Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a medieval chivalric poem set in the Arthurian tradition that is considered a classic of English literature. The story’s complex plot and lack of a clear antagonist can be confusing to modern readers. In reality, the antagonist is Morgan Le Faye, a trickster who wanted to mock King Arthur’s Round Table Knights.
The poem follows the traditional Arthurian chivalric story elements, combining two significant folklore motifs: the beheading of a character and interchangeable revenge in a tale of dignity and deception. The story begins with a gathering of knights and ladies at King Arthur’s court. Suddenly, a stranger known as the Green Knight appears, challenging King Arthur and his knights to a contest. The Green Knight allows a knight to strike him with an ax on the condition that he will return the blow in one year. Sir Gawain agrees and beheads the Green Knight.
As Sir Gawain tries to find the Green Knight to fulfill his end of the bargain, he stays in a mansion belonging to a man named Bertilak. Gawain plays a game of honesty with Bertilak, confessing that Bertilak’s wife has kissed him. However, on the third day, Gawain is insincere about a girdle that Bertilak’s wife has gifted him, wanting to keep it because of its magic properties. In the final scene, Bertilak reveals that he is, in fact, the Green Knight, and the whole scenario was Morgan Le Faye’s plan to test the Arthur Round Table Knights and their virtues.
While the plot is relatively linear, the antagonist’s motives and persona are mysterious. Morgan Le Faye is the villain of the story, plotting the plan for the strange challenge. By using magic, she disguised Bertilak as the Green Knight, gave him the ability to be beheaded and stay alive, and lured Gawain into his mansion. There, she tested his honesty by seducing him through Bertilak’s cheating wife.
Morgan’s motives are not entirely clear even after the Green Knight reveals his identity and Morgan’s plan. The analysis of her actions in the poem and other Arthurian literature reveals her main goal was to test the knight’s integrity and mock King Arthur’s court by exposing Gawain’s deception. Her plan failed since Gawain is almost honest, and he is praised for undergoing the challenge. This is indicated by how other knights in Arthur’s court wear girdles around their hands to symbolize their support. Hence, Morgan Le Faye is the trickster of the poem, the “moving cause of the entire plot.”
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