The symbolism of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight pervades the entire poem. Nonetheless, two symbols necessitate further examination. We will discuss them in this article:
- the pentangle – a knightly symbol,
- as well as the poem’s use of color symbolism.
- The Pentangle
- Color Green
Sir Gawain’s shield’s pentangle can be interpreted in various ways. On the most fundamental level, the pentangle on Sir Gawain’s shield represents the truth. The truth in this poem, however, is more than just honesty. It also refers to Christian faith, purity, and moral virtue. These qualities are essential for the code and every knight in the chivalric tradition that adopted some Christian beliefs. Gawain himself becomes a symbol of unwavering faith and honesty at the poem’s beginning. Until he accepts the challenge, Gawain’s life embodies all of the virtues that the pentangle represents.
The poet describes the meaning of this symbol on Sir Gawain’s shield in 50 lines. The five-pointed star was created by King Solomon, according to Gawain poet. This symbol is referred to by two different words in the poem: “the pentangle” and “the endless knot.” This symbol also represents Christ’s five wounds and Mary’s five joys. It also describes the five essential qualities that every knight should have. Franchise, Fellowship, Cleanness, Courtesy, and Charity are examples of these characteristics. The image of the Virgin Mary is depicted on the inside of the shield. It’s odd because pentangles have traditionally been associated with magic. The significance of Gawain’s pentagram, however, is much broader. The poet emphasizes the symbol’s colour in particular. It’s gold, which is associated with nobility and wealth. Some critics argue that Gawain is best represented by gold, while the Green Knight is best represented by green. The poet emphasized that the pentangle is completely painted in pure gold.
Gawain is put to the test several times throughout the poem. Not only are his personal qualities put to the test, but so is his adherence to chivalric values. Gawain fails to live up to the standards he set for himself, and the values he represents fall as well. By accepting the lady’s green girdle, he demonstrates his human flaw. Gawain would rather cheat to win than keep up with the values represented by the pentangle. He is terrified of death. His natural survival instinct outweighs any artificial set of rules. Gawain fails, but he learns from his mistakes. He returns to Camelot as a new man, aware of his flaws and limitations.
- “They then brought him his blazon, which was of brilliant gules with a pentangle depicted in pure gold.” He caught it by the baldric and cast it around his neck: proper well and worthy for the knight. And why the pentangle is appropriate for that noble prince, I intend to tell you now, even if it delays my story.” (Stanza 27 of Part 1)
- ” And may it be well with him that he wears it on his worthy arms, Forever faithful in five-fold fashion.” Was Gawain in good works as pure as gold, free of all villainy, and adorned with virtues in sight?” (Stanza 35, Part 2)
- “First he was found faultless in his five senses, and next in the five fingers he failed at no time, and firmly on the Five Wounds all his faith was set that Christ received on the cross, as the Creed tells us; and wherever the brave man into battle came, on this beyond all things was his earnest thought: that ever from the Five Joys all his valour he gained that to Heaven’s courteous Queen once came from her Child.” For this reason, the knight repainted her image on the inner side of his shield in a dignified manner.” (Stanza 28 of Part 1)
- ” It is a sign that Solomon once designated as a time to come foretell Troth, as it is entitled to do; for it is a figure that holds five points, and each line overlaps and is linked with another, and every way it is endless; and the English, I hear, everywhere call it the Endless Knot.” (Stanza 27 of Part 2)
Colors are essential in understanding any literary work. In the case of Sir Gawain and The Green Knight, they serve as guides through the entire plot.
The Green Knight, the poem’s antagonist, is described as a man dressed entirely in green armour. He is more powerful and taller than a human, and he can survive the beheading game. The audience associates these exceptional qualities with the unusual complexion. But he also wears green, ride a green horse, and wields a green ax. Furthermore, he instructs Gawain to meet him at the Green Chapel a year later. The audience benefits significantly from the exaggeration of the green color throughout the poem. It elicits a plethora of associations and mental connections.
The color green is closely associated with several themes in Medieval tradition. The first involves supernatural abilities and magic. The second theme represented by this symbol is nature and wilderness. It contrasts King Arthur’s court, which means civility and life organized around the knightly code. Love and lust are the third symbols. The final one is about youth, regeneration, and renewal.
The Green Knight, as well as his alter ego Lord Bertilak, represent both the supernatural and the natural worlds:
- They live in a castle in the middle of a green forest, far from civilization.
- They have magical items like the green girdle.
- They have a close relationship with nature.
The characters explore these themes through seduction games and hunting scenes. Green symbols abound in their lives. The Green Knight, like the color green, has many faces in the poem. Despite his harshness and strength, he is merciful and knows how to forgive.
The Green Chapel depicts the most unusual episode in the poem and the ultimate climax. Gawain dons the green girdle to meet the Green Knight at the Green Chapel. The supernatural, natural, and religious elements are all intertwined in this scene. Girdles, as previously stated, are associated with magic and mythology in literature. The item in the Bible refers to readiness. However, for Gawain, the green girdle becomes a personal symbol. It serves as a reminder of his failure and a symbol of his moral rebirth. Gawain is two different characters at the beginning and end of the poem, much like the girdle, which undergoes its transformation.
Green Color Quotations
- “Both garments and man were made of green: a coat tight and near that glued to his sides; a wealthy robe above it all aligned within with fur delicately clipped, showing reasonable fringes of handsome ermine gay, as his hood was also” (Part I, Stanza 8)
- “Very gay was this great man guised all in green, and the hair of his head with his horse’s accorded: fair flapping locks enfolding his shoulders, a big beard like a bush over his breast hanging that with the handsome hair from his head falling was sharp shorn to an edge just short of his elbows, so that half his arms under it were hid, as it were in a king’s capadoce that encloses his neck”. (Part 1, Stanza 9)
- “I’ll give you my girdle; it’ll be less gain.’ She quickly untied a belt that embraced her sides and was clasped above her kirtle under her lovely mantle. It was made of green silk and finished with gold, though only braided roundabout and embroidered by hand; and she would gladly give it to Gawain “(Stanza 73, Part 3)
- “At the Green Chapel, everything goes as he pleases; no one passes by that place so proud in his arms that he hews not to death by dint of his hand. For he is a monstrous man, and mercy he knows not; for whether it be a churl or a chaplain riding by the Chapel, a monk or a mass-priest, or any other man, he would as soon have him slain as himself go alive “(Stanza 84, Part 4)