Creative Diagrams of Time in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight


Creative Diagrams of Time in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Conceptual Diagram
An Interpretation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Real and Imagined Animals in Medieval Literature (YHU2330)

Artist’s Remarks

Reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, I was struck by the ways in which various formulations of time are layered on top of each other. While the entire narrative is set during the winter months, there is a sense that all the seasons of the year are contained within the four sections of the narrative. Related to this is the fact that the winter setting is highly symbolic, connoting a period before rebirth (the New Year appears as a frequent marker of Gawain’s mapping out of time in his head) that necessitates a death that can be understood as a kind of purging (after the Gawain’s repentance of his sins, the Green Knight announces, “I declare you purged” (Armitage, line 2393)). Here, I also draw upon Clark and Wasserman’s characterization of the poem as one that surrounds themes of apocalypse—Gawain here becomes a character who can redeem humanity through his virtue within a humanity that is increasingly descending toward immorality (Clark and Wasserman, 6). Yet, when set against various characterizations of time as cyclical (such as the Gawain-poet’s condensed overview of the changing of the seasons in Fitt 2), both ideas of apocalypse and seasonal change begin to enter the symbolic realm, opening up the possibility of understanding the way that various temporal changes hold meaning in relation to one another. From this, the overlapping temporalities in the poem: seasonal, historical, liturgical, as well as individual, begin to create tensions and unexpected parallels with one another.

This was particularly fascinating to me, because then the wintry setting of the poem can be interpreted as symbolic in itself, but also as one that can be set aside in favor of a characterization of the poem as representing the different seasons (and more broadly, different stages of the calendar year) within the couple of days during which the poem takes place. I do not think it is a coincidence that the poem is split into four sections, reflecting the four seasons, and the thematic elements of each section can be loosely attributed to the symbolic qualities of the seasons.

In order to do this, I characterized each Fitt by the major event that takes place in each: The Challenge in Fitt 1, The Journey in Fitt 2, The Hunt in Fitt 3, and The Judgment in Fitt 4. The clear narrative progression of the poem can be mapped onto various symbolic changes that come with time, such as seasonal changes. Taking a look at the Gawain-poet’s characterization of the seasons in Fitt 2, one can find particular resonances between the overarching themes that characterize the seasons with the events that take place in each Fitt. I see them as:

  • Fitt 1 (The Challenge): Winter
    • An end, death, feasting.
  • Fitt 2 (The Journey): Spring
    • Rebirth, a beginning.
  • Fitt 3 (The Hunt): Summer
    • Labor, leisure, and courtly love.
  • Fitt 4 (The Judgment): Autumn
    • Harvesting, reaping what one has sown.

These associations also draw from the tradition of formulating the calendar through the labor of the year—this genre of calendar typically called the Labours of the Months, where each month is associated with a particular activity. Laumonier offers more insight into the Labours of the Months:

The Labours of the Months (Image Source: Laumonier)

“The winter months, starting with January, usually depicted indoor scenes (feasting, keeping warm by the fire, etc.). The fate of February depended on local weather. At the beginning of spring, work began outside to prepare the fields and trees. At the height of spring, usually in April and May, the calendar marked a pause to celebrate the rejuvenation of nature with scenes of leisure, love, and blooming flowers. From June to August, artists painted peasants hard at work, raking hay, reaping wheat, and threshing grain. In September, the scenery changed, the summer activities giving way to winemaking, usually followed by plowing and sowing. The last two months of the calendar year were devoted to fattening and killing boars and pigs, eaten during the feasting month of January. The cycle then started again undisturbed.” (Laumonier, n.p.)

However, it is important to note that the above ascriptions between the Fitts and the seasons are slippery—in some sense, one can find hints of each season in each Fitt (I initially started with ascribing Spring to Fitt 1, for example).

Another interesting way to associate the Fitts is through scaling time down to the meter of a single day. I found it intriguing that there are various moments within the poem where the Gawain-poet spends much time describing the time of day—dawns, dusks, and the movements of the sun figure into the atmospheric texture of the poem. Upon consideration, patterns within the Fitts emerge, such as the fact that Fitt 2 is characterized by the “long dark nights unloved and alone” (Armitage, line 693) that Gawain spends in the wilderness, while Fitt 3 is characterized by dawn/morning-time, given the lengthy scenes and descriptions of Bertilak awaking in the early morning to embark on his hunt while his wife wakes a still-asleep Gawain in order to spend time with him. Another set of associations is presented when looking through the lens of one day:

  • Fitt 1 (The Challenge): Evening
  • Fitt 2 (The Journey): Dusk
  • Fitt 3 (The Hunt): Dawn
  • Fitt 4 (The Judgment): Afternoon

Such temporalities are only further complicated by the additional presence of liturgical time in the poem, Christmas, All-Saints Day, and Lent marking time as well as divine symbolism to the events of the poem. When considering the connotations and the cosmological events that mark the liturgical calendar, other associations arise. Lent, the 40-day period of fasting and praying, for instance, can most clearly be associated with Fitt 2, where Gawain enters the icy wilderness and finds little to no food (an instance that could be understood as a representation of fasting). It is also fitting here that Gawain is only able to escape this period through the act of prayer—Bertilak’s castle only appears after Gawain prays for salvation from God.

  • Fitt 1 (The Challenge): Christmas and the New Year
  • Fitt 2 (The Journey): Lent
  • Fitt 3 (The Hunt): Ordinary Time?
  • Fitt 4 (The Judgment): Advent

Finally, other kinds of time that are presented as backdrops to the narrative can produce further resonances. Animal temporalities, for example, can be excavated in the poem. In Fitt 3, for example, Bertilak’s hunt contains an intriguingly ecological perspective of time and seasonal change in the hunting troop’s and Gawain’s recognition of hunting seasons—essentially placing the characters within an ecological net where the sustainable maintenance of animal populations appears in the narrative as an animal temporality which exists alongside the other modes of time presented in the poem.

Thus, for my creative project, I have attempted to place the various temporalities in the poem alongside one another, creating a kind of mapping where the representations of time in and of the narrative can be viewed clearly in relation to one another. I chose to represent time through diagrams that combine logical and rational progressions of time with creative representations to keep with the Gawain-poet’s preoccupation with mathematics and geometry in the poem, presenting a matrix of understanding time in the poem that could accompany its reading and offer points of discovery for readers.

Two diagrams were created: a diagram of various types of seasons and years that can be found in the poem, and a quadrisected timeline of the poem itself. My hope is that the timelines be considered alongside the poem and subsequently annotated and built upon by readers, so as to create an ever-growing instantiation of time in this mysterious and elusive poem.


Armitage, Simon. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. W.W. Norton, 2008.

Calkins, Robert G. Illuminated Books of the Middle Ages, mp 246, Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1983

Clark, S. L., and Julian N. Wasserman. “The Passing of the Seasons and the Apocalyptic in ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.’” South Central Review, vol. 3, no. 1, 1986, pp. 5–22. JSTOR, Accessed 1 May 2023.

Laumonier, Lucie. “Medieval Calendars and the Labours of the Months.”, 16 July 2022, Accessed 30 Apr. 2023.

Mclean, Will. “A Commonplace Book: Medieval Hunting Seasons.” A Commonplace Book, 4 Sept. 2015, Accessed 30 Apr. 2023.

Wikipedia Contributors. “Liturgical Year.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 23 Oct. 2019,

Dance of Gawain’s Humanity and Animality


Dance of Gawain’s Humanity and Animality
Performing Art (Dance)
An Interpretation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Real and Imagined Animals in Medieval Literature (YHU2330)

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Dance of Gawain’s Humanity and Animality – MIRA HO (’25)

Artist’s Remarks

I have chosen to adapt the poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight into a dance piece to explore the tension between humanity and animality in the portrayal of Gawain’s character. When the poem commences, Gawain appears as the epitome of chivalry and courtly grace that a perfect knight should embody. However, as his next encounter with the Green Knight nears and Gawain becomes increasingly conscious of his mortality, we see the layers of his humanity unfold, revealing the animality that humans often wish to suppress.

Gawain is initially portrayed as perfect example of a chivalric knight and the Arthurian ideal. When the Green Knight first enters the court and poses a challenge, Gawain is the first one to accept, and does so with extreme politeness and modesty. As he asks for permission to leave the Queen’s side, Gawain’s speech is elaborate and strenuously deferential: “should you call me, courteous lord to rise from my seat and stand at your side, politely take leave of my place at the table and quit without causing offence to my queen, then I would come to your counsel before this great court” (343-7). It is apparent that he takes great pains to respectfully take King Arthur’s place in the challenge and not call attention to himself. This display of courtesy and bravery is heightened by the symbolic significance of the five-pointed star painted on his shield. In the original text, the word “poyntez” is used, a clever play on words, as it can mean both “points” and “virtues.” The five points of the star can represent the five virtues that Gawain upholds, which include generosity, purity and courtesy. The pentangle is painted with a single line, giving the star the appearance of an endless knot. As all points of the star are linked, the knot, or star, fails if any part is missing, implying that perfection is necessary. This is significant as it places Gawain on an impossible pedestal. The painting of Virgin Mary next to the pentangle further highlights the high moral standard Gawain is expected to uphold.

This character analysis was portrayed in my dance piece from 00:00 to 00:48. I chose to choreograph a ballet sequence for this segment to mimic the courtly and flawless portrayal of Gawain. The ballet dance genre originates from court dance and hence physically embodies elements of the stiff posture and grace that is associated with Gawain’s courtly portrayal. The beginning of the dance mirrors the polite introduction Gawain makes as he offers to take Arthur’s place in the challenge. I begin kneeling and rise gracefully with my weight on one foot in a show of respect and poise. The pas de bourrée that follows between 00:11 and 00:13 is a movement that emphasizes openness, and mirrors Gawain’s generous offering. This is followed by an elaborate set of battement tendus between 00:18 and 00:23. Here, my intricate leg movements mirror Gawain’s elaborate speech. It was important that I highlighted this in a significant way throughout the first segment of the dance, as his complex sentence structures and courtly mannerisms are admired by others, and are seen as a manifestation of his chivalry. Most importantly, these behaviors set him apart from the animals that he encounters later in the poem, and clearly highlight his humanity. These dance steps build up to a series of grande battements between 00:24 and 00:32. These high kicks are powerful and high in energy. The movements command attention, just as Gawain seems to draw the eyes of others with his chivalric displays and reputation. My choice to use ballet in this segment is particularly significant because of the precision ballet technique requires. In ballet, all steps are clearly defined, and my precise movements physically symbolize the high moral standard that Gawain is held to.

The scene where Gawain enters the Green Chapel marks a turning point in his character development. For the first time, the tensions between his humanity and animality emerge. The Green Chapel is described as a “wild place; no sign of a settlement anywhere to be seen but heady heights to both halves of the valley” (2164-5). The Green Chapel is not the civilized building Gawain expects but an empty barrow “set with saber-toothed stones” (2166). Gawain interprets the sharp structures and emptiness of the barrow as haunted and cursed, attempting to use human methods to rationalize the animal fear that he is experiencing. Clinging to his Christian, human beliefs instead of succumbing to his natural instincts highlights the breaking down of the barrier between his identity as a human and an animal.

This tension between Gawain’s humanity and animality is highlighted with a change in dance genre from classical ballet to neo-classical ballet. Neo-classical ballet typically aims to challenge traditional ballet technique, for instance, by keeping the feet parallel instead of turned-out. In my dance piece, I  begin with the sharp elbow and torso contraction at 00:49. The sharp, repetitive movements that follow mimic Gawain’s jarred reaction to the Green Chapel and its apparent hauntedness. My shaking, outreached hand and cautious steps backwards from 01:11 to 01:19  physically embody the chills Gawain is experiencing. Yet throughout this dance segment, I continuously look around the room, often in the opposite direction from that which my body is traveling. This represents Gawain’s attempt to deny his instinctual fear and instead attempt to rationalize the eerie feeling he is experiencing.  

The final meeting between Gawain and the Green Knight reveals Gawain’s corporeality, as in the face of his death he is forced to let go of the strict human virtues he has held himself to throughout the poem. The Green Knight’s auditory introduction mimics the signals a wild animal may notice when a predator is nearby. As Gawain stands alone in the desolate barrow, he hears a “blood-chilling noise” that “cannoned through the cliffs as if they might crack, like the scream of a scythe being ground on a stone” (2200-2). The sibilance and alliteration of the “c” sound in these two lines is unnerving and metallic, suggesting the proximity of a physical threat. This effect creates a prey and predator dynamic, placing Gawain in a position of vulnerability and fear, a stark contrast to his initial introduction as chivalric and brave. As the Green Knight continues to draw out Gawain’s anticipated deathblow, Gawain’s mortality and physical helplessness become increasingly clear. When the Green Knight finally strikes Gawain, the blow is undoubtedly ‘bodily’ (Yamamoto 130). The visual image of Gawain’s blood spurting on to the ground ironically mirrors the hunting scene that occurs outside the castle earlier in the poem. In this moment, Gawain is no different from a hunted deer, an animal body that we humans continuously attempt to distinguish ourselves from, with activities such as hunting. The presence of the otherworldly Green Knight, who has the ability to place his own severed head back on his shoulders, highlights the similarities between Gawain’s mortal body and that of an animal.

Gawain’s realization of his own animality is shown with a transition into a contemporary dance segment. Contemporary dance is often used to showcase raw emotions, as there are no restrictions on movements. The flowy quality of my movements and the inclusion of multiple turns, such as at 02:37 and 02:41, represent Gawain leaning into his instinctual fear. During the final segment of the dance, my movements begin to lower in height, and eventually floorwork is incorporated, such as between 01:51 and 02:30. This acts as a contrast to the upright, standing ballet movement at the beginning of the dance piece, mirroring the contrast between Gawain’s portrayal as a knightly ideal at the beginning of the poem and his succumbing to his animal instincts at this point in the poem. The moment of stillness where I lie flat on my back in a starfish shape at 02:16 is another allusion to this contrast. The starfish shape is reminiscent of the five-point star of virtues that Gawain has been trying to hold himself to throughout the poem, yet this position also suggests complete vulnerability in a fight, where one’s front is entirely undefended and left open for attack. My struggle in rising from this position can be interpreted both as Gawain’s struggle to adhere to the pentangle of virtues, or as the base panic he experiences in his vulnerable position, at the mercy of the Green Knight. These two possible interpretations highlight the constant tension between Gawain’s humanity and animality throughout the poem. The circle formed as I move across the space between 02:37 and 03:14 is an allusion to Gawain’s resemblance to prey being circled and chased by a predator.

The final sequence in this piece between 03:04 and 03:40 is an exploratory improvisation. My movements are not choreographed; instead, they are guided by the spontaneous exploration of my own body. In particular, I am using my hands to manipulate different parts of my body, such as my knees, upper arms, and head. As my movements are not pre-calculated, there is a natural quality to them. Using my own hands to manipulate my body also shows a hyper awareness of my own physical body, reminiscent of Gawain’s growing realization of his own mortality. The fade into a blackout as my exploratory improvisation continues communicates that Gawain’s moral self-discovery has just begun, even as the poem comes to an end.


Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.  Translated by Simon Armitage, London: W.W. Norton & Co., 2007.

Yamamoto, Dorothy. “Bodies in the Hunt”.  The Boundaries of the Human in Medieval English Literature, Oxford University Press, 2000, pp. 99–13.

A Series of Blacked Out Poems from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight


A Series of Blacked Out Poems from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Visual Art / Literary Art (Blackout Poetry)
An Interpretation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Real and Imagined Animals in Medieval Literature (YHU2330)


Lines 1-59


Lines 691-739


Lines 1150-1177


Lines 1592-1600


Lines 2309-2314

Artist’s Remarks

My intention in creating this series is to foreground the theme of human vulnerability, particularly our shared vulnerability with the more-than-human world, that stands out to me in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Quoting Judith Butler, Steele (2011) writes,

“… humans reject their involvement in ‘primary vulnerability’ shared by all worldly beings, all of whom can be damaged; all of whom can cease to be, even die … humans construct themselves as properly vulnerable only before God, other humans” (p. 66) 

In response to Steele’s argument, I hope to highlight human vulnerability in the face of nature at large, and the shared bodily and fleshly existence that connects all living beings. This series consists of five poems titled “Opening”, “Journey”, “Hunting”, “The Boar”, and “Bodies”. The non-specificity of the names is intentional, as the themes the poems deal with are not confined to the world of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, but pertinent to the medieval chivalric world as a whole and even to contemporary concerns. These five poems are formed by picking out sections of the original poem where human centricity and human superiority ring strong. I then black out parts of the poem with the goal of decentering the human and/or sense of human ascendency and centering the more-than-human and/or the entanglements that humans share with the more-than-human world. I elaborate more on each poem below.


This poem is the blackout version of the opening of the original poem. Reading this section of the original poem brings to mind Cohen’s (2019) point that the poem “opens up with disaster rather than culminates in flames” (p. 5) with the crumbled city of Troy. Cohen goes on to say that the “Arthurian court is a shelter in the wake of catastrophe. Like Troy, it will not last” (p. 6), emphasising the precarity of the court. On top of the court, the poem’s opening is rife with mentions of other human constructions after the destruction of Troy, like the building of cities, townships, and empires like Britain. In setting human creations beside their destruction, the poem conveys the precarity of human structures in general—one moment they are there and the next, they could be gone. In the blackout version, I sought to highlight this precarity more by blacking out parts that focus on human affairs (e.g., the conquests, the constructions of buildings, the glorification of Arthur, the excesses of the court); in turn, the grandeur and expansiveness of nature (which are diminished in the original version) are emphasised. I hope that this conveys the sense of the smallness and vulnerability of humanity in the face of nature, thus destabalising the security that humans in this part of the story seem to have bought into. 


For this poem, the original version was the passage in which Sir Gawain has just left the Arthurian court to begin his long and arduous journey through the wilderness. Following the Opening poem, I wanted to continue the theme of human vulnerability in the face of nature. Hence, I blacked out parts that focused on Sir Gawain’s interiority and actions, and retained parts that focused on the environment around Gawain (including the animals he ran into). What stood out to me after doing this was how the various environmental bodies (e.g. the “bleak terrain”, the “brook”, “the mountains”) and the other lifeforms Gawain meets (e.g. “serpents and snarling wolves”, “bulls, bears and the old wild boar”) shape up to sound like a list, thus emphasising the vastness and diversity of the more-than-human world. With Gawain de-emphasised (he is only mentioned once at the start), and with the poem ending with an icy description, the smallness and vulnerability of Gawain is foregrounded.

Particularly, I decided to remove the line “with no friend but” in the original “with no friend but his horse through forests and hills”. Reading the original line felt almost oxymoronic to me—Gawain has a horse that accompanies him through so many trials and tribulations, yet the horse is not even considered a legitimate companion. By erasing “with no friend but”, together with the emphasis placed on the diverse terrains Gawain covers, I hoped to highlight the extensive labour of the horse and how crucial the horse was to Gawain’s survival, aspects that I felt were unfairly diminished in the original version.


This poem came from one of the hunts that Bertilak engages in. In the original version, the poem is peppered with descriptions of the hunters celebrating their killings (e.g., “the ring of beaters who bellowed boisterously”, “the lord’s heart leaps with life”) and descriptions that valorise the hunters (e.g., “so perfect and practised were the men”)—those were the parts I blacked out in order to draw attention to the violence exerted on the animals by the hunters, both psychologically and physically. Steele (2011) writes that these hunts primarily work to assert the elites as masters of violence. Given that hunts were a significant part of chivalric culture, I hope that this poem brings out the fact that chivalric culture is based on violently dominating the more-than-human world.

The Boar

In this poem, I wanted to zoom into the killing of one animal, to reinforce the brutality of the hunt. I chose the boar given that it is considered one of the fiercer and more feared animals in medieval hunting culture (Yamamoto, 2000, p. 126). Thus, the brutal killing of the boar would more effectively reflect the violence and bloodlust of the hunters. I chose to black out parts that refer to the boar (e.g. “the boar’s”, “the hog’s”) in the lines “knifing the boar’s neck” and “bursting the hog’s heart”, respectively, so as to focus on the mutilated body.


This poem was taken from the passage where Gawain receives a blow from the Green Knight. I blacked out parts about the Green Knight’s actions and the directions of the axe, so that the poem could focus on Gawain’s body. I also decided to black out “the knight’s” from the line “the blade bearing down on the knight’s bare neck” to convey the flimsiness of chivalric, self-affirming titles in the face of impending death.

The previous two poems focus on the bodies of the hunted animals. In this poem, I wanted to focus on Gawain’s body as he receives the blow, as a parallel to the fleshly bodies of the hunted animals. This is inspired by Yamamoto’s comments (2000): 

“… the hunts in the poem provide a ‘bodily’ subtext to the narrative of Gawain’s … subsequent journey to the Green Chapel. Hunting … (as a discourse) rested upon a forgetting of the fact that humans are bodies too … This interpretation of the hunts involves a shift of emphasis away from individual animals and towards their common fate … when we hear about … how (Gawain) flinches from glinting blade of the axe, we do think back to the cornered boar and fox—which too shrank from the hunter’s bright sword.” (p. 130-131)

Hence, I thought that this poem would be a good one to follow from the previous two poems and a fitting way to end the series by re-emphasising the shared bodily vulnerability between humans and non-humans. I decided to name the poem “bodies” instead of “human bodies” as an attempt to further blur the boundaries between human and the more-than-human; if one does not know where the poem was taken from, one might assume that this poem is still describing the hunted animals, thus reinforcing Yamamoto’s point that we forget that we are bodies too.


Armitage, S. (2007). Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (A New Verse Translation). W. W. Norton & Company.

Cohen, J. J. (2019). The Love of Life: Reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Close to Home. In V. Nardizzi & T. J. Werth (Eds.), Premodern Ecologies in the Modern Literary Imagination (pp. 25–58). University of Toronto Press.

Steele, K. (2011). Chapter 2: Mastering Violence. In How to Make a Human: Animals and Violence in the Middle Ages (pp. 61–67). The Ohio State University Press.

Yamamoto, D. (2000). Chapter 5: Bodies in the Hunt. In The Boundaries of the Human in Medieval English Literature (pp. 99–131). Oxford University Press.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: Chapter 1 Abridged


Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: Chapter 1 Abridged
Web Comic
An Interpretation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Real and Imagined Animals in Medieval Literature (YHU2330)

Artist’s Remarks

This creative adaption of the first section of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight through the form of a webcomic seeks to reflect on the characteristics that define what it means to be human in the romance, and to explore medieval understandings of the human/ non-human dichotomy in ways accessible to a modern audience.

The Green Knight is first differentiated from the knights of the Round Table through his heavy association with green, a colour that is commonly found in nature but is relatively foreign to the court. The text begins with a reference to the siege of Troy, which left the city in ashes. The image conjured, as represented in the first section of the webcomic, is a burning cityscape shrouded in ashes – splashes of black, grey, and red. Subsequently, the court is introduced through their Christmas and New Year’s feasts. Nature is stagnant in winter, with trees shrouded in white, while the Round Table of knights feast indoors. Food is illustrated with reference from research into what they would have been consuming, specifically, copious quantities of meat and bakes garnished with a sprinkle of greens. The appearance of the Green Knight is therefore the first instance in which green is introduced in both the text and the comic. While the text focuses on the strangeness of a man with green hair, the webcomic, through illustrations, creates a more immediate and striking visual effect of introducing green as the reader scrolls. 

Another distinguishing factor that sets the Green Knight apart from the knights of the Round Table is his physical size. While the text emphasizes this distinction through description of the Green Knight as “mountainous” and “half-giant”, the webcomic provides an opportunity to bring this out visually. Given the lower perspective of the drawing, the Green Knight appears larger to the audience, as the audience is now forced to see the knight from the viewpoint of a shorter character. In addition, the scrolling in webcomics, coupled with the elongated illustration of the Green Knight, creates an additional sense of height and sheer size in comparison to the smaller and shorter Round Table knights illustrated at his feet. The generic nature of the knights presented through showing primarily their backs and cloaks and a hair seemingly common to the Round Table knights – short shoulder-length curls left loose – further emphasizes the Green Knight’s distinctiveness.

Beyond their physical differences, the Green Knight’s attire further alienates him from the Round Table. His outfit is green through and through, made with reflective materials such as gems and silk that only further underscore its verdant quality. It is an object of fascination, and the intricacy of its design is shown through a full body illustration in the webcomic: “details […] difficult to describe,/ embroidered as it was with butterflies and birds, green beads emblazoned on a background of gold.”

Finally, the moment in which both members of the Round Table and the audience are confirmed in their judgment of the Green Knight as monstrous is when he stays alive after being beheaded. The infinite scroll ends on this climactic moment after creating a deliberate slowing of pace in the second to last frame, in which the main question posed by the exploration of this creative adaptation has been answered, specifically: what makes the Green Knight human, and is he human? The answer stares the audience straight in the face with empty eyes: the fact that the knight can still provide instructions to Gawain is a clear indication that he is not human. Despite the many characteristics that distinguish him from humans, however, the line between what it means to be human and to be monstrous remains blurred: the knight exhibits human features (albeit on a greater scale), wears clothes, communicates through human language, and follows the customs of chivalric society. 

Female Companionship, Reciprocity, and Relation with Nature: Two Scenes


Female Companionship, Reciprocity, and Relation with Nature: Two Scenes
Literary Art
An Interpretation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Real and Imagined Animals in Medieval Literature (YHU2330)

Scene One

Behind the boisterous crowd, a beech table was set.

Likewise, the Lady and Morgan Le Fay lingered despite

a more meagre meal mapped between them.

Despite her divine beauty, the Lady’s eyes darted around in distress.

Noticing her nervousness, Morgan needed to say:

“What matter troubles you, my most beloved?”

Slowly, the lady shifted towards her, her face solemn.

Always gracious, she sighed, “Great Goddess, how do I charm

the gallant knight Gawain? My Green Lord commands it.

If he is as heralded as hearsay, how

can I captivate the most chivalrous knight of Arthur’s court?”

The Dame disagreed and disrupted her despairing:

“Have you forgotten already, how I came to your home?

I wandered the woods for years, every waking moment I wanted vengeance.

By God, I desired Guinevere gone.

Recall, how I was received at the rickety Green Chapel,

you cleaned and cared for this old crone.

Your husband hoped I would reside in his house,

and I stayed, but scarcely for someone like him.

I yearned for your grace and your affection.

Do not worry, Gawain cannot withstand your wiles.

Afterall, you have entranced the most eminent enchantress.”

The Lady blushed bashfully, but rebuffed her praise:

“Many thanks, Morgan. But the knight must break his wager.

What gift will Gawain refuse to give back?”

The witch grinned and plucked a green grape from its plate.

She said: “Do you still remember

the green girdle you gifted the Lord?”

Scene Two

The Lord slipped into his Lady’s lavish room.

The Lady was on the bed, swathed in silk, shimmering in the candlelight.

What a rare moment that they were alone, without her attending ladies.

She shifted the silky duvet for him to sit beside her.

Her Lord took a seat and touched her hand, “Dear Lady, do tell,

how far has the fabled knight fallen for you?”

She smiled slightly at her husband and said:

“Do not deny this, your eyes were on us throughout dinner. Despite

always acting affable, were you not thrilled by our silent affections?”

The Lord laughed and landed two

kisses on her. The Lady knew they were from the knight,

he remained too courteous and chivalric; she must be more cunning.

Deep in thought, the Lord despaired: “This deferential,

virtuous knight is venomous. I have become vulnerable to

bouts of fondness. As I battled the boar, my brutality

was encouraged by the easy charm he exudes.

In exchange for a kiss, I would invade the darkest lairs,

slaughter the stealthiest beasts.” The shrewd Lady had suspected

her husband held the knight close to his

heart. In her chest, a hidden affection had also

bloomed for that beautiful lord. Bunching up

his tunic, she grasped the green girdle and

the Lord leaned forward. On his lips, she laid three

kisses and whispered: “I’ll pass these to the kindly knight.”

The green silk sash slipped off his waist.

Author’s Remarks

I reimagined Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by writing two scenes that I imagine could have happened within the story. The first scene was an interaction between Morgan Le Fay and Lady Bertilak sometime before meeting Gawain. The Lady expresses uncertainty about her ability to charm Gawain, according to her husband’s instructions. Morgan reassures her, pointing out how she was charmed by the Lady as well. When the Lady is still anxious, Morgan suggests the gift of the green girdle as something Gawain cannot decline. The second scene details an interaction between the Lord and Lady between the second and third night that Gawain resides in their castle. They discuss their progress in the wager, and revealed their growing admiration towards Gawain. In explaining my reimaging, I will also explore my interpretation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. I used two secondary readings which extended my perspective on aspects of the text relating to gender and sexuality– Geraldine Heng’s Feminine Knots and the Other and Carolyn Dinshaw’s A Kiss Is Just a Kiss.

Regarding my first scene, I was inspired by a key tension of the romance, which was the fact that the entire story is motivated by Morgan Le Fay’s grudge towards Guinevere. Morgan is a peripheral figure who is uncovered as the central driving force behind the tale, while barely making an appearance throughout the narrative. Morgan’s motivation is rather confusing: “She imagines this mischief would muddle your minds / and that grieving Guinevere would go to her grave / at the sight of a spectre making ghostly speeches / with his head in his hands before the high tables.”1 Her method of scaring Guinevere through sending Gawain to meet his death seems roundabout. Additionally, Morgan’s grudge against Guinevere is never expanded upon despite being an integral plot point.

This led me to explore the dimensions of female companionship and sexuality within the romance, through the characters of Morgan, the Lady, and Guinevere. I was first inspired when Prof Dalton suggested I write a scene of female companionship between Lady Bertilak and Morgan. Furthermore, a quote by Heng cemented my approach to this scene: “Guenevere is also inextricably bound to Morgan by the push and direction of the desire in Morgan’s game, which claims Guenvere for its subject”.2 The ambiguity of the past relationship between Guinevere and Morgan left me very curious. Furthermore, the text draws a parallel between Guinevere and the Lady in their initial appearances, which entail descriptions of their beauty and their seating positions.3 For me, a natural parallel was created between the Morgan-Guinevere and Morgan-Lady relationships, which formed the base for this scene. Thus, I reimagined the relationship between the Lady and Morgan as a romantic one. Morgan also played a mentoring role due to her experience and age, which was reflected in how she suggested the green girdle as a gift. I wanted to apportion more agency to the Lady, showing her as a more active conspirator with Morgan in the wager, rather than wholly being controlled by her husband. Overall, I intended to illustrate the women’s roles and agency that stemmed from their companionship.

For the second scene, I unpacked the natural evolution of the wager and the concept of reciprocity, through exploring how Lord and Lady Bertilak discuss it. In the original, the obligation of reciprocity ties Gawain and the Green Knight together. Likewise, I wanted to extend this dynamic to play out within Lord and Lady Bertilak’s marriage. While unsaid, the kisses travel through Gawain, the Lord, and the Lady, and are both reproduced and reinterpreted by the parties. While the kisses between husband and wife are a display of love towards each other, they also convey a silent update on the wager’s progress and a mutual understanding of their attraction to Gawain. I wonder whether their personal moral code of ‘reciprocity’ liberated them from the constraints of Christian heteronormativity of the time. The ambiguity of the Gawain-Bertilak kisses have been long debated by scholars. Dinshaw, for example, writes: “We could imagine that Bertilak had more agency in this whole plot than he finally admits to Gawain – that his sending his wife in to Gawain was a way of bonding himself, via the woman, to the man.”4 Consequently, I was excited to play with the queerness in the narrative that evolved from the theme of reciprocity.

Peripheral to the complicated relationships and feelings of the characters, I wanted to exhibit the proximity to nature that characterised the alternative court of Lord Bertilak. The relationship between interiority and exteriority is introduced in the setting of the first scene, where Morgan and the Lady eat away from the men, who are noisily revelling after a hunt. The women are confined from anyone who has contact with the outside, in line with courtly norms. However, Morgan retells her experience of living in the woods after leaving the Arthurian court, which suddenly pulls the wilderness into startlingly close proximity to the deepest interior of the castle. Furthermore, she mentions that the castle started as the “rickety Green Chapel”, which was overgrown with plants and overtaken by nature. I intended the alternative court to be more permeable to nature than the strict boundaries that were at first drawn in the Arthurian court.

Similarly, Lord Bertilak’s dialogue links humans and animals. “This deferential, / virtuous knight is venomous. I have become vulnerable to / bouts of fondness.” Lord Bertilak likens himself to the prey of the venomous Gawain, which is at odds with his constant portrayal as the hunter. His position as prey inverts his relation to Gawain, whom he intended to kill. Thus, I attempted to convey a tension in Lord Bertilak’s court – a constant domination of nature through his hunting, coexisting with nature in the Green Chapel.

My next line speculates on Bertilak’s performance of courtly etiquette through the savagery of his hunts: “As I battled the boar, my brutality / was encouraged by the easy charm he exudes. / In exchange for a kiss, I would invade the darkest lairs, / slaughter the stealthiest beasts.” Bertilak exemplifies an extreme domination of nature and performs courtly masculinity in order to impress Gawain. This line was inspired by the original text: on the second night, Bertilak “shows off the meat slabs and shares the story / of the hog’s hulking hugeness, and the full horror / of the fight to the finish as it fled through the forest. / And Gawain is quick to compliment the conquest, / praising it as proof of the lord’s prowess”.5 Bertilak’s hunt and “conquest” of the animal is a performance of his power and masculinity, which Gawain picks up on immediately, praising him. Within these complicated displays of courtly chivalry, I aimed to explore the feelings that go unsaid in the original text. How much of this exchange is a performance? Does Bertilak genuinely yearn for Gawain’s affirmations? In the background, nature is continually subjugated and bears the brunt of frivolous human rituals. Bertilak “invades” animal habitats and “slaughter(s)” animals. He recounted the “full horror of the fight”, showing an overall irreverence for the wildlife that provided him with the opportunity to show off his hunting performance in the first place.6

Stylistically, I used the aaaa/c alliteration scheme of the original romance. It was such a fun challenge to pick the words that would alliterate, while roughly maintaining my intended meaning. The benefit of this writing style was that I would stumble across words that fit my intention better than my original picks. For example, using the word “venomous” to alliterate with “virtuous” allowed me to bring in elements of nature into the text. It also let me retain the tone of the text, through mixing the alliteration scheme with my more dialogue-heavy writing style.


1 Simon Armitage, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (London: W.W. Norton & Co., 2007), 185.

2 Geraldine Heng, “Feminine Knots and the Other Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” PMLA 106, no. 3 (1991): 502,

3 Heng, “Feminine Knots,” 502.

4 Carolyn Dinshaw, “A Kiss Is Just a Kiss: Heterosexuality and Its Consolations in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” Diacritics 24, no. 2/3 (1994): 215,

5 Armitage, Sir Gawain, 129.

6 Armitage, Sir Gawain, 129.


Armitage, Simon. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. London: W.W. Norton & Co., 2007. ISBN: 9780393334159

Dinshaw, Carolyn. “A Kiss Is Just a Kiss: Heterosexuality and Its Consolations in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” Diacritics 24, no. 2/3 (1994): 205–26.

Heng, Geraldine. “Feminine Knots and the Other Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” PMLA 106, no. 3 (1991): 500–514.


[Featured Image]

The Duality of Man in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight


The Duality of Man in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
An Interpretation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Real and Imagined Animals in Medieval Literature (YHU2330)

Fig. 1: The Full Work
Artist’s Remarks

Themes of honour, chivalry, and knightly integrity take center stage in Sir Gawain and The Green Knight. Yet, the text offers many contrasting instances where the eponymous hero’s knightly valor is first affirmed, and then seemingly undermined by the comments of those around him. Alongside having his chivalric values called into question by others, Gawain struggles with his knightly identity in his own mind, often experiencing the tension between his personal identity and the knightly comportment that is expected of him, and belittling himself for his lack of experience as a knight. In this way, Gawain’s internal struggle with his dual nature serves as a source of anguish and shame for him, as he is constantly troubled by what he perceives are his shortcomings in not being able to act in a manner consistent with that of an upstanding and honest knight.  My project explores how Gawain’s struggle influences his actions in what is arguably the most pivotal point of the romance – when Gawain offers his head to the Green Knight to uphold his end of the contract from the Christmas Game.  

My work portrays the interaction just before Gawain is struck on the head with the Green Knight’s axe. I was inspired to choose the medium of sculpture (through 3D printing), because it allows for a tangible visual depiction of the scene in question. Furthermore, tangible objects allowed me to unlock more layers of complexity and symbolism in the work – for example, I was able to experiment with the positioning and orientation of the figures alongside manipulating their size and colour to serve my narrative better. Specifically, my work displays two contrasting imaginations of the same scene – on the left (Fig 1), Gawain is portrayed as courageously standing up to battle the Green Knight with his sword and shield aloft; on the right, however, Gawain is shown to be submitting in fear to the power and awesomeness of the Green Knight. By juxtaposing two of Gawain’s diametrically opposed behaviours in close proximity to each other, I hope to evoke further investigation into Gawain’s struggle in behaving like a righteous knight.

In constructing the figure of the Green Knight, size, colour, and material were at the forefront of my considerations. In the romance, the Green Knight is described as “a mountain of a man, immeasurably high, a hulk of a human from head to hips…”, (lines 136-138). To replicate this, I had to deliberately scale up the figure of the Green Knight from an initially meagre height of 50mm. Unfortunately, I was limited by the constraints of the 3D printer, and so I could not make the figure “immeasurably high”, although I was satisfied with the resulting height of 200mm (Fig 2), allowing the Green Knight to tower over both iterations of Gawain (Fig 1). It was also prudent for me to emphasize the size of the axe that the Green Knight brandishes, as it serves as a source of amazement for characters in the romance, and more importantly, contributes to Gawain’s fear which precludes him from wholeheartedly acting in accordance with knightly virtues like bravery and courage. The axe is described as “the mother of all axes” (line 208) and “a cruel piece of kit” (line 209) with a “skull-busting blade” (line 212). Towards the end of the poem, Gawain himself judges the axe to be a weapon for “doling out death…with a brute of a blade” (lines 2233-2234). In keeping with the description of the Green Knight’s weapon, I scoured the internet for a figure of an axe-wielding knight until I found the figure seen in Figure 2. In this figure, the length of the axe from tip to handle is more than the height of the knight itself. Such an exaggerated depiction of the axe contributed to the fearsome appearance of the Green Knight, which adds to Gawain’s trepidation in keeping his bargain.

As regards colour, the Green Knight is described “entirely emerald green” (lines 149-150), wearing clothes with a “background of gold” (line 167), and with an axe “forged in green steel” (line 211). Similarly, I painted the figures of the Green Knight in my work such that they would also sport armor and an axe that are almost entirely emerald green, save for certain elements such as the Knight’s belt, pauldrons, and axe-blade handles which are painted gold. In contrast to this, I elected to leave the figures of Gawain white (see Figs 3(a)&(b), to mimic his spotless armor with “hinged and highly polished plates” (line 576) and to symbolically evoke his purity and virtue, which Gawain does try to uphold throughout the poem, despite his internal struggle.

Though not visually apparent, I distinguished between the material of the filaments used to create the respective figures. The figures of the Green Knight were created using a specially sourced polycarbonate filament, which is highly resistant to heat and impact. Contrary to this, I used the standard acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) filament to create the figures of Gawain. In doing so, I hoped to establish a parallel between the stronger material used to create the figure of the Green Knight and his invulnerability in the poem. In the same vein, choosing a weaker material to make Gawain’s figure represents his fallibility and humanness, even in his attempts to be a valorous knight.

Symbolic Interpretations

Much of the inspiration for my work comes from the contradiction between others’ perceptions of Gawain’s fortitude and his own self-conception. Throughout the poem, there are many occasions where Gawain’s reputation precedes him, such as when he enters the Green Knight’s castle as a guest, whose occupants recognize him as a “person famed for prowess and purity, whose noble skills were sung to the skies.” (lines 912-913). Yet, Gawain describes himself to King Arthur as the “weakest of your (the King’s) warriors and feeblest of wit.” (line 354). While this description could be dismissed as excessive humility, readers are afforded more instances where Gawain struggles with the onerousness of upholding a knightly bearing as opposed to giving in to his personal feelings. One of these instances can be seen from lines 1661-1663, where Gawain returns the attention of his host’s wife, although “tongues might wag”, simply because “to snub a noblewoman was not in his nature.” In fact, the dichotomy between being himself and behaving appropriately as a knight has such a grave effect on him that it “muddled his mind and sent him half mad” (line 1660).

As the fateful day approaches, Gawain grows more and more paranoid about his impending doom, losing sleep and becoming restless. Yet, despite partaking in morally questionable acts (like accepting the magic girdle to save his own life), Gawain demonstrates his commitment to chivalric ideals when he refrains from taking the easy way out to “ride another road and be rescued by Christ” (line 2120). His conflicting impulses are most visible when the Green Knight himself berates Gawain by calling him a “namby-pamby knight” (line 2274) when the latter “shrank at the shoulders” (line 2267) out of fear from the impending axe blow. In response to this, Gawain steels himself to receive the blow despite his fear lingering, and “stood stone-still, or as still as a tree stump anchored in the earth by a hundred roots” – demonstrating an ability to act completely opposite from his behaviour just a moment earlier. (lines 2293-2294).

From the above episode, the Pearl Poet demonstrates that even Gawain, despite being a bold knight, is still susceptible to the same fears, temptations, and feelings that all humans are affected by, and at its crux, this is what my work attempts to encapsulate. The scene in question is deliberately laid out lengthwise on a piece of wood with another piece of wood separating the respective figures (Fig 1). This is done so that if anyone were to look at the work while aligning themselves to the breadth of the wood, they would only be able to see one particular scene unfold (either Gawain attempting to bravely fight the Green Knight, or Gawain surrendering to the Green Knight, depending on which side of the wood they are). However, the true meaning of the work only emerges if the viewer looks at both scenes at the same time – just as both identities (knightly and personal) exist in Gawain at the same time, and not in isolation.

On the left side of the work, Gawain is displayed as bravely trying to fend off the Green Knight (see Fig 1). Here, he is a personification of the ideal knight that he always attempts to be – he is endowed with “spotless armour” (line 631), a magnificent sword and his shield which is shaped in a pentangle. Despite the figure of the Green Knight looming over him, Gawain does not shy away from the seemingly insurmountable challenge in front of him. In stark contrast, on the right side of the work, Gawain is shown to be assuming a submissive position by kneeling with his head bowed in front of the Green Knight (Fig 1). Here, he is bereft of his knightly effects, and holds his empty arms outstretched in a gesture of subservience and an appeal for mercy to the Green Knight, who is about to swing his axe down and behead him. In contrast to the scene on the left, Gawain here is imagined to be giving in to his fear and allowing his personal feelings to overtake his knightly sensibilities.

One of the more striking contrasts between the two Gawain figures is that the figure on the left possesses the magic girdle which protects its wearer from harm, while the figure on the right does not (Fig 3a). I made this distinction because it simultaneously creates a sense of irony but also authenticity in the work. It is ironic that Gawain is pleading with the Green Knight for mercy despite being protected by the girdle. At the same time, it is authentic, because Gawain is finally and unabashedly not precluded from showing his true fear, regardless of whether or not he is protected by the girdle. In this reimagination, Gawain preserves his life, but at the cost of his knightly valor and integrity being called into question. Relatedly, a closer look at the Gawain figure on the left (Fig 3b) reveals that Gawain has seemingly already been beheaded by the knight, as his head is absent. I achieved this by deliberately breaking off the head of the figure after it was created. In this reimagination of the poem, I reinforce the narrative that Gawain’s conscious decision to uphold his morality (as indicated by the absence of the girdle around the figure) and prioritize his knightly courageousness has eclipsed his fear of death or harm. In this reimagination, Gawain may not have escaped with his life, but he upheld his knightly valor till the end.

Ultimately, this project aims to explore the duality of humankind using Gawain as an example. By juxtaposing two versions of the same scene and attributing drastically different results to each, I attempt to illustrate how dual natures exist at the same time and within the same place, in our thoughts and actions. This project does not invalidate Gawain’s bravery (or lack of), but rather objectively celebrates his dilemma as being a distinctly human problem, that all of humankind should be able to empathise with.