"Sir Gawain and the Green Knight". Reading Questions

Part I

  1. Why do you suppose the poem begins with a reference to Troy? (What did the 14th-century British people mistakenly believe about their ancestors?)
  2. What season of the year is it as the actual story begins?
  3. Why are all the knights gathered in this location?
  4. What are some of the amusements the court participates in as part of the celebration?
  5. When Arthur is first introduced, how is he described?
  6. When the poet describes the strange intruder, what is the first trait he notices as unusual about this weird knight?
  7. What are some of the decorations on his saddle?
  8. The poet lists some of the things the knight is not carrying or wearing. What are these items? Why might the narrator think it odd that the knight doesn't carry or wear these things?
  9. What exactly is the Green Knight's challenge to King Arthur's court?
  10. How do all the guests initially react to his outrageous demand?
  11. What reason does the Green Knight offer for not wanting to fight with the men he sees sitting on the banquet benches?
  12. What arguments does Gawain finally use in asking to be given the challenge?
  13. What prize will one of King Arthur's knights win if he agrees to play the game with the Green Knight (and lives)?
  14. Gawain asks permission to play the game instead, and he asks permission to get up and leave the table, and he asks permission to stand by the king (if such an action does not displease Gwenevere). What do these requests and his diction reveal about Gawain's character?
  15. What does Sir Gawain want to know about the Green Knight before he strikes the blow? What does his question reveal about Sir Gawain's understanding of the Green Knight's powers?

Part II

  1. How does the court react to Sir Gawain's decision to leave?
  2. What religious undertaking does Gawain participate in before mounting his horse and riding away? Why is this important?
  3. What appears on the outside of his shield?
  4. What does the pentangle stand for?
  5. Whose picture appears on the inside of Gawain's shield?
  6. Why is the number five important or significant, according to the narrator?
  7. How is Gawain received in the castle?
  8. What do the castle residents expect once they know it is Gawain? In other words, what is Gawain well-known for?
  9. What arrangements does the lord propose for Gawain and himself for the next day?

Part III

  1. After the host's wife laughs and bids Gawain good morning, she chastises him for being a "slack sleeper." What does she say she will do to him if he does not make a truce and surrender to her?
  2. When Sir Gawain asks permission to get up and put on some clothes, what is the lady's response to her "prisoner's" request?
  3. Why does the lady say her guest cannot possibly be Sir Gawain? i.e, what does she claim the "real" Sir Gawain would have claimed from a beautiful woman by the end of his tale or his speech?
  4. After the host receives Sir Gawain's "winnings" for the day, he asks Sir Gawain a question. What is it he wants to know? What answer does Sir Gawain give him to this question?
  5. What "counsel" does the lady claim to want from Sir Gawain?
  6. What response does the lady give Sir Gawain when he protests that it would be rude for him to presume to kiss such a beautiful lady?
  7. The lady comments on Sir Gawain's reputation, and claims she hasn't yet seen any sign of his special skills. For what, according to her, is Sir Gawain particularly famous?
  8. What response does Sir Gawain give when the lady declares that he should teacher her the "craft of true love" and "instruct" her a little while her husband is away?
  9. When it comes time for the host to trade his winnings of boar-meat with Gawain, what does Gawain give him in exchange? What does the Host declare about the game and Sir Gawain?
  10. The woman comes out and plainly says that she wants Sir Gawain to sleep with her. It is clear that Gawain knows giving in would be a sin and a violation of his host's good hospitality. Why doesn't he simply refuse and tell her to leave?
  11. What gift does the lady first offer Sir Gawain as a love token? Why doesn't he accept that item?
  12. What is the second gift the lady next offers Sir Gawain? According to the lady, what magical powers does this item have?
  13. Does Gawain meet the terms of his oath?

Part IV

  1. What special item is Sir Gawain wearing when he goes out to confront the Green Knight?
  2. 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?
  3. How does Gawain react to the servant's suggestion?
  4. 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?
  5. What does Sir Gawain do after being cut by the Green Knight?
  6. What, according to the Green Knight, did Sir Gawain lack? Why doesn't the Green Knight blame or judge Gawain harshly for that failure?
  7. Who sent the wife to seduce Gawain, according to the Green Knight?
  8. What is the Green Knight's real name?
  9. What mythical female figure, according to the Green Knight, dwells in the castle?
  10. How is Sir Gawain's attitude toward his performance different than the attitude of both Sir Bercilak and the court at Camelot?