Sir Gawain and the Green Knight | Study Guide

Pearl Poet

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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight | Fytte the Fourth, Stanzas 1–3 | Summary

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Summary

Fytte the Fourth, Stanza 1

New Year's dawns cold and stormy; clouds, snow, and wind make the outdoors forbidding. Gawain wakes early; he hasn't slept well. With the help of his chamberlain, he dresses in winter clothes and his polished armor. He calls for his horse.

Fytte the Fourth, Stanza 2

Gawain puts on clothes under his armor, including a jeweled velvet coat. He remembers the Lady of Hautdesert's green lace, too. He doesn't wear it for its beauty, though it's polished and expensive looking. He wears it to save himself.

Fytte the Fourth, Stanza 3

Gringolet, Gawain's horse, is ready. Like Gawain's armor, the horse has been kept in excellent condition. Gawain prays the residents of the castle will be rewarded for their generosity. He'd reward them himself if he could. Gawain mounts Gringolet, with the castle servant beside him.

Analysis

Winter weather recurs as an omen and an indication of Gawain's inner state. The storms are more severe than ever. The New Year symbolizes transformation and repentance: Gawain doesn't expect to transform or repent in the green chapel, although he will. The narrator's clearly on his side, calling him "the noblest man betwixt here and Greece" and describing the armor that symbolizes his virtue and strength.

The "lace of green silk" mixes with "the royal red cloth," combining Gawain's colors with the Green Knight's colors. The green lace is especially tempting to Gawain because, per his contract with the Green Knight, he can't openly defend himself.

There's another dimension to Gawain's acceptance of the green lace. By accepting powers that (he believes) will make him able to withstand any blows, Gawain is trying to shield his human vulnerability. The lace doesn't promise immortality, just victory in a fight. But Gawain is tempted by the thought of surviving the duel, and perhaps by the thought of not dying at all—of transcending his limited abilities as a human being.

Gawain's gratitude toward his hosts, expressed in Fytte the Fourth, Stanza 3, fits his generous personality. The lady of the house took advantage of him for entertainment, and the lord played along. Gawain doesn't learn until after his duel that his behavior in the castle was the real test. For now, he simply appears virtuous, if naive; the same way he seemed when he left Arthur's castle.

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