Literature Study GuidesSir Gawain And The Green KnightFytte The Fourth Stanzas 21 22 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 21–22 | Summary

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Summary

Fytte the Fourth, Stanza 21

Gawain and Gringolet have their share of adventures on the ride back to King Arthur's castle, but the narrator doesn't have time to describe them. The cut on Gawain's neck is still sore, and he wears the green lace knotted under his left arm.

The court rejoices at his return. Gawain tells them the whole story, grieving when he tells about his own flaws and his punishment.

Fytte the Fourth, Stanza 22

Gawain explains the meaning of the green lace to the court. He'll wear it all his life as a "token of untruth," because no man can ever hide his shame. The court comforts him. They agree that every knight of Arthur's court will wear a bright green band for Gawain's sake. The green band becomes a well-known badge of honor for the knights of the Round Table.

The narrative ends where it began, mentioning the siege and assault at Troy, the heroes who emerged afterward, and the books in which their adventures are collected.

Analysis

It seems that Gawain's return should be a natural cause for triumph in Camelot. No one expected him to come back alive. His survival is a victory for the court; they think he won. But Gawain doesn't feel like celebrating when he gets back in Fytte the Fourth, Stanza 21. The wound the Green Knight gave him is still sore ("the hurt was whole"), and he's grieved by the failure the green lace represents. He makes his distress known to the court. Their joy at his return begins to seem selfish.

Gawain realizes he can't return as a conquering hero, even though the court greets him as one: he's broken the chivalric code by lack of loyalty to his host. Newly committed to honesty, he confesses every detail of his journey.

In Fytte the Fourth, Stanza 22, Arthur's court has an interesting reaction to Gawain's confession. They laugh and appear to support Gawain and respect him as much as ever. The laughter may show the narrator's own acceptance of mankind's imperfections. Everyone has flaws, the narrator thinks, and there's no use hiding them.

But Arthur and his knights may see Gawain differently now. He's no longer represented by the pentangle, the symbol of virtue and truth. He's represented by the green lace, a "token of untruth" and a reminder of shame. The green lace, because it was worn by a woman, also represents Gawain's failures in courtly love and his struggle for sexual purity. Its source, from the pagan Green Knight, shows the tension between the Christian world of Gawain and the pagan worldviews still present in Britain at the time.

The court's decision for each man to wear a green band seems strange in this light. To honor Gawain, they wear a symbol meant to shame him. Are they mocking the tradition of courtly love, a tradition the poem has exposed to be more flawed than it appears? Or are they simply honoring Gawain's earnest regret by showing no knight is perfect?

The narrator offers no final moral. In the last five lines of the last stanza (the "bob and wheel" of the stanza), the narrator returns to the larger context of history. Gawain's adventure is only one of "many adventures of this sort." Arthur's court is not immune to failure and collapse any more than Troy was.

There is a final reference to The Pearl Poet's strong Christian faith in the last line, when he implores him "that bore the crown of thorns bring us to his bliss." Ultimately, the poem has come full circle—New Year to New Year. The past is connected to the present. The use of "us" in the last line invites the reader into the poem, to be included in the poet's hope for good eternal happiness.

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