Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Themes

Themes and Colors
Chivalry Theme Icon
The Natural and the Supernatural Theme Icon
Legend, Fame, and Reputation Theme Icon
Games, Rules, and Order Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

King Arthur’s court at Camelot is defined by a chivalrous code, in which fighting spirit, bravery and courtesy are vital to a man’s character and standing, and cowardice is looked down upon as a severe defect. The Green Knight's challenge is thus a challenge not just to each individual knight but to the entire Arthurian chivalric code, and that code is shown to be hollow when none of the knights accept the challenge…

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When the strangely green being enters the hall, his hue is so extreme and is so thoroughly described with so many decorations and layers that he seems to be of different breed than the men at court, made of nature like a tree or the seasons themselves. Yet his being is also beyond nature. It is supernatural – he can pick up his severed head after it’s been chopped off and still speak through that…

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The poem begins with a history of famous founders of countries out of Greek and Roman myth, and explicitly connects and compares King Arthur to those heroes. In doing so, the poem establishes the theme of reputation and begins to explore its impact on those who achieve it. For Gawain, when he takes his king’s place and faces The Green Knight, he suddenly transforms himself in the eyes of the court from one of the…

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The world of Gawain and the Green Knight is full of, even defined by, all sorts of games, rules, and order. The knights of Arthur’s court must sit in a particular order and be served according to their fame. The court is also full of revelry and games, and even when the time for battle arrives on New Year’s Eve, it comes in the form of a game. Further, the knightly chivalric code that…

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Christianity, and Christian ideas, appear everywhere in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Arthurian chivalry is founded in Christian ideals, as is symbolized by the pentangle painted onto Gawain’s shield, with the face of Mary in its center. The timeline of events are dotted at significant moments by Christian holidays (Christmas, Michelmas). Gawain, on the verge of despair during his quest, prays to Mary and suddenly comes upon Bertilak’s castle, and he…

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