Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

The Pentangle

According to the Gawain-poet, King Solomon originally designed the five-pointed star as his own magic seal. A symbol of truth, the star has five points that link and lock with each other, forming what is called the endless knot. Each line of the pentangle passes over one line and under one line, and joins the other two lines at its ends. The pentangle symbolizes the virtues to which Gawain aspires: to be faultless in his five senses; never to fail in his five fingers; to be faithful to the five wounds that Christ received on the cross; to be strengthened by the five joys that the Virgin Mary had in Jesus (the Annunciation, Nativity, Resurrection, Ascension, and Assumption); and to possess brotherly love, courtesy, piety, and chastity. The side of the shield facing Gawain contains an image of the Virgin Mary to make sure that Gawain never loses heart.

Read more about King Solomon in the Bible’s Old Testament.

The Green Girdle

The meaning of the host’s wife’s girdle changes over the course of the narrative. It is made out of green silk and embroidered with gold thread, colors that link it to the Green Knight. She claims it possesses the power to keep its wearer from harm, but we find out in Part 4 that the girdle has no magical properties. After the Green Knight reveals his identity as the host, Gawain curses the girdle as representing cowardice and an excessive love of mortal life. He wears it from then on as a badge of his sinfulness. To show their support, Arthur and his followers wear green silk baldrics that look just like Gawain’s girdle.


Amongst its vivid descriptions, the poem uses color symbolism to further its themes and characterization. The green of the Green Knight most directly represents nature, the wild lands outside of Camelot. Thus, he brings the wilderness into the Christian civilization of King Arthur’s court to challenge its resolve. Sir Gawain primarily wears red, a heraldic color associated with the blood of Christ, and therefore with spiritual matters and Christian civilization, which sets him up as a foil to the Green Knight’s natural world. He also wears gold, which the narrator associates with purity, emphasizing Sir Gawain’s reputation for perfection. Bertilak has strong associations with brown in his beard and the mantle he dresses Gawain in, emphasizing his connection to the earth and hunting. We can read the color brown as foreshadowing his ties to the Green Knight. His beard is brown, just as the leaves and grasses turn brown and die with the end of the year, but he appears as the Green Knight as the year begins anew, changing from brown to green with the promise of rebirth.