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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Literature

Part 3 (lines 1126–1997)

Summary Part 3 (lines 1126–1997)

The next two days follow a similar pattern. On the second day, the lord hunts a wild boar, risking his life as he wrestles it to the ground and stabs it with his sword. At the castle, the lady continues to teasingly challenge Gawain’s reputation, pressuring him into allowing her two kisses and continuing to make convincing arguments for how his acceptance of her love would be chivalrous. That night, the host brings home the boar’s head on a stick and exchanges it with Gawain for the two kisses.

On the third day the host hunts a fox, and Gawain, awakened by the lady from horrible nightmares about the Green Knight, receives three kisses from the lady during the course of their conversation. However, while they banter, the lady asks Gawain for a love token. Gawain refuses to fulfill her request, claiming he has nothing to give, so the lady offers him a ring, which he also refuses. She then offers him her green girdle, which she claims has magical properties: it possesses the ability to keep the man who wears it safe from death. Tempted by the possibility of protecting his life, Gawain accepts the girdle.

That afternoon, Gawain goes to confession. At the end of the day, he gives the three kisses to his host but fails to mention the lady’s gift. After the exchange, the host and his courtiers hold a farewell party for Gawain, who later retires to his chamber, prepared to leave the next day to seek out the Green Chapel. Whether he sleeps or not, the poet cannot say.

Analysis

The alternating hunting scenes and bedroom scenes narrated in Part 3 parallel one another, suggesting an analogous relationship between the lady’s attempts to entrap Gawain and the lord’s attempts to catch his prey. Each of the three days begins and ends with the violent, fast-paced action of the chase, and embedded at the center of each day is the courtly, bawdy bedroom scene. For both the hunters and Gawain, each day leads to a more valuable—and more dangerous—set of winnings. The three hunting scenes portray the larger patterns of the poem in brief allegories. The hunting scenes and the seduction scenes together address all the major issues of the poem.

There are a number of parallels between the hunt scenes and Gawain’s own quest. The host considers his gory and dangerous hunts “sport” in the same way the Green Knight considers his pact with Gawain a “game,” and, like the Green Knight’s challenge, the hunt scenes test the hunters’ nobility. The way the doe hunt starts out by separating the victims from the herd brings to mind the Green Knight’s challenge to Arthur and his company. The deer hunt happens at a group level, with multiple hunters and the mass execution of dozens of animals. In medieval hunting guides and bestiaries, deer are ranked as “beasts of venery” or “beasts of chase.” Though not fierce or confrontational, the animals were considered noble to hunt because they challenged their hunters’ skill and because their meat and hides have use value.

The boar hunt, on the other hand, engages the host and his prey in one-on-one combat. Boars were also considered beasts of venery, but were among the most dangerous game when cornered. That the host decapitates the boar and carries his head into the castle on a pike also recalls Gawain’s imminent decapitation. Interestingly, the foxes hunted on the third and final hunt were, in the Middle Ages, considered mere rodents, of the lowest class of the beasts of venery. Though difficult to hunt, they represented no real nobility or value, and were considered ignoble and deceitful animals whose fur possessed little usefulness or beauty. Thus, to spend the entire day hunting and to bring back nothing but what the host calls a “foul fox pelt” seems like time and energy wasted (1944). On this third day, we might expect the prize to have more value, but the host’s winnings have no worth at all, a fact he points out to Gawain during the exchange.