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. 

The Green Knight: The Limitations of Human Capacity


The Green Knight: The Limitations of Human Capacity
An Interpretation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Medieval Romance: Magic and the Supernatural (YHU2309)

Artist’s Remarks

In ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,’ the Green Knight taunts the Arthurian court by using his grandeur to emphasize their shortcomings and haunts Sir Gawain, who comes to fear his mortality at the Green Knight’s hands. As I carried the Pearl poet’s Green Knight in my mind across the weeks, I realized that his existence is a direct challenge to the limitations of human capacity. I hoped to capture this aspect of the Green Knight’s existence in physical recreation. I have created a model out of crushed papers, fallen leaves, and green plastic bags in my creative interpretation. His armor is made of leaves painted over in green to cast them as “evergreen,” and as per the description in the text, the Green Knight remains shoeless. He is beheaded, holding his head – wrapped in green plastic – by his side. He has a red braid around his waist and decapitated head. My creative decisions in making this model (whom I affectionately call “man”) are products of much deliberation. As this essay proves, my decisions document the dilemmas I faced as I worked within my own human capacity limitations. 

From the introduction of the Green Knight, he is set apart from the knights of the Arthurian court in how massive his stature is. The first descriptions of the Knight depict him as “a mountain of a man, immeasurably high, / a hulk of a human” (lines 137-138), placing him (literally) a head and shoulders above the other knights. To attempt to capture this “most massive man” (line 141), I set out to create a model as large and sturdy as I could make it. The model is big – I was indeed questioned by passersby, who noticed I was carrying a rather large (and green) model of a man back and forth from the Art Studio. However, I admit he is not as large as I would have liked him to be. Running into issues of storage, transportation, and resource shortages pointed me to the limitations of my own capacity. I also planned to make this model out of wood to give him the bulk and durability that his title as the “mightiest of mortals” (line 141) commands. However, a lack of resources and expertise led me to use crushed papers to construct the base – unfortunately, making my model extremely flimsy. Again, I faced limitations in what I was capable of creating. In this trial-and-error process, I realized that these were uniquely human problems that curtailed how large and sturdy I could make the model I created with my own hands. I doubt nature runs into such issues in creating features of the natural world. Thus, in this failed venture of recreating the physicality of the Green Knight, I paralleled the Arthurian knights in my realization that I could not recreate his build in the same way the knights could not match the Green Knight’s stature. 

The otherworldliness of the Green Knight lies in the striking feature of his greenness. This sets him distinctly apart from the other knights as the green hue demarcates him as a being not of the human realm but instead of natural earthen powers beyond human imaginaries. I used leaves in my model of the Knight’s armor to embody his extraordinary abilities. These leaves browned over the time I created the model, presenting me with a dilemma. Browning is normal for leaves, but in my pursuit to recreate the Green Knight in all his glory, I was left unsure of what to do. Was I to leave the browning leaves and lose the unique greenness of the character I was trying to bring to life? Or was I to paint over the leaves in green to honor his greenness and compromise my desire to incorporate wholly natural elements into my model? Leaving the leaves untouched and unpainted betrays the “entirely emerald green” (line 150) depiction of the Green Knight, but it would represent the strength of nature over man’s will. Human desire has to adjust around the state of nature: I could not alter the state of the leaves naturally unless I were to obtain evergreen leaves (another limitation of my capacities). This particular scenario seemed to parallel the absolute power the Green Knight yields by being a representation of the natural forces of the earth – the “force of [his] fist would be a thunderbolt” (line 201). I, however, chose to paint over the leaves, believing that not recreating the green tint of the Green Knight would be a higher opportunity cost. This desire to stay true to the Green Knight’s tint allowed me to find an answer to the question the Pearl poet poses: “what did it mean that human could develop this hue?” (line 234). The greenness is such a marvelous characteristic that it indeed acts as a distinguisher from the other humans of the Arthurian court for the Green Knight to have developed it. 

Unsettlingly, despite the features that make the Green Knight distinctly not human, his existence as the ‘knight’ who is ‘green’ portrays him as a human. This makes his existence paradoxical – he is a symbol of elemental forces, yet only ever referred to as a man or human. He might be a “mountain” but is still a “man”; a “hulk” but still a “human.” This paradox seems uncomfortable in that his supposed humanity exacerbates Gawain and the other Arthurian knights’ shortcomings in comparison to him. By being a human and still yielding such power in his immortality despite being beheaded, the limitations of the human condition are further exposed. I hoped to capture this disturbing dichotomy by using leaves to depict the “veritably verdant” (line 161) quality of the knight while using pieces of a green plastic bag as the model’s sleeves and pants. Plastic waste is a human creation that serves to destroy wildlife and natural habitats. Even placing the plastic beside the leaves seemed strange – I was juxtaposing an emblem of nature beside a token of the destruction that humanity is capable of. Meditating on this, I realized I wanted to nuance this dichotomy further. I took artistic liberty to include a braided red chain around the model’s waist to depict the holly sprig the Green Knight holds as a symbol of eternal life. The model is also headless – his head lies attached to his hand, wrapped in green plastic with the same red string tied around it. I particularly enjoyed the irony in this image: the plastic seems to be suffocating the knight’s head, mirroring dark and gruesome images of modern-day murders, in much the same manner that humanity is destroying the environment. The shoelessness of the model – the only depiction of vulnerability the Green Knight bears in the story – adds to the sense of hopelessness and fragility of the human condition. However, the red strings symbolize the eternal life of the Green Knight. Understanding his immortality against his portrayal as a human being allows for a deeper appreciation of his otherworldly powers far beyond human capacity. Creating these layers of paradoxes to emphasize the Green Knight’s powers above that of humanity proved to be a humbling parallel to Gawain’s fear in facing his mortality in his challenge with the Green Knight.

Ultimately, I believe this reflection has become a record of the questions I grappled with in trying to create this knight. There was a lot I wanted to do but could not end up doing, or I had to choose to do something over another. Mostly, it was out of my capacity to bring to life my ideas precisely as I envisioned them. At the end of this project, I now realize that this, in itself, is a lesson I’ve learned from the Green Knight. Embarking on this project led me to deep meditation on the limits of human capacity. In the same way that the Green Knight epitomized the shortcomings of Sir Gawain by constantly reminding him – taunting him even – of his mortality as a human, I now see that creating this model has taunted me with my own limitations as a human attempting to recreate the true essence of the mystical being of the natural world that is the Green Knight. 


Armitage, Simon, trans. (2009) Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. W.W. Norton & Company.