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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight | Symbols


The Green Lace

The green lace has several meanings. First, it's a love token the Lady of Hautdesert gives freely to Gawain. Then, it's a magical object that gives Gawain the opportunity to transcend his mortality temporarily. Finally, it becomes a symbol of deceit and the lies Gawain will tell to protect the Lady of Hautdesert and himself.

Gawain chooses to wear the green lace as a symbol of his faults and to remind himself he can fail again if he's not careful. The green lace reminds him of the nobility he's shown in his quest, even though he can't achieve perfection. As an intimate garment, the lace represents seduction and illicit romance, reminding Gawain to be vigilant.

The lace is also the color of the Green Knight, the intruder into Camelot's court. Gawain represented Camelot during the challenge, and when he comes home, all the knights in Arthur's court begin to wear a green lace. The lace thus also becomes a symbol of Camelot's imperfection and a foreshadowing of the downfall of Camelot after the poem takes place—which will also be because of lies, deceit, and infidelity.

The Pentangle

Unity and balance are important to medieval texts. The pentangle, a shape with interlocking lines, symbolizes not only unity but immortality. Gawain is mortal and his life will end—he prepares for this end as he puts on his armor. But virtue and truth, such as the virtues Gawain is known for, are unending.

The pentangle is a way for Gawain's clothing to represent the symbols of Christianity (the five joys of Mary and the five wounds of Christ) as well as the five virtues of knighthood. The symbolism of the number five is a concrete example of balance in the poem.

The pentangle serves as a reminder to Gawain of who he wants to be as a knight, just as the green lace represents who he really is as a man.


Axes represent industry and physical strength. They also stand for the consequences of people's thoughtless actions. The ax is an instrument of death and an object of honor, showing Gawain the importance of keeping his commitments. The green ax hanging on the wall of Camelot all year reminds Gawain of his commitment to the duel.

Gawain can't truly atone for his misdeeds until the Green Knight has penalized him with the ax. The blood the Green Knight's ax draws from Gawain is symbolic—it's red, the color of Gawain's pentangle, and it represents repentance and honor won through bloodshed.

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