Literature Study GuidesSir Gawain And The Green KnightFytte The First Stanzas 10 14 Summary

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight | Study Guide

Pearl Poet

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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight | Fytte the First, Stanzas 10–14 | Summary

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Summary

Fytte the First, Stanza 10

The hero is missing certain essential pieces of armor, like a hauberk (mail covering for the neck and shoulders) and a breastplate. Instead, he holds a holly twig in one hand and an ax in the other. The ax, like the rest of his outfit, is green, gold, embroidered, and well made. It's also sharp and "merciless almost beyond description."

The mysterious hero does not come in and politely introduce himself. Acting scornfully, he asks to speak with the head of the company. He looks around the table to determine who is in charge.

Fytte the First, Stanza 11

Everyone in the hall stares in amazement. They've seen many wondrous things, but nothing like this before, and no one says a word. The narrator speculates that they stay silent out of courtesy, not fear.

Fytte the First, Stanza 12

Arthur, never afraid, is the first to speak. He asks the Green Knight to sit down and explain what he wants.

The Green Knight replies he doesn't intend to stay. He's heard of the fame of Arthur's court, how they are the worthiest opponents in battle, and he's come to find them. But he didn't come to fight. He left his armor at home on purpose. He wants only to play a game.

Arthur responds with a challenge: if the knight seeks a battle opponent, he'll find one in the court.

Fytte the First, Stanza 13

Insinuating that Arthur's men are soft, cowardly, and undeserving of their reputation, the Green Knight repeats he doesn't want a fight. No man in the court could match him. But he thinks the New Year's season is a perfect time for a game.

If any man in the hall is bold and rash enough to trade "one stroke for another," the Green Knight will give the man his axe. He'll allow the man one blow. But next year on New Year's Day, the Green Knight will expect to continue the game and deal his own blow to his opponent.

Fytte the First, Stanza 14

No one answers the Green Knight; they are shocked, and the Green Knight begins to taunt them. Is this really Arthur's house? Are they as brave as everyone says they are? He hasn't even dealt a blow and they're afraid already. King Arthur, angered, goes to stand beside him.

Analysis

The Green Knight doesn't wear full armor, though he rode into the court without an invitation, likely indicating he's there for a duel. His innate power will protect him, he believes.

The holly twig's ability to be "greenest when groves are bare" recalls the raging winter at New Year's, and also the persistence of nature through the winter. The days are short, and the weather is harsh, but the holly twig grows despite these conditions—in fact, it's a traditional life-affirming symbol of Christmas. With the holly twig the Green Knight shows he, like nature, is resilient against great odds.

The ax, on the other hand, is clearly man-made and a representation of industry and technology. The Green Knight is made up of both natural and artificial elements; he's a paradox, slightly natural and slightly supernatural.

In Fytte the First, Stanza 11, alliteration and references to nature recur—the knight is "as green grown as the grass ... green enamel on gold." The members of the court clearly believe they're dealing with a mystic, otherworldly force, "phantom and faery." The Green Knight has already surpassed traditional codes of behavior by refusing to greet anyone in the castle; instead, calling out the leader.

The powers of language, words, and diplomacy have left the court. In their confusion—and their unwillingness to accept the challenge—they fall back on the "courtesy" of deferring to Arthur and letting him speak first. The Green Knight's motives are mysterious. His speech takes advantage of the holiday season and the festive mood by disguising his challenge as a game. He even offers the holly twig as a symbol of his desire for peace.

Arthur perceives that his honor is being challenged. He knows how a knight should respond; he should rise to the challenge, and he attempts to do so. However, he approaches the Green Knight, an unknown opponent, cautiously. As a king, he cannot treat his own life lightly; he needs to lead his people.

When all present remain nonresponsive, the Green Knight calls the court of Camelot "beardless children" in Fytte the First, Stanza 13, baiting them with the stories he's heard of Camelot's worthy fighters, the best in the world. It's clear, despite Camelot's lofty reputation, that the Green Knight still gives the Camelot knights the burden of proof. He'll see them as children until they prove otherwise.

He also proposes a challenge that will, given what the reader knows about the Green Knight, probably leave his opponent dead in the end. Yet, he describes the challenge as a game. Anyone from Arthur's court who accepts the challenge will have to be supremely confident and prepared to die for honor. The Green Knight takes the court to task for its inaction despite its reputation of skill at arms. All the knights' "fierceness" and "great words" mean nothing if they're scared of a simple threat. The Green Knight knows how to provoke King Arthur: verbal humiliation.

At the same time, it is unclear whether Arthur's men really should take up the Green Knight's challenge—whether their reputation means they have to participate in every conflict or game they're invited to, or whether it's just good judgment to stay away from a game with something so unknown and problematic.

This emphasis on words is a foreshadowing: the most important battles in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight are fought with words and wordplay, not with actions. Gawain will later rely on his mind and his convictions to succeed, even more than he will on his skill in battle.
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