Sir Gawain and the Green Knight | Study Guide

Pearl Poet

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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight | Fytte the Second, Stanzas 3–7 | Summary

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Summary

Fytte the Second, Stanza 3

Gawain stays in the hall till Allhallows day, when Arthur has a feast in Gawain's honor. Gawain announces he'll leave the following morning. The best knights and royalty of the castle come to counsel him. They grieve because the worthy Gawain is going on a painful journey. Gawain remains positive and wants to meet his destiny. He says, "What can a man do but try?"

Fytte the Second, Stanza 4

The next morning, Gawain puts on his armor. He covers his head, feet, knees, thighs, and arms with various pieces of a suit of armor—sabatons for the feet, poleynes for the knees, and a burnie (a coat of mail) for the torso.

Fytte the Second, Stanza 5

Fully dressed in armor, Gawain goes to Mass. His horse, Gringolet, is also decorated in gold, including a bridle and breastplate. Gawain's helmet is embroidered with gems and images of birds, and his crown is decorated with diamonds.

Fytte the Second, Stanza 6

Gawain's shield has a pentangle, or a five-pointed shape similar to a star, painted in gold.

The narrator explains the meaning of the pentangle. Because the shape is formed of overlapping lines, it's endless; the English call it the "endless knot." The five points symbolize Gawain's faithfulness in five areas, and in five different ways. The pentangle shows Gawain is "adorned with virtues," like refined gold.

Fytte the Second, Stanza 7

The narrator clarifies Gawain's faithfulness in five areas:

His five wits.
His five fingers.
His loyalty to the five wounds Christ received on the cross.
His strength found in the five joys of the Queen of Heaven.
His five virtues—generosity, fellowship, purity, courtesy, and pity.

The pentangle's five points represent these five areas. Each line of the shape overlaps the others, so that none dominates. They finish "without end at each corner,/wherever the game began or concluded."

Analysis

The year has been summed up quickly. Allhallows Day is November 1, bringing the reader back to the winter season. In Fytte the Second, Stanza 3, the court tries to keep up appearances of mirth and merriment. Gawain seems calmer than anyone else. He's following God's guidance, even though he's still uncertain where exactly he's going. The court's response indicates Gawain's status as a cherished companion, as well as a skilled knight, and makes the reader care more about him as a character.

Fytte the Second, Stanza 4 stops the action to focus on Gawain's armor and his shield. Gawain is dressed from head to toe in steel, and the color gold (which represents Gawain) figures prominently.

Fytte the Second, Stanza 5 describes the "rich red gold nails," connecting Gawain again to the colors red and gold. Birds connect Gawain to nature. The "turtle-doves and true-loves thickly interlaced" both introduce the idea of interlacing or interlocking decorations (which reappear on Gawain's pentangle) and stand out as birds representing love (an important topic for Gawain later in the poem).

Fytte the Second, Stanzas 6 and 7 are key to the poem's symbolism. Balance is important to the texts of medieval poets, and "the endless knot" represents balance and unity. So does the symmetry of Gawain's five virtues and five areas of faithfulness. The interlocking shape indicates that each of Gawain's five areas of faithfulness are connected to one another. If he succeeds or fails in one, he succeeds or fails in them all. The real test won't be the duel; it will be Gawain's ability to live up to this code.

The narrator takes his cue from other heroes in ancient Greek and Roman literature with famous shields, such as Achilles, Athena, and Aeneas. The decorations of the shield show what's important to the warrior and his or her culture. The color gold here is associated with both Gawain and goodness. "Refined gold" is gold which has been tested or put through a crucible or fire—similar to Gawain's test.

In Fytte the Second, Stanza 7, the narrator explains in detail the meaning of the pentangle:

  • The five wits are common wit, imagination, fantasy, estimation (instinct), and memory.
  • "Five fingers" refers to physical or bodily skill.
  • The five wounds of Christ comprise the nail holes in each hand and each foot and the lance hole in his side. These wounds were an important point of meditation for medieval Christians.
  • The five joys of Mary are also religious symbols that reference milestones in the life of Christ—Annunciation, Nativity, Resurrection, Ascension, and Assumption. These milestones occupy important dates on the Christian calendar: Christmas, for instance, celebrates Nativity, and Easter celebrates Resurrection. The poem's focus on Christian holidays shows the importance of the "five joys of Mary" to the court. Gawain will also rely on the Blessed Mother to remind him to be virtuous and faithful.
  • The five social virtues will each be tested at different points in Gawain's journey. The virtues have more specific meanings in Sir Gawain's context:
    • Generosity = benevolence or giving freely
    • Fellowship = friendliness and fraternal love and respect (i.e., toward another knight)
    • Purity = chastity or cleanliness (i.e., refraining from sexual sin)
    • Courtesy = courtly love or good manners (i.e., toward a woman)
    • Pity = compassion and kindness
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