity, fellowship before all else, purity, courtesy, and, most important of all, charity
    • Now that we've got that straight, let's get back to the story.
    • Everyone says goodbye to Gawain, sure they'll never see him again.
    • Gawain rides off on his horse.
  • Part 2, Lines 691 - 842

    • The narrator tells us about how crummy Gawain's trip is – he's lonely, hungry, and can't find good places to spend the night.
    • Gawain travels to North Wales and into the wilderness of Wyrale.
    • As he travels, he asks everyone he meets if they have ever heard of the Green Knight of the Green Chapel, but no one has.
    • He continues his trip, passing through many strange lands, and encountering some fierce enemies. Sometimes he battles worms, or wolves, or the wild men who live in the rocky cliffs. He meets with bulls, bears, boars, and ogres that chase him across the high plains.
    • But none of this compares with the miserable freezing winter weather.
    • Basically this trip stinks.
    • By Christmas Eve, Gawain is pretty desperate and prays to Mary and Jesus to guide him to a place where he can hear mass and pray.
    • His prayer seems to work, because he has hardly crossed himself three times before he notices a magnificent castle perched above a field and surrounded by a moat and trees.
    • Gawain thanks Jesus and Saint Julian, then rides up the path toward the castle.
    • As he approaches, Gawain realizes that the castle is an impressive fortress. The bridge that crosses the moat is drawn up, the gates are tightly fastened, and there are garrets all around.
    • He calls out, and soon a pleasant porter arrives and greets the wandering knight.
    • Gawain asks for lodging. The porter says he's welcome to stay as long as he likes.
    • The bridge is let down, and he's allowed in, where he's greeted by a bunch of different people eager to serve him.
    • Gawain is introduced to the lord of the castle, who welcomes him and even hugs him.
    • Things are definitely looking up for our boy Gawain.
  • Part 2, Lines 842 - 1045

    • The lord of the castle seems to be a brave and strong knight in the prime of his life.
    • He shows Gawain to a room where he can stay, and even assigns him some servants.
    • The room is quite fancy, decked out with embroidered silks, tapestries, and a comfy carpet.
    • He changes into some nice robes, and everyone admires him, thinking him the most handsome knight ever.
    • Gawain is getting seriously pampered. He sits by the fire and servants bring him tasty stews, fish, and breads to eat and wine to drink.
    • The servants question him and are impressed to hear that he is one of King Arthur's knights.
    • The lord is happy to learn that his guest is Sir Gawain. Gawain, apparently, has quite a reputation. He's known for his skill as a knight, his virtue, and also for his good manners. We get the impression that he's also a bit of a ladies' man.
    • After dinner Gawain, the lord, and his lady (the lord's wife) go to chapel. The lord tells Gawain that he's the most welcome guest in the world, and asks Gawain to sit with him during the service.
    • The lady of the castle is stunningly beautiful. Gawain even thinks she's prettier than Queen Guinevere.
    • The beautiful lady is accompanied by ancient-looking lady, who seems to be much respected by the local knights.
    • Gawain heads over to the women and, gallant knight that he is, declares that he's at their service.
    • After the service, the lord, lady, and their friends share some spice cakes and wine with Gawain, and the lord tries to entertain them.
    • The next morning is Christmas, and everyone feasts.
    • The old woman sits next to the lord. Gawain gets to sit next to the beautiful lady, and they have a grand old time. In fact, the narrator says that they have the best time of anyone at the feast.
    • The holiday is celebrated with three days of festivities, and then the guests leave.
    • Gawain goes to say goodbye to the lord, who seems sorry to see him go. The lord tries to get Gawain to stay a bit longer, but the knight says that he has to leave.
    • It's good to know that despite all the partying, Gawain hasn't forgotten his promise to the Green Knight.
  • Part 2, Lines 1046 - 1125

    • The lord wants to know why Gawain can't stay a little longer. Gawain tells him he has some urgent business, and asks the lord to help him find the Green Chapel by New Year's Day.
    • (By the way, at this point Gawain only has three days before he's supposed to meet the Green Knight.)
    • Gawain is in luck. The lord knows exactly where the Green Chapel is (it's only about two miles away), and he promises to bring Gawain there on New Year's Day. In the meantime, he says that Gawain should hang around his castle.
    • Gawain is very relieved and promises to stay with the lord.
    • The lord is happy and says that Gawain needs to rest from all of his travels. He proposes a little game. Tomorrow, Gawain should lounge around all day with the lady to keep him company. Meanwhile, the lord will go hunting. At the end of the day when they meet up again, they'll exchange what they've won over the course of the day.
    • Gawain agrees, and they drink on it.
    • He's impressed at how the lord really knows how to have a good time.
  • Part 3, Lines 1126 - 1318

    • In the morning, the lord and his men quickly eat their breakfast, attend mass, and then get ready for a day of hunting. They leave before daybreak.
    • The lord and his men bring their hunting trumpets and their hounds and head off into the forest.
    • They seem to be making quite a ruckus, and all the animals are terrified.
    • The deer take off through the woods, but the lord's men and hounds hunt them down. Basically, it sounds like they take down every deer in the forest.
    • The lord couldn't be happier.
    • While the lord is out hunting, Gawain luxuriates in bed, enjoying the silk sheets.
    • While he's dozing, the beautiful lady sneaks in. She creeps quietly to his bed, sitting down gently on it, then waits to see if he'll wake up.
    • Gawain, feeling a little uncomfortable and embarrassed, pretends to be asleep for a bit longer. Finally, he stretches and opens his eyes and acts surprised to see the lady.
    • She's all flirty, making comments about how he can't tell when someone sneaks up on him while he's sleeping, and how she has imprisoned him in his bed.
    • He's flirty back, saying that he surrenders himself to her, but would like to get up and get dressed.
    • She says no. She's going to tuck him into bed again and chat with him all by herself, while her husband and his men are away and while everyone else in the house is in bed. And while the door is locked.
    • Hmm. What's going on here?
    • The lady makes a fuss about Gawain, saying that she has in her house the gallant man that everyone loves and admires, and she wants to make the most of this opportunity.
    • Gawain is all Mr. Modest, and says that he's happy to serve her in any way she wants.
    • She gushes about how Gawain is handsome and kind and courteous (and etc.). She says that if she were the richest and worthiest woman in the world, and if she could choose to have any man in the world, she would choose him.
    • He says that she's chosen a better man (meaning the lord, her husband), but says that he'll be her knight.
    • The narrator tells us that Gawain and the lady flirt like this all morning.
    • Gawain tries to be cautious, but also always polite. Still on his mind, also, is the idea that he has to face the Green Knight in a few short days.
    • When the lady speaks of leaving, Gawain agrees at once.
    • She doesn't leave though, and instead says that she doubts that he's actually Gawain.
    • Gawain wants to know why she doubts him.
    • She answers that Gawain wouldn't have talked with a lady for so long without begging a kiss from her by some hint or suggestion.
    • Gawain says he'll kiss her if she wants him to. She kisses him and then scurries off.
    • Gawain gets dressed, goes to mass, eats, and spends the rest of the day relaxing.
  • Part 3, Lines 1319 - 1411

    • Meanwhile, the lord and his men are still out in the woods. They finish the hunt and start to divide up the deer.
    • We get lots of detailed description of the slaughter of the deer. About guts and gullets and hide and stuff like that. The butchering happens in a very specific, ordered way.
    • They throw some parts out for the ravens, feed the dogs with other deer parts, and the men take the rest.
    • The hunt has been a huge success, and by the time the sun has set, the men are back at the castle.
    • The lord finds Gawain inside, waiting contentedly by a bright, warm fire. The two men greet each other joyfully.
    • The lord asks everyone to assemble downstairs, including the two ladies (the lord's wife and the old lady) and their servants.
    • The lord shows Gawain some of the venison meat he's cut from the deer, and Gawain agrees that it's great quality meat.
    • The lord says that according to their agreement, he'll give all of his venison to Gawain.
    • Gawain says he'll give the lord what he's won today, also according to their agreement. So he kisses the lord, essentially turning over the kiss that the lady had given him earlier that day.
    • The lord wants to know how Gawain won this kiss, but Gawain refuses to tell him, saying that wasn't part of the bargain.
    • The lord and Gawain have a merry old time during dinner, then sit by the fire drinking wine and joking around.
    • They decide to extend their little game, exchanging tomorrow's winnings as well.
    • They seal the deal in front of the whole court with a pledge-drink.
    • Finally, they go to bed.
  • Part 3, Lines 1412 - 1560

    • The lord and his men are out of bed early again the next morning. Before the sun rises they're already out in the woods to spend the day hunting.
    • The hunters and the dogs again create a huge ruckus, with the hunters urging the hounds on with shouts and horns, and the dogs barking at some kind of wild animals.
    • The dogs take off and end up at a wooded knoll, which the hunters surround.
    • The hunters find the animal that the dogs have been chasing. It's an enormous boar.
    • The boar charges, knocks down some of the men, and even wounds some of the dogs.
    • The men shoot the boar repeatedly with arrows, but he continues charging.
    • Eventually, the lord rides up and lances the boar. Then the dogs pursue the wounded animal.
    • Meanwhile, Gawain is lying in bed at the castle.
    • Again, the flirty lady comes to his room, and they start to banter.
    • She teases him about how he's already forgotten the lesson she taught him yesterday. She says that a courteous knight should ask for a kiss whenever he sees through her behavior that a lady is willing.
    • Gawain again says that he's at the lady's service and will kiss her whenever she likes.
    • The lady bends down over Gawain and kisses him.
    • Then they talk for a while about the rewards and trials of love. The lady wants Gawain to teach her about the ways of true love. She asks why it is that knights are praised above all of for the practice of love. She says that when the deeds of knights are discussed, everyone always focuses on how they have risked everything for love, suffered dreadful times for their love-longing, and performed acts of valor to bring joy to their ladies with their winnings.
    • The lady goes on to wonder why Gawain, who has a great reputation for love, hasn't yet spoken to her of love. She asks again for him to teach her about love.
    • Gawain says that it would be an honor to teach her, though she's probably more of an expert on love than he is. Still, he promises to do his best.
    • The narrator tells us that Gawain and the lady laugh and kiss and have a good time, but Gawain continues to be cautious, and neither Gawain nor the lady commits any evil.
    • After the lady leaves, Gawain gets up, goes to mass, and eats. The he proceeds to spend the rest of the day with the beautiful lady and the old lady.
  • Part 3, Lines 1561 - 1689

    • We're back in the woods and the lord is still chasing the fierce boar.
    • The men continue to surround and shoot the boar with arrows.
    • The boar is growing tired and foaming at the mouth. Still, it manages to make it to a safe hole by a rocky ledge.
    • No one dares to get too close, since the boar has already gored a bunch of men with its tusks.
    • The lord bravely rides up, though, unsheathes his sword.
    • The boar charges the lord, but the lord stabs the boar as deeply as he can, piercing its heart.
    • The hounds pounce and tear at the boar. Then the men start carving up the meat, again in an ordered fashion.
    • The lord and his men return home with the meat, and the lord presents it to Gawain, according to their deal.
    • The lord tells Gawain, the ladies, and the rest of the people in the castle the story of how they took down the boar. Gawain is impressed by the quality of the meat and the immense size of the animal. He's even given the boar's head.
    • Next Gawain offers the lord what he won during the day – another kiss.
    • Everyone sits down to a merry dinner, complete with singing and dancing.
    • The whole time, Gawain sits next to the beautiful lady. She keeps making eyes at him, and it makes him feel confused and angry with himself. But as a courteous knight, he can't rebuke her, so he tries to remain polite, even if his behavior might be misinterpreted.
    • Gawain and the lord spend some time together before going to bed. The lord wants to continue their little game tomorrow too.
    • Gawain, however, is feeling anxious because tomorrow is New Year's Eve, and the next day Gawain will need to go to the Green Chapel.
    • The lord assures Gawain once more that he will get Gawain to the Green Chapel in time. He convinces Gawain to relax again tomorrow while he goes hunting.
    • He says that he's tested Gawain twice already and found him faithful. Might as well continue the game, because the third time is a charm.
    • Gawain agrees, and they both head off to bed.
  • Part 3, Lines 1690 - 1892

    • You know the drill: in the morning, the lord and his men go hunting.
    • This time the hounds catch the scent of a fox and rush after him.
    • The fox is wily and leads the lord and his huntsmen on a grand old chase over hills and dales all afternoon.
    • Meanwhile, Gawain sleeps deeply in his cozy room.
    • The lady wakes up early and heads to Gawain's room, as usual. She sets to teasing him immediately, and they playfully banter.
    • She's dressed quite seductively this morning and even lies next to him in the bed.
    • The narrator basically says that the lady is ambushing him and pushing him toward danger. Soon he'll be forced to either accept her love or rudely reject her. Gawain really doesn't want to be a traitor to the lord, who has been so generous to him, but we also know that Gawain really values being courteous and polite to ladies.
    • The lady is really cranking up the heat, and wants to know why he doesn't want her. Does he have some other lover that he prefers?
    • Gawain says that he doesn't have a lover, nor does he want one right now.
    • The lady is upset and asks for another kiss before leaving. He agrees.
    • Before she goes, she says that she wants a gift from him, to remember him by. Gawain says that he's on a quest and hasn't brought anything with him that would make a worthy love-token.
    • The lady wants to give him a parting gift anyway. She offers him one of her expensive rings, which he refuses since he can give her nothing in return. She presses him, but he swears to never accept it.
    • She's upset, but tries to offer him something less expensive, in case that's what's bothering him. She offers him the green silk girdle (a belt) that she's wearing.
    • He refuses again. The lady presses him again. She says that the person who wears the green girdle can't be killed.
    • Well, now that's interesting.
    • Gawain thinks about his impending encounter with the Green Knight, and decides to let the lady wrap her girdle around him.
    • She tells him never to take it off, and not to let the lord know about the girdle. It has to be their little secret. Gawain agrees.
    • At this point, the lady has kissed Gawain three times today.
    • She leaves and Gawain gets dressed.
    • He heads to the chapel and confesses his sins to a priest. The priest absolves him of his sins, which is good, since Gawain probably thinks he's going to die tomorrow.
    • Gawain feels much better and has a great time for the rest of the day. Everyone who sees him thinks that he's the happiest he's been since he arrived.
  • Part 3, Lines 1893 - 1997

    • The lord is still of in the woods, chasing the fox.
    • A hound corners the fox, and the lord swoops the fox up and holds it over his head.
    • Everyone is happy. The men blow their horns and shout; the hounds bark.
    • The hunters skin the fox, and they all head home.
    • The lord meets Gawain, who has been happily hanging out by the fire among the women.
    • Gawain tells the lord that he'll be the first to offer his day's winnings this time. He kisses the lord three times (for the three kisses he received from the beautiful lady).
    • The lord comments that Gawain has had some good luck today, but that he (the lord) has not. All he won was a single ugly fox.
    • Gawain accepts the fox, and they settle down for another evening of food, drink, and merriment. Both Gawain and the lord are ridiculously happy.
    • Finally, it’s time for bed.
    • Gawain politely thanks the lord for all of his hospitality, but reminds the lord of his promise to help him find the Green Chapel tomorrow.
    • The lord assigns a servant to Gawain, who will lead him to the chapel.
    • Gawain says a tearful farewell to the beautiful lady and the old one. He also thanks the crowd and the servants.
    • Finally, Gawain heads to bed. The narrator says that he's not sure if the knight is able to get much sleep, since he has tomorrow's task on his mind.
  • Part 4, Lines 1998 - 2211

    • It's the morning of New Year's Day, and there's a winter storm going on outside. The sky is dumping snow.
    • Gawain lies in bed, thinking of his upcoming task.
    • Gawain gets up and dresses in warm clothing, his mail-shirt, and armor. The servants have taken care of his clothes and gear, so everything looks shiny and new.
    • Before he leaves, Gawain ties on the lady's green girdle, hoping it will save his life today.
    • Gawain goes outside and finds that his trusty steed, Gringolet, has been well taken care of. The knight is very thankful for the kind and courteously treatment he has received in the lord's castle.
    • Gawain mounts his horse and declares his wish that this castle always have good luck. Then he leaves with his guide to go find the Green Chapel.
    • The journey is slow and treacherous, but the guide brings Gawain close to the stop. He won't join Gawain all the way and thinks Gawain should turn back.
    • He warns that the man who lives at the Green Chapel is powerful and ruthless; he strikes deathblows upon anyone who enters his land. He'll kill anyone, even a priest.
    • The guide again begs Gawain to turn back. He assures the knight that he'll never tell anyone that Gawain turned and fled.
    • Gawain thanks the guide, but he's determined to go meet the Green Knight. He refuses to be a coward, and instead trusts in God to protect him.
    • The guide gives Gawain directions for the last leg of his journey. He wishes Gawain luck and then returns to the castle.
    • Gawain rides on and finds himself in a wilderness, with no sign of buildings anywhere, only high hills on both sides and rugged crags of gnarled stones. He definitely doesn't see a chapel, only a little mound, a barrow by a stream.
    • Gawain examines the barrow. It seems to be hollow inside.
    • He's confused. It doesn't look like a chapel, and now he's worried that it might be an evil place, a chapel where the devil goes to say his prayers. Gawain is sure that it's a cursed church.
    • Gawain climbs to the top of the barrow. From there he hears a loud noise coming from behind a rock, in a bank beyond the brook.
    • Boom! It clatters on the cliff as if it will break it, as if someone were sharpening a scythe on a grindstone.
    • Gawain assumes that the loud noises are meant to be a greeting for him. He says to himself, "May God’s will be done."
  • Part 4, Lines 2212 - 2477

    • Gawain shouts at the top of his lungs that he's ready and waiting. The Green Knight better show up, because it's now or never.
    • The Green Knight tells Gawain to hold on for a few more minutes.
    • Gawain continues to hear loud sounds, like a large blade being sharpened.
    • The Green Knight appears carrying an enormous new Danish axe.
    • The Hulk-like knight is as green as ever, including all of this clothing.
    • The Green Knight commends Gawain for keeping their appointment. He restates the terms of their agreement, says that Gawain can't put up any kind of fight or complain, and then asks Gawain to remove his helmet.
    • Gawain guarantees that he won't complain, then he bares his neck, waiting for the axe to fall.
    • As the Green Knight picks up the axe and swings with all his might, Gawain flinches. The green giant stops mid-swing to chew out Gawain, saying that he never flinched or trembled when Gawain hacked his head off. What gives? Gawain must be a coward.
    • The Green Knight declares that he's definitely a better man than Gawain.
    • Gawain promises not to flinch again, but also points out that once his head is hacked off, he won't be able to put it back on again.
    • The Green Knight raises his axe again and swings… and stops again. Gawain hasn't moved a muscle, and the green man says he's glad to see that Gawain isn't being a wimp.
    • Gawain tells him to get on with it already.
    • The Green Knight raises the axe a third time and brings it down on Gawain's bare neck.
    • But the sharp blade just barely cuts through Gawain's skin. He's bleeding, but his head is still on his shoulders. Whew!
    • Gawain grabs his helmet, his shield, and his sword. He declares that he withstood the Green Knight's attack and met the terms of their agreement. Now he'll defend himself if the Green Knight tries to strike again.
    • The Green Knight keeps his distance and admires Gawain's bravery.
    • He explains that he didn't strike Gawain the first two times because, as per their agreement, Gawain honorably turned over all of his day's winnings to him on the first two nights. He declares that true men return what they owe and have nothing to fear.
    • The third blow was delivered because Gawain failed to turn over the green girdle as one of the things he won on the third day.
    • Confused yet? Well, the Green Knight is actually the lord of the castle.
    • He explains that he knows all about Gawain's kissing and flirting with his wife. Why? Because he planned it all.
    • He sent his wife to tempt Gawain, and Gawain passed the test. He's the greatest of all knights.
    • But Gawain didn't pass with an A+. He failed a little when he didn't turn over the green girdle. But, he forgives Gawain since the act was committed for self-preservation, and not out of lust or greed.
    • Gawain feels ashamed and blushes. He takes off the green girdle and returns it.
    • He declares that fear led him to be false and deceitful. He knows that his good name is damaged, but he would like to regain the Green Knight's trust.
    • The Green Knight, however, laughs and says that Gawain is absolved. He's repented and learned his lesson. He even gives Gawain the green girdle as a gift.
    • The Green Knight invites Gawain to celebrate the New Year with him and his wife, back at the castle.
    • Gawain turns him down, but sends his regard to the beautiful lady, saying that she beguiled him with her kiss. He lists some great and wise men who were tricked by women: Solomon, Samson, David, and Adam. And what lesson has Gawain learned? To love women, but not to trust them. Hmm.
    • Gawain says that he'll keep the green girdle as a reminder of his weaknesses, and how easily he was tempted. He'll use it to keep him humble.
    • Before they part, Gawain asks for the Green Knight's true name.
    • The Green Knight says that he's Bertilak de Hautdesert.
    • He gets his powers from Morgan le Fay, a sorceress who lives in his house.
    • Morgan sent the Green Knight to Camelot to find out if the Knights of the Round Table could really live up to their reputation. She also wanted to frighten Queen Guinevere to death, with that whole stunt of the Green Knight picking up his own head.
    • The Green Knight tells Gawain that Morgan is the old woman at his castle. She's also Arthur's half-sister, and therefore Gawain's aunt.
    • He asks Gawain again to come celebrate at the castle with his aunt, but Gawain again refuses.
    • They part as friends, and Gawain rushes off back to King Arthur's court.
  • Part 4, Lines 2479 - 2530

    • Gawain rides back through the wild country toward Camelot. He has plenty of adventures along the way, including vanquishing many foes, of course.
    • His neck wound heals, but he wears the green girdle as a baldric (kind of like a sash that holds a sword) as a symbol that he was dishonored by his failure.
    • When he reaches Arthur's court, everyone greets him warmly, probably because they never expected to see him again.
    • Everyone is eager to hear about his adventure, so he shares all the details. Even the embarrassing ones. He blushes and even cries remembering his failure.
    • He shows Arthur the green girdle and declares that he'll wear if for the rest of his life, as a reminder of how he's dishonored himself.
    • King Arthur and everyone else just laugh at Gawain and try to comfort him.
    • The lords and ladies of the Round Table agree that each man shall wear a green baldric like Gawain’s, for his sake.
    • The Round Table becomes renowned for that symbol, and any man who wears it is honored.
    • The narrator circles back to the beginning, and says that this adventure happened in Arthur's day, which came after Brutus settled Britain following the Trojan War.
    • He ends by praising Jesus.