Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

The Representation of the Natural World in "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight"

In his 1959 translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the literary critic Brian Stone writes of “a Romance both magical and human, powerful in dramatic incident, and full of descriptive and philosophic beauty”. Indeed, this late medieval poem exhibits a rich supply of symbolism and natural imagery throughout, inducing a vast degree of intrigue and confusion in the reader. The Gawain-poet’s ambiguous depiction of the natural world – personified through the formidable figure of the Green Knight – has particularly been a source of critical discussion, with its enigmatic imagery and supernatural overtones creating a daunting, multi-layered impression of the wilderness. On the surface, these primitive aspects of nature appear threatening and foreign, serving to establish a stark disparity between the cultured existence of the knights and the wild, undomesticated world beyond the castle gates. However, the Gawain-poet does not simply intend to characterise the natural world as a sinister opponent to chivalry; instead, nature has other significations within the poem. Several parallels exist between the “courtly” lifestyle of Sir Gawain and the mutability of the natural world, suggesting the existence of a certain affinity...

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