Beheading game in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An interesting aspect of the beginning of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is the beheading game. The beheading game appears early in the story, and comes from the eighth or ninth century Irish epic Fled Bricrend (12). Apparently, the Beheading Game is “based on a promise of a fair exchange… and the fair exchanges depend on troth-plighters keeping their word” (13). In the story, the Green Knight enters King Arthur’s court with the announcement that “it is not combat I crave” because “no man among you could match me” (31). Instead, he says that he wants to play “a Christmas game” (31). The Green Knight challenges anyone there to strike him with his ax, under the condition that he can come back the following year and return the strike. King Arthur’s nephew, Gawain, agrees to the terms. But when he cuts off the Green Knight’s head, Gawain discovers that the Green Knight does not die. Instead, the body picks up the head, and instructs Gawain to look for him at the Green Chapel the following year.

Anonymous.  Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.  Translated by Bernard O’DonoghueNew York: Penguin Books, 2007.

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