Literature Study GuidesSir Gawain And The Green KnightFytte The Second Stanzas 16 19 Summary

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight | Study Guide

Pearl Poet

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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight | Fytte the Second, Stanzas 16–19 | Summary

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Summary

Fytte the Second, Stanza 16

A chair and an ermine-skinned mantle (cloak) are prepared for Gawain. He feasts on fish and wine (but not meat). The host tells Gawain, "Do this penance now, and soon things will be better!"

Fytte the Second, Stanza 17

Gawain acknowledges he's from the court of King Arthur. The warriors in the castle tell one another they can look to Gawain as a model of courtesy, blamelessness, manners, and love.

Fytte the Second, Stanza 18

After dinner, Gawain and the host go to evening chapel. Gawain meets Bertilak's wife, the Lady of Hautdesert, a woman even more beautiful than Guinevere. An older woman accompanies the lady. Though the older woman is clearly revered by the court, she's physically unattractive.

Fytte the Second, Stanza 19

Gawain greets the two women, kissing the Lady of Hautdesert cordially. Bertilak invites Gawain to join in a game—Bertilak pledges his hood to whoever provides the court the most entertainment. The castle residents enjoy themselves until bedtime.

Analysis

Gawain is dressed like a high-ranking man of the court in Fytte the Second, Stanza 16, and placed in a warm chair to counteract the cold. He's getting the royal treatment from a seemingly gracious host before anyone even knows who Gawain is. Yet, Bertilak warns him about doing "penance." While the characters are in the middle of a Christian fast, this is a hint that all is not what it appears. Perhaps Gawain is being set up for another challenge. The reader isn't sure what to expect yet.

The castle residents don't know Gawain, but they've heard stories about him. In their idea or image of Gawain, he's the ideal courtly lover. The historical Gawain was known for his chivalry and courtesy toward women, so the court isn't wrong. But their emphasis on Gawain's "noble talking," "nurture," and ability to teach them "how to make love" indicates what Gawain's role in the castle will be. He'll need to show his courtesy or skill in courtly love. Courtesy in Sir Gawain is a wide-ranging word. One of his five virtues, courtesy encompasses many aspects of chivalry, such as politeness, nobility, and compassion.

The narrator spends a good deal of this stanza making sure the audience knows how attractive the Lady of Hautdesert is—and how ugly the older woman by her side. The reasons for this emphasis will become clearer in Fytte the Third and Fytte the Fourth.

The Lady of Hautdesert blooms with "rich red"—one of Gawain's colors. Her throat shines "clearer than snow," similar to the bright white of the castle. Despite her youth, she has a high status as the host's wife. Gawain's treatment of her will be a test of his courtesy, and she knows it. The lady is clearly interested in Gawain. She comes out with her maidens because she "desired to look on the knight."

The older woman is more mysterious. She's almost completely covered and shrouded. As Gawain and the reader will find out at the end of the poem, this woman is the sorceress Morgan le Fay, who is more powerful than the Lady of Hautdesert. But now she's an enigma, most significant as the opposite of her companion.

Bertilak's challenge to win his hood in Fytte the Second, Stanza 19 is another Christmas game. This time the game is playful and innocent, but the setting is similar to the Green Knight's more ominous Christmas game one year ago. Castle residents are drinking around a fire at Christmas, and the head of the court wants to be entertained. This stanza may indicate to the reader that Bertilak, like the Green Knight, enjoys jests and challenges and is willing to take them pretty far, even to the extent of possibly losing his clothing.

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