SIR GAWAIN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT, generally regarded as the finest of the metrical romances in Middle English. It is usually held to be the work of the author of 'The Pearl) (q.v.), though absolute proof of this is impossible. It was written in the West Midland dialect about 1370, in an elaborate stanzaic form, employing both alliteration and rhyme. The same highly-wrought artistry ap pears in the narrative, with its wealth of de scription and detail. These elements are, how ever, subordinate to a carefully considered plot, which is in brief as follows: A strange knight clad all in green bursts into Arthur's hall at Camelot, and challenges any knight to strike him with the battle-axe, the blow to be re turned by the challenger a year later. Gawain accepts, and severs the champion's head at a blow. After picking up his head, which re minds Gawain of the coming meeting at the Green Chapel, the knight rides away. A year passes. Gawain, on his way to the Green Chapel, is splendidly entertained in a magnifi cent castle. On three successive days the lady of the castle offers her love, but Gawain acts with scrupulous honor toward his host, con cealing nothing from him save a lace given him on the third day, which is to afford pro tection in combat. At the meeting with the
Green Knight, Gawain gets only a slight wound the third time that the axe is raised. The knight thereupon reveals himself as the lord of the castle, and the third blow as a punish ment for the keeping of the lace on the third day. The whole episode was a test, instituted by Morgan the Fay, who wished to test the knights of Arthur and frighten Guinevere. Gawain returns to the court, where all the warriors agree to wear a green girdle, in re membrance of the adventure.
The immediate source of the poem was undoubtedly a French romance now lost. The different elements in the plot are admirably traced by Kittredge in 'A Study of Sir Gawain and the •Green Knight) (Cambridge 1916). The whole has been translated, in the original metre, by Miss J. L. Weston, 'Romance, Vision and Satire) (Boston 1912).