Reading Questions: A guide to thinking about Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

1.      What feast is being celebrated at Camelot?

2.      How do the knights and king finally react to the Green Knight’s challenge?  Any echoes of Beowulf?

3.      What motivates Gawain, the youngest, to replace Arthur?

4.      What landscape does Gawain pass through in his search for the Green Knight?

5.      What is the significance of Gawain’s armour and shield as he rides out?

6.      What time of year is it when he prays to the Virgin for assistance in his  search and his desire to celebrate the holiday?

7.      What game does the castle host suggest is appropriate?  How does it resemble or differ from the Green knight’s game?

8.      What role does the castle’s lady take?

9.      Can you compare this lady to others-particularly Guinevere, Arthur’s queen?

10.  How does her rebuke of Gawain impact us?  Is her complaint about the obligations of courtly love and courtesy genuine?

11.  Why does Gawain conceal the episode and exchange of the third day from his host?

12.  What special item is Sir Gawain wearing when he goes out to confront the Green Knight?

13.  The servant assigned to guide Sir Gawain to the Green Chapel gives Gawain some unsolicited advice. He suggests that since the Green Chapel is so perilous, and since the Green Knight is so dangerous, Gawain should do what? What does the servant promise he will do if Sir Gawain takes his advice?

14.  How does Gawain react to the servant's suggestion?

15.  What is the architecture like when Sir Gawain comes to the "Green Chapel"? Is it really a chapel? If so, what does it look like. If not, what is the Chapel?

16.  What's growing around the Green Chapel? Why is this strange for the time of year?

17.  What sound does Sir Gawain hear as he walks around the outside of the Green Chapel? Why would that sound evoke a strong emotional reaction?

18.  How does Sir Gawain react when the Green Knight gets ready to swing the ax the first time? What does the Green Knight have to say about that reaction?

19.  What does Sir Gawain vow about his reaction when the next swing comes? Does he keep that vow?

20.  Why does Sir Gawain get cranky when the Green Knight starts making requests about the position of Sir Gawain's hood?

21.  When the Green Knight strikes Sir Gawain with the ax, he leaves a wound. Describe this wound.

22.  What does Sir Gawain do after being cut by the Green Knight?

23.  After Sir Gawain sees his own blood in the snow, the text says he leaps backward to grab his weapons and helmet. How far backward does he jump? Does that seem plausible to you? Why or why not?

24.  After wounding, how does the Green Knight respond to Sir Gawain's frantic words claiming the bargain is now fulfilled and the game is over?

25.  When the Green Knight explains himself, why does he say he did not wound Sir Gawain with the first swing? Why does he say he didn't wound Sir Gawain with the second swing? Why did he actually strike Sir Gawain with the third swing, even though Sir Gawain gave him the appropriate number of kisses and didn't commit adultery? What, according to the Green Knight, did Sir Gawain lack? Why doesn't the Green Knight blame or judge Gawain harshly for that failure?

26.  Who sent the wife to seduce Gawain, according to the Green Knight?

27.  How does Gawain react physically when the Green Knight analyzes Sir Gawain's performance in regards to these tests?

28.  Who or what does Sir Gawain initially blame for his failure, citing the events that happened to Adam, Solomon, and Samson in the Bible?

29.  What is the Green Knight's real name?

30.  What mythical female figure, according to the Green Knight, dwells in the castle? Why did she send the Green Knight to Camelot? According to the Green Knight, his mystical appearance was actually an assassination attempt. Who was supposed to be literally frightened to death by the Green Knight's decapitation? Knowing what we do about the ultimate fate of Camelot, why is it ironic that this mythical figure would seek to destroy Camelot by assassinating this character?

31.  Why does Sir Gawain decide to wear the green girdle as a baldric for the rest of his days? What happens to Sir Gawain's complexion as he recounts to King Arthur's court the story of his adventure?

32.  How does the court comfort Sir Gawain? (i.e., what action do they take in the way they dress to show their support for him?)

33.  How is Sir Gawain's attitude toward his performance different than the attitude of both Sir Bercilak and the court at Camelot?

Consider:  Is Gawain here similar to the Gawain of Lanval? Of Malory’s Morte Darthur? To the knight of the Wife of Bath’s Tale in Chaucer ‘s Canterbury Tales?  Also consider how Arthur and the court of Camelot appear.


"Wicked people never have time for reading. It's one of the reasons for their wickedness."     - Lemony Snicket