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A Story From: England
Read Time: ["20+mins"]
For Ages: 12 to 14yrs.

King Arthur's nephew is bound by a promise to seek a mortal blow.
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Retold by Elaine L. Lindy. ©2006. All rights reserved.


The poem "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" was written in the late fourteenth century by an unknown poet. It is considered a classic of English literature and, by many, the literary masterpiece of the Middle Ages.  It's often compared to writings by Geoffrey Chaucer, an esteemed peer of the day. The poem was one of four works contained in a single manuscript (the other three were "Pearl," "Patience," and "Purity").  Written in a dialect from the northwest Midlands of England, it uses alliteration, a literary device that correlates (usually a pair of) consonants at the beginning of a line with those at the end.  Scholars believe the accents in alliteration lent themselves well to accompaniment by an instrument, particularly stringed instruments. Alliteration is associated with older English masterpieces such as Beowolf and is a style that went underground for centuries after the French conquered England in 1066 in favor of French language and French poetic style.  However by about 1350, the alliterative style had regained enough favor to emerge in a movement called Alliterative Revival that swept England, and the poem of "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" appeared at the height of this trend.  The original manuscript can be viewed today at the British Museum.

The story line of "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" is composed of one plot (the beheading at Arthur's court and the return blow a year and a day later) that holds within it an altogether different yet complementary plot (the attempted seduction of Gawain by the lord's wife).  Story elements are traced to ancient tales, including the severed head theme which appears in Celtic mythology. The poem is heralded for portraying in vivid detail the chivalrous code of the day, and yet, by taking it to a ridiculous height, shows us its foibles.

Viewers should note that stories on Whootie Owl's web site are nonsectarian and are presented without religious references (for more on how stories are selected for this web site click here). To see the complete "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" - religious references and all - a reader should click one of the versions shown below.