Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

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The Pentangle Symbol Icon
The court of King Arthur is full of costumes and rituals. The prize piece of Gawain’s magnificent armor is a shield decorated with a five-pointed star, or pentangle. The pentangle is said to have illustrious origins – the shape was supposedly designed by the great biblical King Solomon. Each point of the pentangle stands for a list of virtues or wits, including the five joys of Mary and the five wounds of Christ. All of these virtues are encompassed in the star and the points are connected by one unbroken line, which itself stands for eternity. Altogether, the pentangle is a symbol of endless truth. As is true in the poem as a whole, figures of Christianity always occupy a central thematic place, and that is also true of the pentangle: in its center is a portrait of Mary. Yet despite the elaborate message of this symbol and its perceived protective power, it is also a mere costume, painted on to Gawain’s shield. The failing of the knightly code that follows reveals the pentangle to be a shallow symbol, out of touch with the reality of human life, and as such it indicates that the very formulaic practice of religion and chivalry at play in King Arthur's court is artificial and fragile, unable to survive in the real world, as opposed to Bertilak and his court's earthier existence that is nonetheless animated by a deeper mercy.

The Pentangle Quotes in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

The Sir Gawain and the Green Knight quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Pentangle. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Chivalry Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the W. W. Norton & Company edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight published in 2008.
Lines 491-1125 Quotes

So it suits this soldier in his spotless armor,
fully faithful in five ways five times over.
For Gawain was as good as the purest gold –
devoid of vices but virtuous, loyal
and kind,
so bore that badge on both
his shawl and shield alike.
A prince who talked the truth.
A notable. A knight.

Related Characters: Sir Gawain
Related Symbols: The Pentangle
Page Number: 631-639
Explanation and Analysis:

Here the narrator describes the elaborate armor that Sir Gawain wore when he set out to find the Green Knight. Gawain's armor blends chivalric and Christian traditions together into one. Gawain's armor is decorated with pentangles, symbolizing the five wounds of Christ, among other things. In general, Gawain is praised for his virtue and honesty, not his strength--appropriately for his quest, which requires honesty as well as military might. One could argue that the poem wants to depict Gawain as a distinctly Christian kind of hero--a hero who knows how to fight and kill, but also one who knows how to keep his word, obey authorities, and respect the rules.


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The Pentangle Symbol Timeline in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Pentangle appears in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Lines 491-1125
Chivalry Theme Icon
Legend, Fame, and Reputation Theme Icon
Games, Rules, and Order Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
...detail the particular symbols of chivalry that decorate the armor, especially the five-pointed star, the pentangle, which decorates Gawain’s shield. The pentangle stands for pure, unending truth, and its five points... (full context)