Sir Gawain And The Hunt
Para Essay, Research Paper
Sir Gawain and the Hunt Parallels
Throughout the poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight , the Pearl Poet uses symbolism to convey to the reader more clearly what is happening, and what will happen in the poem. In part three of this poem, the poet uses the symbolism of the three days of the hunt to visually portray to the reader what is happening to Sir Gawain in his bedchamber. The poet s detailed description of the slaughtering of the animals following each day s hunt serves as a foreshadowing of Sir Gawain s and the Green Knight s future meeting at the Green Chapel.
The three days of the hunt that is lead by Lord Bercilak, or, the Green Knight, as the reader comes to realize, occur while Sir Gawain is supposedly resting peacefully in his bedchamber. On the first day of the hunt, Bercilak and his men chase and kill deer. The deer that are killed are portrayed as innocent, frightened, and confused as to why they are being hunted and how they should react, Deer dashed through the dale, dazed with dread (l. 1151). This scene is directly juxtaposed with Sir Gawain in his bedchamber: So the lord in the linden-wood leads the hunt/ And Gawain the good night in gay bed lies, (1l. 1178-1179). As the bedchamber scene progresses, the lady of the castle, Bercilak s wife, enters slyly to tempt Sir Gawain from his good values. Gawain, seeing himself trapped in his chamber, does not at first know how to react to the lady, much like the confused deer in the wood he first pretends to be asleep, then when he realizes that the lady has not gone away and he opens his eyes, he is immediately barraged by the lady s flattery and tempting, My body is here at hand/ Your each wish to fulfill; (ll.1236-1237). Despite the lady s tempts, Gawain manages to escape, retaining his deer-like innocence. The poet then launches into a detailed description of the slaughtering and preparation of the deer: Then broke open the belly and laid bare the bowels / And next at the neck they neatly parted / With hard strokes they hewed off the head and the neck, (ll.1333, 1335, 1353). The breaking of the deer s belly and laying bare the bowels can be seen as a parallel to when the Green Knight exposes Sir Gawain s flaw in his faith when Gawain flinches after the first swing of the Green Knight s ax. Lines 1335 and 1353 can both be taken as parallels to the anticipated meeting of Gawain and the Green Knight, because the Green Knight is supposed to cut off Gawain s head.
On the second day of the hunt, Lord Bercilak and his men come across a wild boar, and eventually kill it. On this day s hunt, however, they have a far less easy time killing the boar than they did with the deer the day before. The boar puts up a valiant fight before succumbing to Bercilak s sword, and actually injures many of the hounds and the men. In this passage, unlike the first hunt, Gawain s bedchamber scene does not come after the finish of the hunt, but in between the chase and the slaughter of the boar. While Bercilak and his men are trying to corner the boar, the lady of the castle again interrupts Gawain s rest. This time, instead of not knowing how to react to her, and acting like a deer caught in the headlights so to speak, Gawain reacts more like the wild boar that is being hunted; he puts up a fight. When the lady tries to tempt him, this time Gawain cleverly wriggles out of it by telling her that he does not wish to offend her by professing his feelings. No matter what she says to him, or how she tries to tempt him, Gawain remains steadfast in his innocence, just as the wild boar resisted the huntsmen: Thus she tested his temper and tried many a time, / Whatever her true intent, to entice him to sin, / But so fair was his defense that no fault appeared (ll. 1549-1551).
After the lady leaves Sir Gawain, the scene shifts back to the hunt, where, after none of the men can strike the boar dead, Bercilak strides up to the boar and kills him himself. This is a foreshadowing to when Bercilak attempts to kill Sir Gawain at the Green Chapel. In the subsequent description of the preparation of the boar, Bercilak severs the savage head and sets it aloft (l. 1607). Again, this is a parallel to his forthcoming encounter with Sir Gawain.
On the third and final day of the hunt, the Pearl Poet s symbolism reaches a climax when Bercilak chases and kills a fox. The fox is portrayed as being wily and cunning, looping back and forth to throw the hunters off of his track. Again, following the slaughter of the fox, Bercilak cuts its head off, foreshadowing the later scene at the Green Chapel. The fox serves as a symbol for both Sir Gawain and his slip from innocence, and for the cunning of Bercilak s wife. On this third morning, the lady of the castle again enters Sir Gawain s bedchamber to tempt him one last time. The fox can be seen as a symbol for Bercilak s wife, because of her cunning in making Gawain accept the green sash from her, and toppling his faith in God by making him believe in the lifesaving power of the sash. She comes into the bedchamber wearing ermine trim, better known as weasel fur, a relative of the fox, which fits her motive perfectly.
Sir Gawain s fox-like parallels are brought to the forefront when he accepts the lady s green sash. Gawain s agreement with Bercilak is that they will exchange the day s winnings at supper each night for three days. Up to this point, both have made good on their promises. Bercilak has given Gawain the deer, the wild boar, and the fox that was killed during the three days of hunting. The first two nights, Gawain gives Bercilak the kisses he had received from the lady (although he refrains from disclosing the origin of the kisses). After Gawain accepts the sash from Bercilak s wife, he does not give it to Bercilak at the end of the day. Instead, he lies to him and tells him all that he received was three kisses. The lady s tempting finally paid off. He believes that he has gotten away with his lie, like the fox thought he would escape from the hunters. Of course, his mistake was accepting the sash to begin with, because it forced him to abandon his Christian faith in God, and turn to a supernatural belief to save his life from the Green Knight, which ends up being his downfall at the Green Chapel: For the man who possesses this piece of silk, / could not be killed by any craft on earth (ll. 1851 & 1854).
These three days of the hunt serve as a direct parallel to the events surrounding the lady of the castle s tempting of Sir Gawain, and the subsequent moral downfall of Gawain at the Green Chapel his loss of faith. The animals that Bercilak hunts increase in consciousness as the days progress, starting with the deer, who have seemingly no idea why they are being chased, and no understanding as how to react to save themselves, to the boar who at the least, puts up a good fight against the hunters, to finally the wily fox who is cunning enough to try and outsmart the hunters. This parallels Sir Gawain s reactions to the temptations of Bercilak s wife. The Pearl Poet adds this element of dichotomy to further dramatize the action of the story, and to make it clear to the reader of what is and what will happen in the story.