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1001 Stories Collection

Gawain and the Green Knight

1001 Gawain
Added on 03rd September 2020

Oral tradition British Chivalric Romance

A well known Arthurian tale about a very dangerous game.

Story

The Green Knight appears at Camelot castle to challenge Sir Gawain to a Christmas duel. Gawain strikes the Green Knight as hard as he can with his axe and knocks the knight’s head clean from his shoulders. In a year-and-a-days’ time, the two meet again at the Green Chapel.

Why we chose it

A story from King Arthur’s court, Gawain and the Green Knight is a tale of chivalry and adventure about facing fear and temptation. In the original Old English the alliterative language matches the landscape adding atmosphere to what would have been an orally told story. It has been very popular with modern translators who have introduced it to a new audience.

Where it came from

Written in a Cheshire dialect in the early- to mid-14th century, this tale comes from the North-West region of Britain. Although often attributed to the anonymous ‘Gawain Poet’, there have been suggestions that John Massey wrote the tale. However, this fact remains heavily contested.

Where it went next

Gawain and the Green Knight exists in a single, hand-sized manuscript-copy in the British Library (named Cotton MS Nero A X), into which it was copied by a scribe in the late 15th century. The tale was largely forgotten until the Victorian period, but there have been numerous translations since. Famous translations include those by J. R. R. Tolkien and Simon Armitage.

Associated stories

Gawain and the Green Knight is in a manuscript with Patience, Purity, and Pure, also thought to have been written by the ‘Gawain Poet’. The concept of a playing a beheading game is also common in folktales and can be found in the 8th-century Middle Irish tale Bricriu’s Feast, the late 12th century Middle-French narrative Life of Caradoc, and the early 13th-century Perlesvaus.

Added on 03rd September 2020

Oral tradition British Chivalric Romance