Sir Gawain and the Green Knight By Anonymous Summary and Analysis Lines 1,411–1,689 (Stanzas 56–67)

Summary

The lord and his party are away before dawn, hunting a great boar. The boar rushes the men and the dogs, injuring many, but the lord pursues his prey into the forest.

At the castle, the lady goes into Gawain's bedroom again. The lady rebukes him for not remembering the lesson in kissing she gave him. In response, Gawain lets her kiss him. She blames him for not teaching her about true courtly love. Gawain responds that he would be foolish to try to teach her, because she is obviously more knowledgeable than he is. She kisses him again before leaving.

While Gawain is entertained by the ladies at the castle, the lord is chasing the great boar. The boar makes his stand in a hollow, and the knights are afraid to approach him. But the lord draws his sword and kills the boar.

The lord's party returns to the castle, carrying the boar's head. The lord gives Gawain his catch, and in return, Gawain gives him two kisses. The whole household feasts again in the evening, and Gawain has difficulty resisting the lady's enticements. The lord proposes the same agreement for the next day, but Gawain says he must leave for the Green Chapel. The lord promises Gawain he can be there early on New Year's Day, so Gawain agrees to stay another day.

Analysis

The second day of the hunt/seduction follows the same pattern that was established by the first. On the second day, the lord's prey is wild boar. Each day's animal has specific associations for medieval audiences (and most of these associations are also clear to modern readers), and clearly the poet is establishing a relationship between the animal hunted and the general tone of the matching seduction scene.

Some critics have identified the animal's characteristics with Gawain, making him the lady's prey. The first animals, the deer, are timid and shy, trying to evade the hunter. Similarly, on the first day, Gawain is timid, gingerly evading the lady's advances without offending her. The second animal, however, the boar, is aggressive, violent, and powerful, giving him more in common with the lady than with Gawain on day two, as the lady's advances become more aggressive and direct. The lady does invite Gawain to a use of violence: She tells Gawain that he could take a kiss by force, if any woman were foolish enough to refuse him. Gawain, however, deferentially refuses the opportunity, saying that such behavior is not acceptable where he comes from, and he gives the lady her first kiss without resistance.

On the second day, the lady appeals to the literary traditions of courtly love and the romance tales of knights who suffered the sorrows of love and battled fearsome foes for the sake of their chosen ladies. Once again attacking Gawain via his reputation, the lady says that if he really is the most courteous knight alive, she expects him to teach her the ways of courtly love. (And just in case anyone misses the sexual undertones of the invitation, the poet has her suggest that Gawain should teach her while her lord is away from home.) Gawain sidesteps her demand by turning the observation back on her: Because she is so knowledgeable about romance literature, clearly unworthy, ignorant Gawain has nothing to teach her that she does not already know. As on day one, Gawain faces an unavoidable contradiction between the moral and spiritual courtesy that he upholds as a Christian knight, and the worldly courtesy of romance and courtly love. By pointing out the irreconcilability of these two standards, the poet makes an implied criticism of courtly love literature and the values that tradition endorses. Thus far, Gawain's behavior toward the lady has been irreproachable, but even he is beginning to feel the strain: At the feast that evening, he finds himself distracted by the lady's attentions.

As in the first day's hunt, Gawain's host is presented as energetic and vital. He pursues his hunting not just with enthusiasm, but with great bravery. As the poet points out, a boar was a famously dangerous beast to hunt, and its tough hide was impervious to arrows. The lord attacks it on foot, armed with only a sword. The more usual weapon would have been a spear, to keep the animal at a safe distance. The fact that the lord goes out at dawn, pursues his hunt during the day, and returns home at sunset gives him some of the characteristics of a primitive sun god, perhaps in a nod to the poem's Celtic mythological underpinnings. However, the lord also seems very human. In particular, he has a great sense of humor and a love of fun and in these lines, he may be having some fun at Gawain's expense. Although processions carrying a boar's head into a feast were a Yuletide tradition, the severed head surely reminds Gawain that he is soon slated to have his own head removed.

Gawain, in fact, protests that he must leave on the next day, New Year's Eve, in order to keep his appointment at the Green Chapel. His host reassures Gawain that the Green Chapel is close by, so Gawain agrees to stay one more day for their third exchange of winnings. With considerable irony, the lord comments, "the third time throws best," a gambling metaphor that references throwing the dice and an observation that may refer as easily to the lady's success in hunting as to the lord's. The poet's love of double meaning also appears in the final wheel of these lines, where the poet says that the lord was (in Borroff's translation) "on his craft intent." The poet's word "craftez" may simply mean any kind of art, including hunting, but it may also mean a plot or deception. Clearly, the lord has both in mind.

Another hunting saint is invoked in these lines. When Gawain pays the host his two kisses from the lady, the host swears by St. Giles. According to legend, St. Giles was a hermit who was miraculously fed in the wilderness by the milk of a hind. One day, hunters pursued the hind, which fled to Giles for protection, and Giles was wounded by one of the hunters' arrows.

A possible Biblical reference begins the second day's action, but points forward to the action of the final day and Gawain's loss of faith. Gawain's host is out of bed by the time the cock crows three times. In a literal sense, this signifies that the lord is up quite early, about 3 a.m. However, the cock's crow is a crucial element in a famous story of betrayal (Mark 14:66–72): Confronted by enemies, St. Peter denies three times that he knows the captive Christ, and only when the cock crows does he realize his failure.

Glossary

prime Prime was the first canonical hour of the day, or approximately 6 a.m.

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