Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Modern adaptations


Though the surviving manuscript dates from the fourteenth century, the first published version of the poem did not appear until as late as 1839, when Sir Frederic Madden of the British Museum recognized the poem as worth reading.[89] Madden's scholarly, Middle English edition of the poem was followed in 1898 by the first Modern English translation – a prose version by literary scholar Jessie L. Weston.[89] In 1925, J.R.R. Tolkien and E.V. Gordon published a scholarly edition of the Middle English text of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; a revised edition of this text was prepared by Norman Davis and published in 1967. The book, featuring a text in Middle English with extensive scholarly notes, is frequently confused with the translation into Modern English that Tolkien prepared, along with translations of Pearl and Sir Orfeo, late in his life.[90] Many editions of the latter work, first published in 1975, shortly after his death, list Tolkien on the cover as author rather than translator.[91]

For students, especially undergraduate students, the text is usually given in translation. Notable translators include Jessie Weston, whose 1898 prose translation and 1907 poetic translation took many liberties with the original; Theodore Banks, whose 1929 translation was praised for its adaptation of the language to modern usage;[92] and Marie Borroff, whose imitative translation was first published in 1967 and "entered the academic canon" in 1968, in the second edition of the Norton Anthology of English Literature. In 2010, her (slightly revised) translation was published as a Norton Critical Edition, with a foreword by Laura Howes.[93] In 2007, Simon Armitage, who grew up near the Gawain poet's purported residence, published a translation which attracted attention in the US and the United Kingdom,[94] and was published in the United States by Norton,[95] which replaced Borroff's translation with Armitage's for the ninth edition of the Norton Anthology of English Literature. Other modern translations include those by Brian Stone, James Winny, Helen Cooper, W. S. Merwin, Jacob Rosenberg, William Vantuono, Joseph Glaser, Bernard O'Donoghue, John Gardner, and Francis Ingledew.

In 2014, Zach Weiner published a children's book called Augie and the Green Knight that is a take on this tale. Though the protagonist of the book is a young, modern-day girl, the events of the book largely follow the Arthurian legend. In 1997, Gerald Morris published a version of the story called The Squire, His Knight, and His Lady.

Film and television

The poem has been adapted to film twice, on both occasions by writer-director Stephen Weeks: first as Gawain and the Green Knight in 1973[96] and again in 1984 as Sword of the Valiant: The Legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, featuring Miles O'Keeffe as Gawain and Sean Connery as the Green Knight.[97] Both films have been criticised for deviating from the plot. Gawain, for example, has an adventure in the 1973 version which is not a part of the poem between the time he leaves Camelot and the time he arrives at Bertilak's castle, in which he travels through New Earth to find his parents. Also, Bertilak and the Green Knight are never connected.[98] French/Australian director Martin Beilby directed a short (30') film adaptation in 2014.[99] There have been at least two television adaptations, Gawain and the Green Knight in 1991[100] and the animated Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in 2002.[101] The BBC broadcast a documentary presented by Simon Armitage in which the journey depicted in the poem is traced, utilising what are believed to be the actual locations.[102]


The Tyneside Theatre company presented a stage version of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight at the University Theatre, Newcastle at Christmas 1971. It was directed by Michael Bogdanov and adapted for the stage from the translation by Brian Stone.[103] The music and lyrics were composed by Iwan Williams using medieval carols, such as the Boar's Head Carol, as inspiration and folk instruments such as the Northumbrian pipes, whistles and bhodran to create a "rough" feel. Stone had referred Bogdanov to Cuchulain and the Beheading Game, a sequence which is contained in The Grenoside Sword dance. Bogdanov found the pentangle theme to be contained in most sword dances, and so incorporated a long sword dance while Gawain lay tossing uneasily before getting up to go to the Green Chapel. The dancers made the knot of the pentangle around his drowsing head with their swords. The interlacing of the hunting and wooing scenes was achieved by frequent cutting of the action from hunt to bed-chamber and back again, while the locale of both remained on-stage.

In 1992 Simon Corble created an adaptation with medieval songs and music for The Midsommer Actors' Company.[104] performed as walkabout productions in the summer 1992[105] at Thurstaston Common and Beeston Castle and in August 1995 at Brimham Rocks, North Yorkshire.[106] Corble later wrote a substantially revised version which was produced indoors at the O'Reilly Theatre, Oxford in February 2014.[107][108]


Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was first adapted as an opera in 1978 by the composer Richard Blackford on commission from the village of Blewbury, Oxfordshire. The libretto was written for the adaptation by the children's novelist John Emlyn Edwards. The "Opera in Six Scenes" was subsequently recorded by Decca between March and June 1979 and released on the Argo label[109] in November 1979.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was adapted into an opera called Gawain by Harrison Birtwistle, first performed in 1991. Birtwistle's opera was praised for maintaining the complexity of the poem while translating it into lyric, musical form.[110] Another operatic adaptation is Lynne Plowman's Gwyneth and the Green Knight, first performed in 2002. This opera uses Sir Gawain as the backdrop but refocuses the story on Gawain's female squire, Gwyneth, who is trying to become a knight.[111] Plowman's version was praised for its approachability, as its target is the family audience and young children, but criticised for its use of modern language and occasional preachy nature.[112]

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