Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

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Editor: Lynn M. Zott
Date: 2002
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Work overview; Critical essay
Length: 1,488 words

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Critically acclaimed as a masterpiece and considered the best of the English medieval romances, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is an anonymous Arthurian romance, most likely from the fourteenth century, written in alliterative verse, comprising 2530 lines in 101 stanzas. The story incorporates elements drawn from several centuries of folklore and legend, Christian and Celtic symbolism, and portions from French and Latin versions of the tale. The narrative describes the adventures of Sir Gawain, King Arthur's youngest knight, as his courage and vows of chastity and honor are tested by circumstances arranged by a giant of a knight, clad in green armor, with a green face and green hair. Because the text of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is in Middle English and in a particularly difficult northwest Midlands dialect, it is most familiar to modern readers in translation; nevertheless, the original language of the poem is highly praised for its beauty and richness. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight exists in only one manuscript, following three other poems by the same author: Pearl, Patience, and Cleanness (also called Purity). No portion of these poems is known to appear in any other manuscript. The small quarto volume that contains these four works has been housed in the British Museum since 1753; it contains no titles or headings, although large blue and red letters set off the main divisions. The volume also contains several full-page illustrations. Scholars have had no success in identifying the Gawain-poet (also known as the Pearl-poet), although several suggestions and theories have been offered. For the genius he displays in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight through innovations in language, style, characterization, and plot, the Gawain-poet is considered by critics on the level of Chaucer, his contemporary.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1410000793