Sir Gawain and the Green Knight | Study Guide

Pearl Poet

Download a PDF to print or study offline.

Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Study Guide." Course Hero. 9 Feb. 2017. Web. 19 Nov. 2018. <>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2017, February 9). Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved November 19, 2018, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2017)



Course Hero. "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Study Guide." February 9, 2017. Accessed November 19, 2018.


Course Hero, "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Study Guide," February 9, 2017, accessed November 19, 2018,

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


The narrator promises to tell a "strange and extraordinary" tale of King Arthur and his court. At the New Year, Arthur and his warriors feast at Camelot. They are interrupted by a splendid warrior, the Green Knight, who challenges Arthur's men to a duel. Arthur tries to attack the Green Knight, but Sir Gawain stops him. When the Green Knight taunts the court, Sir Gawain, Arthur's nephew and one of his most loyal knights, takes the challenge and chops off the Green Knight's head.

The Green Knight survives, to the court's shock. Speaking from his severed head, he challenges Sir Gawain to another duel in a year and a day. Gawain is commanded to come to the green chapel, the Green Knight's home, and fight him there.

In early November, after delaying, Gawain prepares to fight and puts on his armor. The armor includes a shield with a pentangle (a five-pointed star) representing the perfection of Gawain's virtues. Gawain sets off on a long, weary journey in winter weather. He's not sure where to find the green chapel.

He rides alone until Christmas Eve, when he finds a castle. Gawain asks to stay there temporarily, and the lord of the castle, Bertilak de Hautdesert, is happy to host him. Gawain meets the beautiful Lady of Hautdesert, Bertilak's wife (who is never named) and a much older woman who accompanies her. Gawain enjoys the company of the younger, beautiful Lady of Hautdesert at the feast the first night.

Gawain feasts with the castle royalty for three days. Bertilak invites him to stay longer, but Gawain has to leave—he has only three days left to find the Green Knight and the green chapel by the New Year. Bertilak agrees to show him the green chapel if Gawain will stay three more days. Gawain agrees.

The two make an agreement. Bertilak will allow Gawain to rest and enjoy the Lady of Hautdesert's company for three days. Meanwhile, Bertilak and his men will hunt. Each evening, Bertilak and Gawain will both give the other what they have gotten during the day.

On the first day, Bertilak and his men hunt and capture a deer. Gawain spends time with the Lady of Hautdesert back at the castle. She expresses her admiration for him and gives him a chaste kiss. The hunters carve the deer, which Bertilak gives to Gawain. Gawain gives him a kiss.

On the second day, Bertilak and his men capture a boar after a challenging fight. The Lady of Hautdesert continues to flirt with Gawain, expressing her love. Gawain is polite but refuses to give in to her advances. They exchange two chaste kisses. Gawain asks Bertilak if he can leave the next day; he's growing anxious. Bertilak encourages him to stay one more day.

On the third day, Bertilak and his men have the most difficult hunt yet, but they manage to capture a fox. Meanwhile, the Lady of Hautdesert professes her love for Gawain. She offers him the gift of a red ring, which he declines. She then offers him a green silk lace, saying the lace will protect any warrior who wears it from being wounded. Gawain realizes that the lace's powers will be useful in his duel with the Green Knight and accepts the gift. They kiss three times.

Gawain hides the lace and exchanges gifts with Bertilak a final time. Bertilak says he'll send a man to accompany Gawain to the green chapel the next day.

In the morning, Gawain dresses, remembering to put on the lace. He rides off with the servant Bertilak has sent from the castle. The servant warns him not to proceed with the challenge or he'll be killed. Gawain insists on keeping his promise and trusting God. The servant instructs him to go down a grassy slope to a ravine.

Gawain rides the path alone to a hollow tree. He's surprised by the ugliness of his surroundings and wonders if this is indeed the chapel. Then the Green Knight calls out to him. They greet each other before the duel.

Gawain bows to receive the first blow, but he flinches. The Green Knight mocks him. Gawain promises he won't flinch for the second blow, but he grows irritated when the Green Knight fakes a blow rather than hitting him. The third blow nicks Gawain, but it doesn't hurt him badly. Gawain springs away, saying that he's fulfilled his bargain and will fight the Green Knight if necessary.

The Green Knight explains that he's been watching Gawain's behavior over the past three nights. He reveals himself to be the Lady of Hautdesert's husband: Bertilak in disguise. He was enchanted by Morgan le Fay (the older woman in the castle). He faked his first two blows out of respect for Gawain's restraint with his wife. But he knows Gawain accepted the lace and, therefore, nicked Gawain the third time as a punishment. He concludes that, although Gawain's loyalty failed a little, Gawain is still the noblest knight he's ever seen.

Gawain is furious with himself for failing the test. He takes off the lace, which reminds him of his faults. The Green Knight acknowledges his own duplicity and invites Gawain to return to his castle for a victor's feast and to reconcile with his wife.

Gawain admits he has been deceived by a woman like many men before him. He respectfully declines the offer to stay and returns to King Arthur's court, where he is greeted as a hero. He keeps the lace, and all of King Arthur's lords and ladies decide to wear a similar green band to honor him.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Plot Diagram

123456789101112131415ClimaxResolutionIntroductionRising ActionFalling Action


1 The Green Knight enters Arthur's court.

Rising Action

2 Arthur fails the Green Knight's challenge.

3 Gawain beheads the Green Knight.

4 Gawain leaves Camelot.

5 Gawain arrives at Bertilak's castle.

6 Gawain and Bertilak make their bargain.

7 The first day of the challenge passes successfully.

8 The second day of the challenge passes successfully.

9 Gawain takes the Lady of Hautdesert's lace on the third day.

10 Gawain finds the green chapel.


11 The Green Knight strikes Gawain with his ax.

Falling Action

12 The Green Knight reveals his identity.

13 Gawain decides to wear the green lace.

14 Gawain returns to Camelot.


15 Arthur's knights wear green bands to honor Gawain.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about Sir Gawain and the Green Knight? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!