Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Part 4 (lines 1998–2531)

Summary Part 4 (lines 1998–2531)

When the Green Knight spares Gawain, it is clear that the knight has changed from a character obsessed with the absolute justice of pacts and agreements into one who understands the possibility of compassion and mercy. Up until this part, the Green Knight has seemed to privilege the exact letter of his covenant with Gawain above mercy or even justice. But at the end of the story, he transforms into a much more compassionate figure. He calls it his right to spare Gawain from decapitation, and explains, “You are so fully confessed, your failings made known, / And bear the plain penance at the point of my blade” (23912392). The combination of an Old Testament rite, the circumcision, with a New Testament one, the confession, frees Gawain from the sin of lying about the girdle.