Grade: Senior
Subject: Literature

#2782. Discussion questions on Sir Gawain

Literature, level: Senior
Posted Mon Jan 6 09:41:52 PST 2003 by Richard Bloom (
Central HS of Prince George's County Public Schools, Capitol Heights, Maryland
Materials Required: text, looseleaf for answers, handout
Activity Time: minimum one period for each of 5 parts
Concepts Taught: feudalism, chivalry; plot, characterization, theme

1. For what purpose would the Gawain poet place King Arthur in line with the founders of the ancient civilizations?

2. Why is Sir Gawain and the Green Knight said to be written in alliterative verse?

3. While describing the knights and ladies of Arthur's court, the Gawain poet alludes to some of the values of his audience? What adjectives, used to describe these scenes of "revelry", correspond to these values?

4. How does the poet describe King Arthur? Does he remind you of anyone you know or have known?

5. What does Arthur challenge the Green Knight to do? Why, do you think?

6. What is the Knight's reaction to this challenge?

7. How does Sir Gawain rationalize his request of Arthur that he be the one to accept the Knight's challenge? What qualities does he thus show?

8. What bargain does the Green Knight strike with Gawain?

9. Describe the reaction of the gathered crowd to the spectacle that enfolds before Arthur.


1. Why did the lords and ladies have "sorrow" for Gawain? Why did they "make mirth" for his sake? (l. 540)

2. Why do you think the Gawain poet aggrandizes Gawain by describing his equipment and clothing in such extravagant and hyperbolic detail? (566-589)

3. What might the significance of the birds that are embroidered on Gawain's suit be? (610)

4. What are Gawain's "five virtues"? (651)

5. Summarize the attitude of Gawain's kinsmen to the King who allowed his knight to dual with a Green Knight "for empty pride", "caught in a cavil [conspiracy] in a Christmas game"? (674-683)

6. What do you think is the dramatic significance of the fact that the townspeople are unable to give Gawain directions to the Green Chapel of the Green Knight? (707)

7. Who is the "Sire" to which the poet refers in l. 751?

8. Gawain is praised more extravagantly by those who await his appearance for dinner than by any who knew him at the Round Table, earlier in the epic. Why, do you think, he seems to have grown in the poet's--and reader's--eyes? (916-927)

9. For what reason do Gawain and his host sit together, "soberly"? (940)

10. Speculate on the symbolic significance of the two ladies--one old and weathered, the other "fresh as the first snow"? (956)

11. The final passage of Part II is reminiscent of what earlier passage in the epic?


Part III

1. Why, do you think, the Green Knight feigns sleep when the "lady" appears at his bedside? (line 1187)?

2. What is the "truce" that the lady proposes to Gawain? (1210-1240)

3. Restate the meaning of the sentence that begins, "But there are ladies, believe me . . .". (1251)

4. What are Gawain's three reasons for not accepting the lady's advances? (1266, 1276, 1283)

5. Sir Gawain combines three "games" that were part of every epic poet's repertoire in the 14th century--"Blow for blow"; "Temptress"; and "You get part of my winnings". What do you think is the thematic significance of each to the story? (1384)

6. Part III tells the story of the three hunts on which Gawain's host goes; each is accompanied by a visit of the "lady" to Gawain's bedchamber. What do you think is the symbolic significance of the deer, the boar, and the fox--each of which is killed by Gawain's host, respectively?

7. Is there any correspondence between each of the animals' symbolic significance and the behavior of knight and lady during each visit? (1208, 1471, 1746)

8. Do Gawain's prayers seem inspired genuinely by faith? (1876)

Part IV

1. Why is it said that Gawain decides to keep the girdle the lady had given him? Is such a reason truly chivalric? (2040)

2. How does Gawain's host describe the Green Knight? (2097-2117)

3. Do you think it is "for the love of Christ" that Gawain's host advises him to avoid the forest where the Green Knight lurks? Which is the more Christian alternative--to reciprocate the
bargain with the Knight when one knows one is not immortal, or to flee it? Support your answer with a passage from either Deuteronomy 30: 18-20, 2 Kings 18: 31-33, or Joshua 21: 44-46 and 23: 13-15. (1220)

4. What would his host say he would do in Gawain's position? (2150)

5. What is Gawain's final answer to his generous host? (2157)

6. Describe the Green Chapel, in your own words. (2180 ff. [and following])

7. "God love you!" says the Green Knight when he spies Gawain. What might the significance of this casual aside be, in the long run? (2239)

8. How does Gawain react to the axe's blow? (2265-2267)

9. What is the Green Knight's response? Is it reasonable? (2269-2279)

10. How does Gawain qualify his request to the Knight for a second chance? Who seems more reasonable, then? (2282)

11. What is the significance of the words Gawain uses to provoke the Knight to use his axe as promised? Do they have any relationship to the outcome? (2284-2287; 2300-2301)

12. "Harry me no more!" cries Gawain after the Knight misses his head and grazes only his neck-- intentionally. What is Gawain's reaction to seeing his own blood in the snow? (2315 ff.)

13. Why does the Knight excuse Gawain's enjoyment of the Knight's wife? (2366-68)

14. What is Gawain's angry response to the Knight's story? Do you think it is warranted? (2378-2388)

15. How does Gawain's attitude toward the green girdle mirror his attitude toward the ordeal he has endured? (2329-2437)

16. We learn that the Green Knight is really Bercilak de Hautdesert, who owes his power to sinister Morgan le Faye, Gawain's aunt! The Knight tells Gawain he has "tested" him because his aunt wanted to reveal the "surfeit of pride" in Arthur's Court as well as to scare Arthur's wife, Guenevere, with the mock beheading. What is Gawain's reaction to these revelations? (2445)

17. What is Gawain's filial relationship, then, to King Arthur, the Green Knight, and the Knight's wife? (2464-2467)

18. Finally, what do Gawain's neck scar and the green girdle he wears symbolize, for him? What are their parallels in the Bible? (2506-2512)