Literature Study GuidesSir Gawain And The Green KnightFytte The Fourth Stanzas 19 20 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 19–20 | Summary

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Summary

Fytte the Fourth, Stanza 19

Gawain will keep the green lace—not for its beautiful materials or craftsmanship, he says, but as a sign of his own fault. When he gets too proud, the lace will remind him he's human and fallible.

Gawain asks the Green Knight what his real name is. The Green Knight replies he's really Bertilak de Hautdesert. He was enchanted by the magician Morgan le Fay, who lives in the castle—she's the older woman who accompanied the Lady of Hautdesert. She's dealt in "rare magic," which she learned from being the sorcerer Merlin's mistress, and can enchant any man.

Fytte the Fourth, Stanza 20

The Green Knight explains why he came to Arthur's court: Morgan le Fay sent him in disguise to see if the famous stories about Arthur's court were true. She prepared the enchantment of the Green Knight to shock and frighten the court, and hoped to kill Guinevere with fear. Gawain is even related to her: Morgan le Fay is Arthur's half-sister and Gawain's aunt. Because Gawain has a family connection to Bertilak's house, the Green Knight urges him again to come back to the castle. Gawain again declines.

The two part respectfully. Gawain returns to King Arthur's court, and the Green Knight goes "whithersoever he would."

Analysis

In Fytte the Fourth, the Green Knight, despite being associated with paganism, functions as a spiritual guide for the Christian Gawain—explaining his sins and offering repentance.

Fytte the Fourth, Stanza 19 is the first time Bertilak de Hautdesert is named. Previously, he is referred to only as the lord of the castle, and his wife as the lady of the castle. The narrator wants to keep the mystery and suspense intact, so the gradual revelation at the end of the poem has more of an impact on the reader.

The older woman in the castle, who was barely mentioned in Fytte the Third, turns out to have a significant impact on Gawain's story. She's the true female temptress Gawain should have feared. Morgan le Fay, the older woman, is a recurring figure in Arthurian tales. She has powers of "rare magic," which she learned from "that renowned clerk" Merlin. Merlin, like Morgan le Fay, has close ties to Arthur's court. Gawain is involved in a situation deeper than he realizes.

The enchantment raises another question: Is the Green Knight acting as a free agent, or is he also under the power of Morgan le Fay? Is he a separate supernatural force, working independently? The text leaves unexplained the extent of the Green Knight's power: the Green Knight has served his purpose in the poem. The focus is on Gawain.

In Fytte the Fourth, Stanza 20, the reader again learns something about the true nature of events, hidden until now, and revealed slowly. The Green Knight wasn't in charge of the challenge—Morgan le Fay was. Gawain's pride and virtue were being tested, but he wasn't the only one; Morgan le Fay was testing all of Arthur's court.

Who won? Was there a victory? Both Gawain and the Green Knight walk away from the duel alive and on good terms with each other. But Gawain clearly didn't live up to his own standards. And the Green Knight knows he himself is only an enchantment, a mirage. He refers to himself in the third person as "that ghostly speaker with his head in his hand," aware he himself hasn't been honest about his identity. There may have been no true winner or loser in the duel.

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