Literature Study GuidesSir Gawain And The Green KnightFytte The Second Stanzas 20 24 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 20–24 | Summary

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Summary

Fytte the Second, Stanza 20

On Christmas morning, Gawain sits in the middle of the table for the feast. He's seated by the Lady of Hautdesert, and the two enjoy each other's company. They both have "sharp wits," and their dialogue is lively.

Fytte the Second, Stanza 21

The feast lasts three days, until St. John's Day. Bertilak takes Gawain aside and tells him how much he's appreciated having Gawain as a guest, urging him to stay longer. Gawain is grateful, too, but insists on leaving.

Fytte the Second, Stanza 22

Bertilak is surprised that Gawain plans to leave alone before the end of the holiday season. Gawain admits he's not sure where he's going exactly. He asks Bertilak if he's heard of the Green Knight or the green chapel. Gawain knows he needs to be there by New Year's, and time is running out. He'd do anything to get there on time.

Bertilak says he'll be glad to show Gawain to the green chapel on New Year's Day. It's only two miles away. Until then, Bertilak tells him, Gawain should stay at the castle.

Fytte the Second, Stanza 23

Gawain, relieved he finally has a way to the green chapel, thanks Bertilak. Bertilak asks Gawain if he'll be obedient to his host's commands while under his roof, and Gawain agrees. Bertilak tells Gawain to rest that night. The next day, the Lady of Hautdesert will keep Gawain company while Bertilak hunts.

Fytte the Second, Stanza 24

Bertilak asks Gawain to make an agreement with him. Whatever fortune Bertilak achieves from hunting, he will give to Gawain. Likewise, whatever fortune Gawain achieves during the day, he'll give to Bertilak. They'll keep the agreement even if one man's fortune is worse or better than the other.

Gawain consents. The two join the others in the castle for drinking and merriment.

Analysis

The Lady of Hautdesert begins her pursuit of Gawain in Fytte the Second, Stanza 20. Though she doesn't get any dialogue in this stanza, the narrator implies she's intelligent and able to keep up with Gawain mentally. The narrator even mentions games again—"their disport surpassed indeed that of any royal game"—reminding the reader the stakes are higher than in a friendly conversation. In fact, by the end of the night's feast, Gawain and the lady are talking exclusively to each other.

Bertilak puts Gawain in a bind in Fytte the Second, Stanza 21. Because Bertilak is his host, Gawain is "bound by right" to honor his wishes. And Gawain has clearly enjoyed the warmth and wealth of the castle more than the cold outside. But he's not going to abandon the quest he begun, because abandonment would be an act of dishonor and stain his reputation.

It doesn't seem suspicious to Gawain (and maybe not yet to the reader) that, even though no one else on his journey knew where the green chapel is, Bertilak not only knows where it is but says it's close to his castle. Gawain, however, has no reason to mistrust Bertilak: Gawain's own heroism and selfhood rely on completing his challenge.

Again, the narrator manipulates the reader's expectations in Fytte the Second, Stanza 23: Bertilak appears, out of nowhere, to be planning yet another feat for Gawain. He extracts a promise from Gawain to "do the deed that I bid," implying that he'll ask Gawain to do something Gawain wouldn't normally do. And instead of inviting Gawain, the renowned knight, to join him on the hunt, Bertilak makes the odd request for Gawain to spend time with his wife indoors.

Gawain, well-mannered and polite to a fault, doesn't question this decision. Meanwhile, the narrative begins to change direction: Gawain is about to receive another test, and not the one he or the reader expects.

The "exchange of winnings" game is a common motif in medieval literature. Honesty is paramount. Neither player can hide or lie about his winnings. Gawain knows in Fytte the Second, Stanza 24 that he's taking part in two different games. One is the beheading game, which he and the Green Knight agreed to. The other is the exchange of winnings game. But he doesn't yet know (and neither does the reader) how the games are related and who is planning the rules of engagement. Because Gawain doesn't fully understand what's going on, he's not in complete control.

Gawain's surrender of control and acceptance of his weaknesses as a human will be a major part of his quest—a part he's not consciously thinking about. His predicament mirrors the human predicament, according to Christian theologians of his time: a person lacks complete knowledge of the world around him and of the stakes of his actions.

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