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Symbolism In Sir Gawain And The Green Knight

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While reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, it’s effortless for the layman to browse over important details and fail to extract meaning from them. When dealing with prose, this is no surprise, as often complete filler sentences are sewn in to stitch one part of the narrative to another. The blunder lies in applying this lackadaisical approach to other forms of literature, in this case epic poetry. In the hands of the master poet, the pen does not waste its precious ink. Each detail, stanza, and alliteration are added for a reason, whether that reason be to paint a dramatic atmosphere, or to symbolize something beyond the words themselves. Through the symbolism found in Sir Gawain’s shield, and the three animals King Bertilak hunts – deer, boar, and fox – the reader learns of both vice and virtue that knight Gawain grapples with in the Pearl Poet’s masterpiece.
While the hype builds for Gawain’s adventure to fulfil his part of the bargain with the Green Knight, the Pearl Poet delves into a 45-line description of the shield he is equipped with. On the front of the shield a golden pentangle was painted, and five sets of five virtues corresponding with each point are expanded upon. The tips of the “endless knot” stood for Gawain’s faultless five senses, his fingers never failing him, all his faith lying in the five wounds Christ received on the cross, his courage which came from the five joys that the Queen of Heaven, Mary, had in Jesus, and a grab-bag of virtues (Pearl Poet
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