Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

by Anonymous

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a late 14th-century Middle English alliterative romance outlining an adventure of Sir Gawain, a knight of King Arthur’s Round Table. In the tale, Sir Gawain accepts a challenge from a mysterious warrior who is completely green, from his clothes and hair to his beard and skin. The “Green Knight” offers to allow anyone to strike him with his axe if the challenger will take a return blow in a year and a day. Gawain accepts, and beheads him in one blow, only to have the Green Knight stand up, pick up his head, and remind Gawain to meet him at the appointed time. The story of Gawain’s struggle to meet the appointment and his adventures along the way demonstrate the spirit of chivalry and loyalty.

The poem survives in a single manuscript, the Cotton Nero A.x., that also includes three religious pieces, Pearl, Cleanness, and Patience. These works are thought to have been written by the same unknown author, dubbed the “Pearl Poet” or “Gawain poet.” All four narrative poems are written in a North West Midland dialect of Middle English. The story thus emerges from the Welsh and English traditions of the dialect area, borrowing from earlier “beheading game” stories and highlighting the importance of honour and chivalry in the face of danger.

For those who cannot read early forms of olde English (not surprised), here is a jump to the more “Modern” English version of the story Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

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2nd ed.edited by: J.R.R. Tolkien and E.V. Gordon. Revised by: Norman Davis xxviii, 232 p. : ill. ; 23 cm. : Clarendon PressOxford 1967 Note: The printed text contained illustrations which are not noted in the electronic textNote: First ed. published in 1925 Note: Includes bibliographical references (p. 153-156)

Originally Published: 1400
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SIÞEN þe sege and þe assaut watz sesed at Troye,Þe bor3 brittened and brent to bronde3 and askez,Þe tulk þat þe trammes of tresoun þer wro3tWatz tried for his tricherie, þe trewest on erþe:Hit watz Ennias þe athel, and his highe kynde,Þat siþen depreced prouinces, and patrounes bicomeWelne3e of al þe wele in þe west iles.Fro riche Romulus to Rome ricchis hym swyþe,With gret bobbaunce þat bur3e he biges vpon fyrst,And neuenes hit his aune nome, as hit now hat;Tirius to Tuskan and teldes bigynnes,Langaberde in Lumbardie lyftes vp homes,And fer ouer þe French flod Felix BrutusOn mony bonkkes ful brode Bretayn he settez wyth wynne, Where werre and wrake and wonder Bi syþez hatz wont þerinne, And oft boþe blysse and blunder Ful skete hatz skyfted synne.Ande quen þis Bretayn watz bigged bi þis burn rych,Bolde bredden þerinne, baret þat lofden,In mony turned tyme tene þat wro3ten.Mo ferlyes on þis folde han fallen here oftÞen in any oþer þat I wot, syn þat ilk tyme.Bot of alle þat here bult, of Bretaygne kynges,Ay watz Arthur þe hendest, as I haf herde telle.

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