Time in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Sir Gawain

Sir Gawain (Photo credit: GoShows)

The story Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, spans a year. It appears to be a relatively odd time period. Instead of containing a number of the past events over many years, the poem itself contains something of a preamble and the main story. The events that take place in the preamble consist of the beheading game and the promise that Gawain makes to go to the Green Chapel. After the preamble, the main crux of the story takes place a year later, during Gawain’s journey to the Green Chapel. This time that divides Gawain and the Green Knight’s two meetings appears to be unusual in length for a medieval story. However, if the story is understood as something of a Christmas story then the year appears to be less unusual. In other words, a year has to pass in order for the later events in the story to take place around Christmas.

Gawain travels to the Chapel passing through seasons, and these seasons are representative of a year of life on earth. The changing seasons also change Gawain’s outlook on the world. At first, he is happy to participate in the games, but throughout the year his mood changes with the seasons. Thus the days and months that he waits, take a toll on his demeanor and approach to his endeavor.

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

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