Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

ISBN: 0393097544
ISBN 13: 9780393097542
By: Unknown Marie Borroff

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Arthurian Classic Classics Fantasy Favorites Fiction Literature Medieval Poetry To Read

About this book

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a late 14th century Middle English alliterative chivalric romance outlining an adventure of Sir Gawain, a knight of King Arthur's Round Table. In this Arthurian 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 chivalry and loyalty.

Reader's Thoughts


I read “Sir Gawain and The Green Knight” translated by Marie Borroff. “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” is a romantic poem that was composed sometime in the 14th century depicting an event in the time of the 7th century during King Arthur’s reign. A New Years festival in Arthur’s Kingdom is interrupted by a large green Knight who is sitting on a green steed. He first asks where the host of the party is and then proceeds to make a proposition of a New Year’s beheading game. When no one steps up to the game he then mocks King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table for lacking the courage that they are rumored to possess. After hearing this King Arthur steps up in a rage and by doing so accidentally volunteers for the game. Sir Gawain then steps up to take his place because though the King should win this game if he did not then there would be chaos in the kingdom and if Sir Gawain were to lose then it would not be such a big deal. After the Knight rides away with his head quite disconnected from his body Sir Gawain has a year to contemplate his actions. Then throughout the story Sir Gawain and his chivalrous behaviour is tested through love of his own life, seduction and cowardice. In this poem the main characters are obviously Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Sir Gawain is the character that you follow throughout the story and his morals and code of chivalry are tested at many points in the story and succeeds and fails at proving that he is a chivalrous person at different points. The Green Knight actually makes two appearances in the story, once, obviously as the Green Knight and the second as the Lord of the Castle that Sir Gawain stays in on his journey to find the Green Knight. The Green Knight seems to be a very well thought out character who has everything all planned out. He already knew that as the Lord of the Castle he would try and make Sir Gawain seem as unfaithful as possible and then he knew how to manipulate Sir Gawain at the end of the story and in the end make him realize his wrong-doings. A few other minor characters are King Arthur who makes his only appearance at the beginning of the story, The Knights of the Round Table who are really only mentioned and never take a part in the story besides Sir Gawain, Guinevere who is Arthur’s wife and Queen and also a relative of Sir Gawain’s, The Lady of the Castle is the Green Knight’s wife and Queen and plays a huge part in exposing Sir Gawain’s non-chivalrous behavior. This story takes place almost completely in Britain. The New Year’s festival at the beginning of the story takes place at King Arthur’s Kingdom and then the rest of the story takes place in Northern Wales while Sir Gawain is searching for the Green Knight and finds him later on. Moral of the story in this poem to me is to be wary of the decisions you make and what codes and morals it goes against. Not only that but also that if you do break a code or one of your own morals that you have a very good reason for it and also to make sure you repent. Sir Gawain committed many wrongs throughout this story and at the end is called on them by the Green Knight and Sir Gawain realizes his wrongs and repents. I overall enjoyed this story though it was hard to comprehend at times with all the different types of words that were used in the 14th century and also the format of the poem was different to me so it threw me off. I would recommend it to someone who enjoys reading a fancifully worded story that takes place in the time of the Great King Arthur. Also people may enjoy the supernatural elements and thoughtfulness that the Green Knight brings to the story.

Stephanie Sykes

I really enjoyed “Sir Gawin and The Green Knight” translated by Marie Borroff. We read this story as a class.This story is about about a guy named Sir Gawin, who goes in for King Arthur. Sir Gawin took the challenge of beheading the Green Knight, but the Green Knight lived and that meant the Green Knight gets to do the same to Sir Gawin in one year and a day. The main characters were: Sir Gawin, Green Knight, the lady of the castle, and King Arthur. Sir Gawin is the nephew of King Arthur and he is also a knight. The Green Knight comes on New Years Eve and offers the challenge to King Arthur. The Lady of the Castle gives Sir Gawin three gifts to give to the lord of the castle.The story took place in the 11th century. It took place at three places: Camelot, Lord’s Castle, and the Green Chapel. Camelot took place on New Years Eve. The Lord’s Castle took place in North Wales on the following Christmas Eve and New Years Eve. The Green Chapel took place on New Years Eve. The themes would be:live by the sword, die by the sword, chivalry, appearance vs reality, and if something seems to good to be true it probably is. Live by the sword, die by the sword was shown when Sir Gawin went in for King Arthur. Chivalry was shown when Sir Gawin goes in King Arthur. If something seems to good to good to be true it probably is that was shown when Sir Gawin keeps the belt, because he thought it would keep him alive. I would recommend this book to high school students, because I thought it was a little difficult to read. I would recommend this book to both girls and boys, because this book doesn’t really focus on one gender. I really enjoyed this book, because it had a good lesson behind it.

Dan Tews

“Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”, is a Medieval Romance, that is based on chivalry. The story starts off in a kingdom called Camelot. The king and his knights were celebrating the New Year by feasting and other festivities, when a Giant Green Knight barged into the hall ordering to see the king. The Green Knight proposed a beheading game to the king and embarrassed the king in front of his knights. The Green Knight would give the king or any challenger his axe and they would have one strike to cut off the Green Knights head and kill him. If he fails, in a year and a day the challenger would have to find the Green Knight so that the Green Knight can repay the blow. Sir Gawain stepped in and told King Arthur that he could not put his life on the line, so Sir Gawain would take his place in the challenge because his life is not as important as King Arthur’s. The Green Knight laughed when Sir Gawain took the challenge, but still gave the axe to Sir Gawain and told him the rules of the game. When the Green Knight was finished explaining the rules of the game he bent over to receive the first blow. Sir Gawain wound back and chopped off the Green Knight’s head. His head rolled across the floor, the Green Knight picked up his head, and said that in a year and one day Sir Gawain will find him at the Green Chapel, so that the game can be continued. Sir Gawain set off for the Green Chapel in November, and come across a castle. The king said that Sir Gawain can stay in the castle as long as he gives the king any gift he receives from anyone of the castle. Sir Gawain receives a green girdle from the Queen that will keep him safe from the Green Giant, but he had to kiss the queen to get the girdle. He also did not give the King the gift because it was going to save his life, and he valued his life. After three days Sir Gawain left the castle to find the Green Chapel. When he found the chapel he was met by the Green Knight, and the Green Knight was happy that he kept his word. Sir Gawain prepared to receive his blow for the beheading game, when the Green Knight wound back and began to swing Sir Gawain flinched. The Green Knight mocked him for flinching, but Sir Gawain prepared himself again. The Green Knight wound back, began to swing, then he stopped and mocked Sir Gawain for not flinching. Sir Gawain prepared himself again, this time Sir Gawain did not flinch and the Green Knight swung and nicked Sir Gawain’s neck with his axe. The Green Knight then told Sir Gawain that he was actually the king from the castle and was proving a point to the Knight’s of the Round table, that they were not as chivalrous as everyone said they were. The King took the first blow of the game for not returning the green girdle to the king, the second was for kissing his wife, and the third was to finish out the game. "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight", is about a Chivalrous Knight that made mistakes throughout the book. He shows Chivalry by volunteering for the king and keeping his word by going to his own beheading. Sir Gawain shows that he is not a perfect knight because he does not keep his word to the king that he would give whatever he is given back to the King. He also kisses the King’s wife so that he can get the green girdle from her. The Green Knight is an inspirational knight because he shows Sir Gawain that he is not perfect and tries to make Sir Gawain a better knight. He has supernatural powers that allow him to have his head chopped off and is still able to walk away. He has the ability to change from a human body to his Green Knight creature. The setting of this book takes place in the eleventh century. The book starts off in Camelot during New Years Eve and moves to a place called the Green Chapel around Christmas Eve. The change in the setting is evidence of the book being a medieval romance because adventure is one of its traits.The theme of this story in my opinion is to make people more chivalrous. I think that the author is trying to say that some people are going to try to be chivalrous, but no one is going to be perfect because we are all human and we all make mistakes. I think that this book was a good book for English, but it was kind of boring. This book did not draw my attention because there was not very much action, and it got kind of confusing at times. I recommend this book to people that like more challenging books and that are able to understand it.

Chelsea K.

I can't believe I haven't read this before now! This poem is wonderful. It's structured in so many different ways -- almost too structured at first glance, but it all serves to highlight this extreme tension between nature and wildness and culture and chivalry. Two castles, two kings, four fitts, three hunts, three temptations.I won't even get into all the Green Knight symbolism brilliance here because I'm sure people have written books on it. Highly recommend. So entertaining. Almost funny too at parts, for modern audiences. The original Middle English is difficult, but highly lyric and lovely.

Chloe Dehler

“Sir Gawain and The Green Knight” was an interesting story. In the beginning of the book I didn’t really understand it. Once the action happened in the book it was much easier to understand. “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” is translated by Marie Borroff. The stories' main characters are the green knight and Sir Gawain. The green knight is very large and all green on a green horse. Sir Gawain is one of King Arthur’s knights and his nephew. The story of "Sir Gawain and The Green Knight" is a medieval romance.There are three different settings in the story. The book first takes place in Camelot on New Year’s Eve. The second setting is at the Lord’s castle in North Wales the following Christmas Eve through New Year’s Day. The third setting is at the Green Chapel on New Year’s Day. The story takes place during the eleventh century when chivalry is popular.The story starts when all of King Arthur’s knights are sitting around the round table. The Green knight comes into Camelot. All of the knights at the round table wait for King Arthur to take the lead to invite him in and ask him what he wants. The green knight wants to play a game with another knight. Sir Gawain stepped up to the game to protect his king. Sir Gawain has to behead the green knight and if the green knight lives then in a year and a day the green knight can come after Sir Gawain and chop his head off. If the green knight dies then Sir Gawain can keep the green knight’s sword. Sir Gawain steps up to the challenge and chops the green knights head off. Surprisingly the green knight lives. The following New Year’s Eve Sir Gawain follows through with his promise and heads to the Green Chapel. The green knight is happy to see that Sir Gawain followed through with his deal. The green knight fakes a hit to the neck on Sir Gawain twice and then the third time the green knight only nicked Sir Gawain’s neck. The green knight explains that he was only doing it to teach a knight a lesson of chivalry.There are many themes in the story. The theme that I think fits the story the most is chivalry. Many different people in the story follow the code of chivalry. There are also times when people do not follow the code of chivalry. The main idea of the plot was to teach a knight a lesson. The green knight wanted to test Sir Gawain’s honor to his people. Sir Gawain failed the test. I would recommend this story to anybody in high school or above. I did enjoy reading this book once the action started. I think that boys or girls would enjoy this book.


Perhaps my favorite Arthurian classic so far. Loved the alliterative verse and the beautiful descriptions of seasons - the conflicting ideas centered on chivalry, courtship, religion, etc. all made the reading much more intellectually stimulating. Not to mention that the ending throws in a wedge that forces one to evaluate the overall theme of the poem, or whether a unifying theme exists at all. Highly recommended for those interested in British literature and for those who want to give it a try; it's much more bearable than Beowulf, and the seduction scene is one of my favorites.


I read “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” translated by Burton Raffel. This narrative poem is about the Green Knight who travels to Camelot to challenge King Arthur to a game.The main characters of this narrative poem are Sir Gawain, a knight that serves for his king. King Arthur, the king of Camelot. The Green Knight, who chooses to travel all the way to Camelot to test the chivalry of the king.In this book, The Green Knight travels to Camelot to play a beheading game. At first, he challenges King Arthur, but Sir Gawain thinks it is too risky for the king. The game is a test of chivalrous behaviors, and Sir Gawain takes King Arthurs place. During the game he is put in difficult situations, and makes some bad decisions during it. The story takes place in The Green Chapel in Camelot during medieval times. While Sir Gawain travels he goes through the wilderness until he makes it to Bertilak’s castle to keep his word with The Green Knight.There were many different themes I found in this book, but the biggest one to me was to honor the code of chivalry. Throughout this book chivalrous options were given to Sir Gawain in different occasions, and how he acted towards them determined his outcome. I enjoyed reading this book, and would recommend it to anyone looking for a challenging good book.

Morgan Wilson

“Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” was a narrative poem that had many elements of chivalry, love, loyalty, and destruction. This poem is a story of how a mysterious Green Knight rides into King Arthur's court and challenges any knight brave enough to a dual. This consists of one knight beheading the green knight. If the green knight lives, he will come back a year and a day later to do the same to that knight. Sir Gawain steps up and accepts this challenge in place of King Arthur. Sir Gawain soon realizes that this was not what he expected it to be. Throughout this book Sir Gawain grows as a person and develops even greater qualities than what he already had. Sir Gawain was one of the main characters of this poem. He is the one who displayed many of the themes that was portrayed by this tale. He was loyal to King Arthur and took his place in the beheading game. He also showed bravery and courage by accepting this challenge. Sir Gawain made a few mistakes and quickly learned from them. The Green Knight was also a main character of this poem. He challenged King Arthur’s knights to show their true colors and see who was actually brave enough to battle him. He was a big part of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” because he taught many lessons throughout it. Without him, the poem would not have had as many themes. “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” was composed around the year 1375 and took place in the eleventh century. It started out in Camelot at King Arthurs castle where the green knight first challenged them to the dual. It then went to North Wales in the lords castle who let Sir Gawain stay there for a couple nights. Once Sir Gawain left the lords castle he went on his way to find the Green Chapel where he would then finish the game that he started with the green knight. I think that there were many very strong themes shown in “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”. A few main themes were repentance, loyalty, and also chivalry. This poem really showed that if you respect someone enough, you will do almost anything for them. Include risking your life. I think that the code of chivalry the knights practiced is something that has faded in our generation. This poem also showed me that people make mistakes and no one is perfect. No matter how hard you try you will most likely fail at some point, which is completely normal. All you can do after you fail is get back up and try again. I would recommend this book to high schoolers and older. It is a little harder to read because of all the alliterations but can still be an enjoyable poem to read. It has great themes that I think many people would like and relate to.


An excellent translation of a favorite work. Like Heaney's Beowolf, the original text is set facing the translation.What I particularly loved about Armitage's work is his devotion to alliteration throughout the work. As he explains in his preface, the Gawain poet was writing in a form that hearkens back to Anglo-Saxon poetry, where alliteration within the line instead of rhyming at the end is key to the music of the poem. Really, his introductory musings on poetry is a big part of why I enjoyed the poem so much.

Natalie Moore Goodison

The perfect link between Beowulf and Chaucer. The alliteration is phenomenal and I think he just makes up words to sound fabulous. A green man, a challenge, King Arthur's court, a bet, a perilous situation, an alluring woman, and an embracing host with lots of magic and feasts. What more could one ask for? This translation gets right to the heart of the ME without being in ME. A wonderful translation with excellent essays in the back. If you don't feel like tackling the Middle English, but still want to embrace some medieval literature, look no further.

Jenny J

An Arthurian poem in Middle English (written around 1400), accompanied by a very readable modernization by Simon Armitage. The story is simple: As King Arthur, his Queen, his knights, and their ladies are enjoying a Christmas feast, they are interrupted by the axe-wielding Green Knight, who challenges Arthur's champion, Sir Gawain (the purest and bravest and, well, you know the drill). His deal is this: Sir Gawain gets to deal him one blow with the axe, and the Green Knight won't fight back. Then, a year later, Sir G has to seek the Green Knight and receive an undefended blow in return. In between, Sir G travels the land, wrestles with temptation (guess who wins?) and is generally pure and brave.The pleasure in reading this is not really in the story. It's typical Arthurian fare, with plenty of chivalry and a nod to Morgan le Fay. Sir G's necessarily a bit holier-than-thou. But consider that this was written 600 years ago. And then read it out loud.When read out loud, this poem SINGS. The translator captures the alliteration and rhythm of the original, and it's just wonderful. The Christian allegory left me a little cold, but the language is lovely, and the nostalgic fantasy of a simpler, more violent but more honorable time, is nearly palpable. Good stuff.


Reading 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight' took me over 10 years. I'm not a slow reader, but it did take me time to mature enough in order to understand and appreciate it. This version of 'Sir Gawain' is a rather simple, easy-reading, flowing one. It was a fantastic read for a classic, although I have a feeling that it is not delivering the exact intention and message as the original, maybe due to its somewhat contemporary mindset. Still, it is a perfect place to start with.I go the book at an old bookstore, I was browsing the shelves of the Fantasy/Sci-Fi books, looking for something good and exciting, and there it was - this strange cover from 1970's version. I saw it was in a poem format, which I wasn't reading that much back then, and decided to give it a go - for some reason which is beyond me. Had I known that it is going to be such a wonderful read, I would have probably given it a second go much earlier, but back then it was too much for me, and I didn't appreciate the intricate and playful poetic devices, the amazingly funny and witty composition and story, and basically - I wasn't that much in to poetry reading as I am now. So, coming down to it, what you've got here is an amazing introduction to the 'Sir Gawain' world, which really is a very good place to start. But it is just a start. A good one, but a start. The introduction to this book, one of the best introductions I've read in a long while, is so fantastic that it actually manages to reveal both the complexity of translating and understanding the original poem, and the approach of the translator of this edition - which is, for my taste, one of the better approaches to a poem such as this. And still, you can clearly see that there's more than just one approach, more than just one way to read it, and that this is but one aspect in an ocean of possibilities of understanding 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight'.


One of the best of the 'classic' Arthurian tales. Gawain is presented a bit differently here from many of the other ones. Usually he's a bit of a braggart and kind of a jerk, especially to women, but here he is presented as the perfect exemplar of courtoisie. He's also a bit young and still untried, so maybe that explains it for those who want to be able to have a grand unified theory of Arthuriana. Anyway, you probably all know the story: Arthur is about to have a New Year's feast, but according to tradition is waiting for some marvel to occur. Right on cue in trots the Green Knight on his horse, a giant of a man who proceeds to trash the reputation of the entire court and dare someone to cut off his head as long as he gets to return the favour. No one makes a move and Arthur decides he better do something about this until Gawain steps up and asks to take on this quest himself. Everyone agrees and Gawain proceeds to smite the green head from the Knight's body. Everyone is fairly pleased with the result until the Green Knight gets up, picks up his smiling head, and says: "See you next year, G. Don't forget that it's my turn then." (I paraphrase, the middle english of the poet is far superior.) Needless to say everyone is a bit nonplussed by this.The year passes and Gawain doesn't seem to do much of anything until he finally decides it's time to get out and find this green fellow and fulfill his obligation...hopefully something will come up along the way to improve his prospects. What follows is a journey to the borders of the Otherworld as well as a detailed primer on just how one ought to act in order to follow the dictates of courtliness. Gawain ends up being the guest of Sir Bertilak, a generous knight who says that the Green Chapel, the destination of Gawain's quest, is close by and Gawain should stay with them for the duration of the holidays. We are treated to some coy (and mostly chaste) loveplay on the part of Bertilak's wife from which Gawain mostly manages to extricate himself without contravening the dictates of politeness, as well as the details of a medieval deer, boar and fox hunt with nary a point missing. In the end Gawain goes to the chapel and finds that his erstwhile host Bertilak was in fact the Green Knight. Gawain submits himself and is left, after three swings, with only a scratch as a reward for his courteous behaviour in Bertilak's castle. Despite the apparent success of Gawain, he views the adventure as a failure since he did not come off completely unscathed and he wears a girdle he was gifted by Bertilak's wife as a mark of shame to remind himself of this. Harsh much?The language of the Gawain poet's middle english is beautiful and I highly recommend reading it in the original with a good translation at hand to catch the nuances of meaning. The poem is replete with an almost dreamlike quality that is made real by all of the exquisite details of medieval life that are interspersed throughout the text. This is a great book to read at Christmas time.


A strange green knight strides in, and proposes a challenge, a game of sorts. To complete the arrangement of the challenge, a knight must strike him and attempt to kill him, if he fails the knight will pay back in kind. A swing for a swing. At first, Arthur is prepared to accept the game, but Gawain is determined to take part in Arthur’s stead. Gawain strikes the head off of the green knight but the knight does not die and instead picks up his head and speaks to the knights of the round table. Gawain stays at a lord's castle, his actions there are paid back by the Green Knight. The Green Knight swings three times. Gawain kisses the lady of the castle, which causes the Knight to swing. Gawain does not keep his word, which causes the Knight to swing. At the end of the game, the Green Knight forgives Gawain. Gawain is a knight and has to follow the code of chivalry, but he is also human and succumbs to his wants. The Green Knight decides to teach Gawain a lesson. The lesson being that Gawain must learn from his mistakes and grow past them. The Green Knight brings a certain enlightenment moment for Gawain. The setting affects the characters. It is during the time of which knights roam and must follow a code. "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" takes place in eleventh century in Camelot. This code, Chivalry is what brings to pass many aspects of the story. The Green Knight for example teaches Gawain a lesson that he should follow the code. The moral of the story is to hold true to your word. Sir Gawain's word is the code of Chivalry. The promise of holding up these rules. The Knight forgave him at the end for not holding to his word. I'd recommend Sir Gawain and the Green Knight to teens and up because of how complicated the story is.

Rebecca Payton

"Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" by Pearl Poet, was about the Green Knight coming to a New Year's celebration in Camelot. King Arthur and his knights were sitting around the round table, feasting in celebration when all of a sudden, the Green Knight shows up out of nowhere. Everybody around the table just stared in awe, wondering what to do. The Green Knight showed up wanting to play a game, but not just any old game. This game was called the beheading game, and was a very simple game to play. The beheading game was a deal made between Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Sir Gawain has the chance to decapitate and kill the Green Knight with his sword, but if the Green Knight doesn't die, a year and day later the Green Knight will have his chance at beheading and killing Sir Gawain. Sir Gawain, not realizing all of the red flags going up all over the place, had agreed to the game. He took one swipe of his sword and cut the knight's head off, leaving it to roll on the ground. The Green Knight didn't die, and picked his head back up. A deal is a deal, and so a year and day later Sir Gawain had to go to the Green Chapel where the Green Knight lived to fulfill the beheading game. Along the way, unknowingly Sir Gawain was faced with different challenges before he was able to finish the game. These challenges were a test of his chivalry, but unfortunatley he had failed them. The Green Knight taught Sir Gawain a valuable lesson at the end of the story."Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" was taken place at Camelot, King Arthur's castle,and also the Green Chapel where the Green Knight lived. It took place during the winter around Christmas time.Sir Gawain was from Camelot, and the Green Knight lived in the Green Chapel. Some valuable themes from the story dealt a lot with chivalry; those being loyal, honest, and brave. All of these themes were being tested on Sir Gawain by the Green Knight. Toward the end of the story, the Green Knight shapeshifted into the lord of the castle, and Sir Gawain was put through three different tests unknowingly. These tests that were taken place was when I thought the themes of the poem really came through. Two of the themes occured at the beginning of the poem, when Sir Gawain had volunteered to be a part of the game instead of having King Arthur risking his life. He showed he was loyal and brave to his King. I thought this was a very creative story, and I wasn't expecting the ending to be the way it was. I thought somebody was going to die at the end, but clearly I was wrong. I enjoyed reading the poem and would recommend this to all students taking english classes, because no matter what they're going to have to read this anyways.

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