Places: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First transcribed: Fourteenth century

Type of work: Poetry

Type of plot: Arthurian romance

Time of work: Sixth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedCamelot

Camelot. Sir Gawain and the Green KnightSite of King Arthur’s court. As the poem begins, attractive young lords and ladies celebrate the Christmas season at Camelot. Dressed in their best, the courtiers frolic in a charming atmosphere. Laughter and mirth prevail while a lovely Guenevere and a boyish Arthur sit on an attractive raised platform. The poem hints that the court, despite its superficial attractiveness, may be naïve and untried.

*Wirral

*Wirral (weh-REL). Forest in Cheshire, England, that Gawain enters from northern Wales during his quest through the wilderness. The weather is cold, and the woods are dark and full of wild men, giants, and monsters. The Wirral may symbolize the forces of nature as opposed to the civilized atmosphere of Camelot and Bercilak’s castle. The geographical closeness of castles and the forests surrounding them suggests that civilization is fragile and that the primitive forces of the forests are always ready to destroy what human beings have built.

Bercilak’s castle

Bercilak’s castle (BUR-ceh-lack). Castle of Sir Bercilak de Hautdesert, the good-humored knight who is Gawain’s host and who is disguised as the Green Knight by the arts of Morgan le Fay. Like Arthur’s court, Bercilak’s castle is a pleasant place. From a distance, its white silhouette looks as if it were cut from paper. The castle and its moat are set on a hill, near the Green Chapel. Gawain’s private bedroom and luxurious bed emphasize that the castle is one of the finest of its era. However, the poet contrasts this luxury with Bercilak’s hunt in the forest. By graphically describing the death and disemboweling of the deer, the boar, and the fox, the poet creates a realistic picture of the brutality of a medieval hunt.

Green Chapel

Green Chapel. Moundlike chapel of the Green Knight, which Gawain approaches on New Year’s Day. The frightening-looking chapel stands in a wasteland; it is hollowed out, like a cave, and symbolic. It seems to connect with the tree worship of the pre-Christian Celts. On one hand, the castle seems like a tomb; on the other hand, because it is a chapel it reminds medieval readers that Christ left his cave-tomb and entered into everlasting life. Like many of the places described in the poem, the Green Chapel is rich with ambiguity.

Sources for Further StudyAnderson, J. J. Language and Imagination in the Gawain-Poems. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 2005. Places Sir Gawain and the Green Knight within the context of the other poems of the manuscript, looking closely at religious concepts of humility, sin, God’s justice, and truth.Barron, W. R. J. Trawthe and Treason: The Sin of Gawain Reconsidered. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1980. Examines Gawain’s sin of deception, and the temptation and beheading games, in the context of medieval society and feudal law. Also examines the parallels between the hunting and temptation scenes.Benson, Larry D. Art and Tradition in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1965. Excellent background material and discussion of the sources, literary conventions, style, structure, and meaning of the poem.Boroff, Marie. Traditions and Renewals: Chaucer, the Gawain-Poet, and Beyond. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2003. The noted modern translator of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight examines the confessional scene, noting that it is the Green Knight who pronounces judgment on Sir Gawain as opposed to a priest.Brewer, Derek, and Jonathan Gibson, eds. A Companion to the Gawain-Poet. Cambridge, Mass.: D. S. Brewer, 1997. Includes many fine readings, particularly a chapter by David Aers concerning Christianity and courtly codes.Fox, Denton, ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1968. A brief but useful collection of critical essays, which also includes brief writings on the poem by such noted critics as C. S. Lewis and A. C. Spearing.Howard, Donald R., and Christine Zacher, eds. Critical Studies of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1968. Classic collection of critical work on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, including several chapters on Christian significance, Gawain’s lessons and flaws, and the meaning of the Green Chapel.Thompson, Raymond H., and Keith Busby. Gawain: A Casebook. London: Routledge, 2005. Places the character of Gawain in a historical context, tracing his depictions from early medieval texts through modern day. Extensive annotated bibliography.Waldron, R. A. Introduction to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. London: Edward Arnold, 1970. Offers one of the best and most comprehensive overviews available of the poem’s action, themes, and structure. Detailed annotation and an extensive glossary offer insights into the original text that are not found in most critical surveys. An excellent starting point.
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