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"Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" : Celtic Parallel Motifs on the Medieval Poem

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is filled with magic and symbolism.

Morgan Le Fay and Merlin are responsible for the Magic of the Green Knight.

There are three literal "Hunts" (deer, boar, and fox), three symbolic hunts (the attempts to seduce Gawain), and three hits of the Green Knight's ax.

The deer is timid, the boar is ferocious, and the fox is cunning and sly. The characteristics of the animals are symbolic of Gawain and the challenges set before him.

Despite his acceptance of the garter, Gawain lives up to his reputation as the most chivalrous of the knights in King Arthur's court.

The earliest known story to feature a "Beheading Game" is the 8th-century Middle Irish tale "Bricriu's Feast". This story parallels Gawain in that, like the Green Knight, Cú Chulainn's antagonist feints three blows with the axe before letting his target depart without injury.

A beheading exchange also appears in the late 12th century "Life of Caradoc," a Middle French narrative embedded in the anonymous "First Continuation" by Chrétien de Troyes,"Perceval, the Story of the Grail". A notable difference in this story is that Caradoc's challenger is his father in disguise, come to test his honour.

Sir Lancelot is given a beheading challenge in the early 13th-century Perlesvaus, in which a knight begs him to chop off his head or else put his own in jeopardy. Lancelot reluctantly cuts it off, agreeing to come to the same place in a year to put his head in the same danger. When Lancelot arrives, the people of the town celebrate and announce that they have finally found a true knight. Many others had been tested and failed this test of chivalry.

The stories "The Girl with the Mule" (alternately titled The Mule Without a Bridle) and "Hunbaut" feature Gawain in beheading game situations. In Hunbaut Gawain cuts off a man's head and, before he can replace it, removes the magic cloak keeping the man alive, thus killing him. Several stories tell of knights who struggle to stave off the advances of voluptuous women sent by their lords as a test; these stories include Yder, the Lancelot-Grail, Hunbaut, and The Knight of the Sword. The last two involve Gawain specifically. Usually the temptress is the daughter or wife of a lord to whom the knight owes respect, and the knight is tested to see whether or not he will remain chaste in trying circumstances.

In the first branch of the medieval Welsh collection of tales known as the "Mabinogion", Pwyll exchanges places for a year with Arawn the Lord of Annwn (the Otherworld). Despite having his appearance changed to resemble Arawn exactly, Pwyll does not have sexual relations with Arawn's wife during this time, thus establishing a lasting friendship between the two men.

The story may, then, provide a background for the "Seduction Test" when Gawain attempts to resist to the wife of the Green Knight; thus, the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight may be seen as a tale which combines elements of the Celtic Beheading Game with a Celtic version of a Seduction Test, as Arawn is pleased to find that Pwyll has not slept with Arawn's wife. Some scholars disagree with this interpretation, however, as Arawn seems to have accepted the notion that Pwyll may reciprocate with his wife, making it less of a properly "seduction test" as seduction tests typically involve a Lord and Lady conspiring to seduce a knight, seemingly against the wishes of the Lord.

Additionally, in both stories a year passes before the completion of the conclusion of the challenge or exchange is complete.

After the writing of "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight", several similar stories followed.

The Greene Knight (15th-17th century) is a rhymed retelling of nearly the same tale. In it, the plot is simplified, motives are more fully explained, and some names are changed.

Another story, The Turke and Gowin (15th century) begins with a Turk entering Arthur's court and asking, "Is there any will, as a brother, To give a buffett and take another?". At the end of this poem, the Turk, rather than buffeting Gawain back, asks the knight to cut off his head, which Gawain does. The Turk then praises Gawain and showers him with gifts.

The Carle of Carlisle (17th century) also resembles Gawain in a scene in which the Carle (Churl), a lord, takes Sir Gawain to a chamber where two swords are hanging and orders Gawain to cut off his head or suffer his own to be cut off.[16] Gawain obliges and strikes, but the Carle rises, laughing and unharmed. Unlike the Gawain poem, no return blow is demanded or given
Symbolism

Significance and Meaning of the Colour Green.

In the 15th-century "Saint Wolfgang and the Devil" by Michael Pacher, the Devil is green. Poetic contemporaries such as Chaucer also drew connections between the colour green and the devil, leading scholars to draw similar connections in readings of the Green Knight.

Given the varied and even contradictory interpretations of the colour green, its precise meaning in the poem remains ambiguous. In English folklore and literature, green was traditionally used to symbolise nature and its associated attributes: fertility and rebirth. Stories of the medieval period also used it to allude to love and the base desires of man.

Because of its connection with faeries and spirits in early English folklore, green also signified witchcraft, devilry and evil. When combined with gold, as with the Green Knight and the girdle, green was often seen as representing youth's passing.

In Celtic Mythology, green was associated with misfortune and death, and therefore avoided in clothing. The green girdle, originally worn for protection, became a symbol of shame and cowardice; it is finally adopted as a symbol of honour by the knights of Camelot, signifying a transformation from good to evil and back again; this displays both the spoiling and regenerative connotations of the colour green.

Scholars have puzzled over the Green Knight's symbolism since the discovery of the poem. He could be a version of the Green Man, a mythological being connected with nature in medieval art, a Christian symbol, or the Devil himself. British medieval scholar C. S. Lewis said the character was "as vivid and concrete as any image in literature" and J. R. R. Tolkien said he was the "most difficult character" to interpret in Sir Gawain. His major role in Arthurian literature is that of a judge and tester of knights, thus he is at once terrifying, friendly, and mysterious. He appears in only two other poems: The Greene Knight and King Arthur and King Cornwall.

Scholars have attempted to connect him to other mythical characters, such as Jack in the Green of British tradition and to Al-Khidr but no definitive connection has yet been established.
However, there is a possibility, as Alice Buchanan has argued, that the color green is erroneously attributed to the Green Knight due to the poet's mistranslation or misunderstanding of the Irish word 'glas', which could either mean gray or green.

In the "Death of Curoi" (one of the Irish stories from "Bricriu's Feast"), Curoi stands in for Bertilak, and is often called "the man of the gray mantle". Though the words usually used for gray in the Death of Curoi are 'lachtna' or 'odar', roughly meaning milk-colored and shadowy respectively, in later works featuring a green knight, the word 'glas' is used and may have been the basis of misunderstanding.
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