Gawain gazed at the gallant who greeted him well And it seemed to him the stronghold possessed a great lord, A powerful man in his prime, of stupendous size. Broad and bright was his beard, all beaver-hued; Strong and sturdy he stood on his stalwart legs; His face was fierce as fire, free was his speech[.]
Gawain’s host at the distant northern castle makes a strong impression on Gawain. Like the Green Knight, the host has outsize stature, an intense look, and a talkative manner. Unlike the Green Knight, however, he has normal human coloring and sports a reddish-brown beard. Readers later learn of the host’s hunting skills, which makes sense given his general demeanor of strength and energy.
In lovingkindness the lord leaped up repeatedly And many times reminded them that wine should flow; Elaborately lifted up his hood, looped it on a spear, And offered it as a mark of honour to whoever should prove able To make the most mirth that merry Yuletide. . . . So with his mirth the mighty lord made things merry To gladden sir Gawain[.]
The narrator describes a scene in which Sir Bertilak acts as a generous host, exhorting his guests to have fun. At Yuletide—Christmas—making merry is traditional. Here, Sir Bertilak feels very excited to have the famous Gawain as his guest. Believing that finding this castle on Christmas Eve served as an answer to his prayers, Gawain feels more than happy to accept the generous hospitality. He has no reason to suspect that his host, Sir Bertilak, might have any other motivation.
‘Since you have spurred,’ the lord said, ‘from afar, Then watched awake with me, you are not well supplied With either sustenance or sleep, for certain, I know; So you shall lie long in your room, late and at ease Tomorrow till the time of mass, and then take your meal When you will, with my wife beside you To comfort you with her company til I come back to court . . . I shall get up at dawn. I will to the hunt away.’
Sir Bertilak urges Gawain to sleep in while he himself goes hunting early in the morning. His words ring true: Gawain had a long and arduous journey and then stayed up late with his host. In light of his exhaustion, Gawain happily agrees with his host’s suggestion. Sir Bertilak’s willingness to let his wife and Gawain be alone together may seem odd, but the host knows Gawain’s reputation as a paragon of chivalry.
You shall gain the Green Chapel to give your dues, My lord, in the light of New Year, long before sunrise. Therefore remain in your room and rest in comfort, While I fare hunting in the forest; in fulfilment of our oath Exchanging what we achieve when the chase is over. For twice I have tested you, and twice found you true. Now “Third time, throw best!” Think of that tomorrow! Let us make merry while we may, set our minds on joy[.]
Sir Bertilak explains to Gawain that, because the Green Chapel where he must meet the Green Knight stands close by, Gawain can stay another night. For a third time, they will exchange what they acquire during the day. The Host knows that Lady Bertilak will once again test Gawain with her sexual advances. Sir Bertilak’s reminder that the third time may be the most important hints to the reader that he’s deliberately testing Gawain.
‘In good faith, All that I ever promised you, I shall perform.’ He assigned him a servant to set him on his way, And lead him in the hills without any delay.
Like the Green Knight and Gawain himself, Sir Bertilak keeps his promises. On New Year’s Day, as promised, Sir Bertilak sends Gawain with a guide to find the Green Chapel. At the time, Gawain does not know that Sir Bertilak, also known as the Host, and the Green Knight are one and the same. With this reality in mind, readers note that Sir Bertilak’s words “All that I ever promised you” mean more than sending him to the Green Chapel—they also mean he’ll soon meet Gawain at the Green Chapel.
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