The Antagonist in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

English: Temptation of Sir Gawain by Lady Berc...

English: Temptation of Sir Gawain by Lady Bercilak: Cotton Nero A. x, f. 129 http://mockingbird.creighton.edu/english/fajardo/teaching/eng340/gawain.htm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the Green Knight is the antagonist who is representative of primitive religious thinking or paganism. He has some of the “pagan attributes of stock figures from primitive folklore” (14). In particular, he is described as a green and hairy giant and a supernatural being. For example, he is “green and huge grain, mettlesome in might” (27). Furthermore, “the hair of his head was the same hue as the source, and floated finely… And a great bushy beard on his breast flowing down, with heavy hair hanging from his head… The main of that mighty horse, much like the beard, well crisped and combed” (27 – 28). Finally, the Green Knight’s supernatural-ness is confirmed when Gawain chops off his head and the Green Knight does not die. “He settled himself in the saddle as steadily as if nothing had happened to him, though he had no head. He twisted his trunk about, that gruesome body that bled” (37). These descriptions make him a “common creature of popular mythology, the wild man of the woods” (116). In contrast to this antagonist, Sir Gawain is therefore a Christian knight whose “good faith” is put on trial and tested throughout the story (14).

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

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