Literature Study GuidesSir Gawain And The Green KnightFytte The Fourth Stanzas 11 14 Summary

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight | Study Guide

Pearl Poet

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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight | Fytte the Fourth, Stanzas 11–14 | Summary

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Summary

Fytte the Fourth, Stanza 11

The Green Knight welcomes Gawain and reminds him of the terms of their agreement. He'll give Gawain one stroke on the neck, as Gawain did to him. Gawain agrees and readies his neck for the blow.

Fytte the Fourth, Stanza 12

The Green Knight aims a savage blow at Gawain, one that easily would have killed him. But Gawain flinches at the last minute. The Green Knight mocks him. Gawain has never been a coward, but now he's fleeing before he's even hurt. The Green Knight himself didn't flinch in King Arthur's court, even after his head fell to the floor, so he's the better man. Gawain says he won't flinch again, but he can't restore his head if it's chopped off.

Fytte the Fourth, Stanza 13

Gawain promises the Green Knight he'll get a stroke. The Green Knight raises his ax, strikes, but doesn't touch Gawain this time. Gawain, standing still, is angry the Green Knight won't get it over with—he thinks the Green Knight may be too timid. The Green Knight says he won't delay any longer. The Knight takes a fighting stance, and Gawain "gives up all thought of escape."

Fytte the Fourth, Stanza 14

The Green Knight finally strikes Gawain, cutting him on one side. The cut draws blood and severs the skin, but hurts only a little. Gawain leaps up, covers his head, and grabs his sword. He tells the Green Knight he's taken one stroke and kept his covenant. If the Green Knight attacks him any more, he'll fight back.

Analysis

Like Bertilak, the Green Knight is impressed in Fytte the Fourth, Stanza 11 with Gawain's ability to keep his word. Unlike Bertilak, the Green Knight insists Gawain "make no more debate than I offered thee then" and simply accept his fate, although the fight doesn't look fair.

After Gawain flinches in Fytte the Fourth, Stanza 12, the Green Knight continues to attack Gawain's identity. Is he truly the Gawain of the heroic tales, or someone lesser, someone more fallible? Gawain's mortality and fear of death have clearly gotten the best of him. On the other hand, the blow would have killed Gawain if he hadn't flinched.

Did the Green Knight expect him to flinch? He has a plan more elaborate than simply killing Gawain, and in fact, this stroke was a fake stroke (which the narrator, cleverly, doesn't let the reader or Gawain know until later). The Green Knight knows Gawain's courage isn't all it's reputed to be.

Gawain's comment about his own head references the uneven nature of the bargain—Gawain knows he doesn't have superhuman abilities, despite whatever confidence he may have in the green lace's power. He knows he's not in a fair fight. What does the Green Knight want from him?

After the Green Knight's fake stroke in Fytte the Fourth, Stanza 13, it becomes clear that the Green Knight is playing a game of his own design, speaking to Gawain "merrily" as if it's all a jest. Rather than simply have a fair duel, the Green Knight appears to be enjoying himself at Gawain's expense. In fact, he fakes the stroke to teach Gawain a lesson, but the narrator doesn't tell the reader the true purpose yet. Instead, he stretches the scene out until it becomes comical, defying the reader's expectations.

By Fytte the Fourth, Stanza 14, the reader can guess that the Green Knight never really meant to kill Gawain. Gawain assumes the Green Knight is gearing up for a fight, which was not part of the agreement. Gawain interprets the cut as an act of aggression and thinks all bets are off, but in fact, his wound, and the blood it draws, is a way of atoning for his own sins. The Green Knight, as usual, is thinking one step ahead of him.

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