Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

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

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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

Nicholas Walters

I read the story “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” translated by Marie Borroff. I thought this story was really hard to understand and took me a little longer than normal to figure it out, but that was 11th century. It starts off with Sir Gawain accepting the challenge from the Green Knight for the beheading game. Sir Gawain plays in place of King Arthur because he feels thats what he needs to do. The game seems like an easy win for Sir Gawain, but the Green Knight has supernatural powers and lives even after he has been beheaded. Sir Gawain now must let him return the favor a year and a day from the time the game took place,which kept Sir Gawain in suspense.The main characters are Sir Gawain, the Green Knight, King Arthur, and the Lord of the Castle. Sir Gawain is a knight of the round table and King Arthur’s nephew. The Green Knight is the proposer of the game and seeks to test Sir Gawain’s chivalry and saw if he holds true to what the people of Camelot are about. King Arthur is the King of Camelot and the uncle of Sir Gawain. The Lord of the Castle allows Sir Gawain to stay at his place, but is actually the Green Knight.The settings are Camelot on New Year’s Day, the Lords’ Castle, and the Green Chapel. This all took place sometime in the 11th century.The message of this story is chivalrous behavior. Sir Gawain still makes the trip to what he thinks is his death. He holds still for the second axe blow from the Green Knight. He also accepts the challenge in place of his king. We all can learn that people are not going to be perfect, but we can do everything we can to be the best we can be and not step down from a challenge.I would recommend this story to high school students that are interested in the time period of King Arthur and his knights of the round table, and who want to learn a great lesson.

Tanja (Tanychy) St. Delphi

I didn't know where to post this so I think this is a good place! It remains me of my Literature professor, in a good way of course! :)


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.

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.


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.

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.


As poetry, Armitage's version of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is very good. As a translation, however, it leaves much to be desired, often sacrificing accuracy for the sake of, I guess, liveliness. This redaction of the great Middle English poem was widely praised on its publication, frequently along these lines: "Armitage's animated translation is to be welcomed for helping to liberate Gawain from academia." The problem with "liberating" a work from "academia," however, is that one can go too far and can change meanings, get essential things wrong, and even miss the point completely.A key theme of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight lies in the concept of "aventure," yet Armitage's translation often veres away from the term, so that, for example, "ere him devised wese / of sum aventurous thing" is rendered "until a story was told: some far-fetched yarn" (ll. 92-93). Similarly, Armitage neglects the importance of "mervayls" (marvels) to the text, so instead of "A mervayl among tho menne," we get "magic to those men" (l. 466). Why change a key word this way, when the change wasn't even necessary for the sake of alliteration or meter? My other major complaint is that Armitage constantly uses words like "fiend" (his translation of "the sturne"--basically "the stern man"; l. 214) and "ogre" (his translation of "aluisch mon"--"elvish man"; l. 681) to describe the Green Knight. These are definite choices on Armitage's part and they completely change the reader's perception of this character, making him out to be some kind of fourteenth-century Grendel. Perhaps that was Armitage's interpretation of the Green Knight, but it is not one, to my mind, that is grounded in the original text.Still, if Armitage's translation has indeed brought Sir Gawain and the Green Knight to a wider audience (as most reviews seem to claim), that's a good thing. With luck, at least some readers will go on to read Tolkien's or Boroff's translation and come away with a more rounded understanding of the Green Knight and of Gawain's encounter with "aventure."

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.


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.


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.

Kori Looker

"Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" takes place in Camelot with King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. In King Arthur's castle on New Years, a green knight challenges them to a beheading game. A chivalrous knight, Sir Gawain, takes the place of King Arthur. Sir Gawain fails to behead the green knight. He must return to the Green Knight a year and one day later to stick his deal in the beheading game. The story's main character is Sir Gawain. The Green Knight who challenges Sir Gawain is a giant, green, red eyed knight who rides a green horse. Other characters include the lady and lord of the castle who give shelter to Sir Gawain. This story takes place in medieval times in Wales. The time period is important, because the author shows the difference in chivalry between medieval times and present day.The main theme is chivalry. Chivalry is like morals, knowing right from wrong. Most present day people are not very chivalrous. Chivalry in medieval times was considered being loyal, warrior-like virtues, and christian values. Chivalry today is considered being respectful to women, such as holding the door open or pulling out their chair. Chivalry is looked at different view points from different people, but in the end I think chivalry is just doing what is right.I would recommend this book to older adults. I feel as though older adults would take more interest in this long narrative poem. I found "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" to be weird and boring.

Mark Adderley

This is probably the greatest medieval romance ever written. Maybe that's extravagant praise--there's also Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, Dante's Divine Comedy, and a few others, but I do think that if it hadn't been for Chaucer, the anonymous Gawain-poet would have been considered the greatest medieval English poet.The story is about a beheading test--the Green Knight challenges Gawain to exchange beheadings. Gawain will behead the Green Knight now, and then undergo the same thing a year hence. Sounds easy, but the Green Knight is magical, and doesn't die--he just picks up his head and rides away.The plot is intricately constructed, interweaving the beheading challenge with bedroom seduction scenes, hunting, questing, religious piety, chivalry and honour. The poet keeps you on your toes--he leads you to expect one thing, then surprises you with something else. You don't know what's going on until you've reached the last line.This text is the standard one in Middle English, and although it's tough-going, it's worth it. For a handy translation, I'd recommend either J. R. R. Tolkien's or Marie Borroff's.

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