In literature, insights into characters, places, and events are often communicated to the reader through the use of imagery within the text. Thus is the case with “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”. The Pearl Poet’s use of imagery runs rampant within the work culminating to set forth the theme of mysticism and/or the supernatural. In this Medieval romance, the types of imagery used are that of the season or climate, the colors and textures of fabrics and jewelry, and that of the introduction of the Green Knight himself.
The seasons play a major role in the development of the plot, allowing action to skip several months at a time by simply mentioning the turning of the leaves.
The thematic imagery starts to outline the theme of the supernatural, when dealing with meteorological changes. For example when Gawain is searching for the Green Knight’s Chapel, it is mid-winter. Christmas is approaching, yet what answers his prayers comes in the form of something nearly unimaginable.
“We are made aware of the importance of the castle first when it just suddenly appears from nowhere and secondly when we notice it is set in a green field. The green field makes no sense to the reader because it is the middle of winter, but it does signify the fact that the appearance of the castle is not accidental. It is the combination of Sir Gawain’s prayer, the appearance of a beautiful summer landscape and the castle in the middle of it that strikes the reader and asks the question: What does it mean? The castle is great with a “palisade of palings” planted about for about two miles.
It is shining in the sun, and Sir Gawain is standing in awe looking at it. He is thankful to “Jesus and Saint Julian” that they have put this castle there for him.” (Mossakowski 1)
This appearance in out of the middle of nowhere definitely carries with it some mystical, magical weight. The fog near the Green Knight’s demolished chapel can also be described as a change in atmosphere which leads to some mystical or magical emotions.
The attires of the characters do not match up to these atmospheric conditions when it comes down the supernatural. If anything they can be said to have an unrealistic or inflated view of medieval life.
The narrative opens with a holiday feast in King Arthur’s court. The richness of this setting is represented by the decorations surrounding Queen Guenevere described in lines 76-80. “With costly silk curtains, a canopy over, / Of Toulouse and Turkestan tapestries rich / All broidered and bordered with the best gems / Ever brought into Britain, with bright pennies / to pay.” These lines also symbolize the queen’s role in the poem of a stately symbol of chivalric Camelot and as a female ideal. In this setting women are all around, but Guenevere is positioned above them and is surrounded by expensive, beautiful things. She is clearly made superior.
Gawain, Arthur’s knight who takes the Green Knight’s challenge, is portrayed in different lights as the story progresses. Descriptions of fabric and clothing are integral to this portrayal. When he is departing Camelot to find the Green Knight, Gawain is depicted as a virtuous, chivalrous knight bravely facing his fate. His clothing, therefore, is red, symbolizing courage, and bears a gold pentangle, a symbol of virtue. This is described in lines 636-639, “On shield and coat in view / He bore that emblem bright / As to his word most true / And in speech most courteous knight.” Later, when Gawain is taken in by the castle he happens upon, the fabric descriptions reflect how he is being taken care of.
For example, lines 856, “A canopy over the couch, clad all with fur” and 877 “With quilts quaintly stitched, and cushions bedside” give the reader a sense of Gawain’s being sheltered. Then, when he is preparing to go meet the Green Knight, contrast is shown between his former bravery and his cowardice since accepting the protective green girdle from the Green Knight’s wife by lines 2035-2036, “That girdle of green so goodly to see / That against the gay .