Symbolism in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Essay

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  7
Wordcount:  1714 Words
Date:  2022-08-09


"Sir Gawain's Green Knight" is an ancient poem which tells the story about the exchanges between Sir Gawain, a mysterious Green Knight, and Sir Gawain. Sir Gawain, a direct blood relation to King Arthur, is a brave knight. The Green Knight is a disguised character that sets out to test his opponent. An anonymous author wrote "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" in the late 1300s.

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An unknown author wrote "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight". He is also linked to three other poems found in the manuscript that included this poem. It has been assumed that the poem was written in Northern England. This poem is referred to as the Gawain poet in this paper. It uses many stylistic devices that make it an exceptional work of literature.

Sir Gawain and The Green Knight Symbols

To benefit the readers, the poet uses many symbols in his poem. The Gawain-poet can instill deeper meanings into this piece of literature by using symbols in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. This essay examines the symbolism in Sir Gawain's Green Knight and how it contributes to the poem's meaning.

The poem opens by recounting the events taking place in King Arthur's court during new-year celebrations. The King's court is greeted by a mysterious visitor, the Green Knight.

The Green Knight continues to challenge all feast attendees. Any brave knight present at the court will be able to strike the Green Knight using an axe, but the volunteer knight would need to survive a similar challenge within one year and a half. King Arthur accepts the challenge, but Gawain intercepts him and takes on the challenge.

Gawain continues the challenge and strikes the Green Knight's head using an axe. He manages to break it. In a bizarre twist of events, the Green Knight kneels and grabs his severed head.

Gawain is then reminded by the Knight to honour his end of the agreement by going to the Green Chapel to face a similar challenge. Sir Gawain departs for the Green Chapel approximately one year later after the encounter.

Gawain's adventures during his journey are described in the Gawain-poet.

Sir Gawain Symbols - Shield and Pentangle

Gawain's pentangle and shield are two of the most prominent symbols in this poem. For those who are involved in armed combat, the shield serves as protection. The shield's pentangle is unique to the owner (Sir Gawain). The pentangle, therefore, is a symbol for the virtues and values Gawain has cultivated during his Knighthood.

The poem describes the pentangle as a five-pointed star with five points that dates back to King Solomon. The pentangle is a symbol of truth and magic seal in most ancient texts (Green 123). The pentangle's interlocking nature symbolizes human virtues.

The pentangle is used in the context of the "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight". It combines the influence of the "five virtues, the 5 wounds of Christ, the 5 senses, the 5 joys of Mary the Mother of Jesus and the 5 fingers (Besserman 221). It is evident that Gawain, as a knight, also seeks out his spiritual, moral, and physical strengths from other places.

Gawain's virtues and strengths are interwoven like the triangles of the pentangle. Gawain's character is reflected in the endless pattern found within the pentangle. When all the knights are afraid of being challenged by the Green Knight, he rescues the King from any humiliation or failure. Solomon was said to have used pentangles as a personal magic spell seal.

Solomon and Gawain share many similarities: Solomon was later a symbol for wisdom, kingship and might. Both Solomon and Gawain used the pentangle in similar ways. Solomon turned away God, eventually losing his kingdom. Gawain refused honoring a promise he had made to his host. Gawain's poem emphasizes the importance of the link between Gawain, the pentangle and Solomon.

Professor Burrow says that several lines of the poem are dedicated towards establishing this connection. The poet mentions, for example, that the pentangle is a symbol or 'trawpe' of fidelity that associates Gawain's traits of faithfulness with fidelity.

The poet concludes that the object is appropriate for the main character (Morgan 779). The pentangle symbol helps to develop the themes of courage and selflessness. These concepts are presented from a Christian perspective. The pentangle is therefore a symbol for faithfulness and fidelity.

The Green Knight Symbolism - Green Color

The color green can be used in many ways. The Green Knight is the main antagonist of "Sir Gawain & the Green Knight". The poet presents the Green Knight as a mysterious character with striking features. The Green Knight is noted for being green in color. The Green Knight is also noted for having a green horse and skin. He has green clothes, a green beard, and a green-golden axe.

A completely green knight is a symbol of the unique nature of Green Knights. The uniform color of the Green Knight suggests that he is a uniform character. Many analysts debate the symbolic meaning of the color green, as used by Gawain-poet. Some scholars believe that the symbol of the Green Knight represents the god of nature and vegetation.

Basserman says that the Green Knight's green color symbolizes the "dying, rising vegetation god" (220). Green men are also mentioned in other medieval texts. Sometimes a green man is a symbol of a "wild man", while other times it can be a symbol for an "evil man".

Because the Gawain-poet uses both symbols, the Green Knight at the beginning is depicted as an evil character. The Green Knight, however, is presented as a simple character by the end. Many scholars agree that the color green is a symbol of fertility and rebirth in traditional-English folklore.

The poem presents green as a pure color, except for the green-gold waistband. The combination of green and golden is a symbol for change, in the form of youth passing. The symbol of immortality is first represented by the green color in the girdle.

Gawain, humiliated by his actions, wears the green girdle to signify cowardice. Camelot knights wear the green girdle to honor their noble character. These changes emphasize the ambiguity of green as a literary symbol.

Sir Gawain Symbols - the Axe

The symbol of the axe is also used in the poem. It was held by the Green Knight when he entered the court of the king. The axe was used as a symbol for execution in medieval times. The executioner is therefore represented by the Green Knight holding an axe. The Green Knight is carrying an axe when he enters the palace. He offers to be executed first.

The Green Knight is a unique and unusual executioner. The Green Knight rides off, picking up his severed head, and it is clear that he's an exceptional executioner who can never die. Death is the only executioner who can't die in medieval texts (Besserman 221).

The Green Knight is not only holding an axe but also a hollybob. The hollies were associated with death and ghosts in medieval England.

According to medieval sources, a holly-bob carried into a home before Christmas is believed to foretell death in the next year. The symbol of the executioner who predicts death for the Green Knight is the Green Knight entering a house with an axe and hollybob.

Girdle: The Green Knight Symbolism

Another symbol with ambiguous attributes is the green girdle. The symbol of the Girdle looks like the one in the color green, and it changes throughout the poem. The Gawain is first given the girdle from his host's wife, with the promise that it contains magical elements and will make him immortal.

The girdle immediately symbolizes shame and cowardice when it is revealed that the Green Knight was Gawain's former host. Gawain decides to wear the girdle throughout his life as a reminder of his cowardice and shameful act. Gawain, however, arrives at Camelot to find all the knights wearing the girdle in honor and triumph (Tolkien 121).

The religious undertones of the poem suggest that the Gawain-poet may have used the symbol for the girdle to represent the crown of thorns worn by Jesus during his crucifixion.

The crown of thorns, which Jesus wore, was both a symbol for humiliation as well as triumph. The crown of thorns also symbolized Jesus' victory after suffering through difficult times. Gawain experiences similar hardships to those of Jesus, and he is awarded a symbolic girdle.


An in-depth analysis of the symbols used in Sir Gawain's "Sir Gawain & the Green Knight" revealed that the poem has many hidden meanings. These symbols reveal that the Gawain poem has a strong religious theme. It also lacks a single and definite meaning.

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Symbolism in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Essay. (2022, Aug 09). Retrieved from

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