The Green Knight
Written by Heroes and Mortals on August 8, 2021
King Arthur is familiar to everyone who loves medieval stories and to many so are the expanded stories of individual characters within Arthurian legend. One of those characters, Sir Gawain, has been written about extensively, particularly his quest against The Green Knight in two famous 14th century poems, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and The Green Knight.
The story most of us are familiar with has the Green Knight challenging any one of King Arthur’s Knight’s to stike him once with his axe, on the condition that he will return in one year to deliver a single strike back to that Knight. A seemingly easy contest to win, there are multiple acceptees of the challenge but Sir Gawain ends up taking the challenge and (spoilers!) decapitates the Green Knight, who picks up his own head, reattaches it, and tells Gawain to meet him in one year’s time. Between the next meeting of the two knights, Gawain is submitted to tests of loyalty and chastity by the Green Knight and upon the determined time and place, Gawain arrives to accept his fate.
There have been many stories and films about the Green Knight and with the upcoming film (see trailer below), we thought we’d look into just how many stories, films, and other creative media have been created around the story of the Green Knight. We’ve also listed some academic sources as well if you’re interested in learning more.
Gawain Manuscript from the University of Calgary (hi-res scans, these are very cool!)
Public Texts, Books and Academic Listings
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight translated by Jessie Weston (the first modern English translation in 1898)
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl and Sir Orfeo by J.R.R. Tolkien and edited by Chrisopher Tolkien in 1975 (not to be confused with the Middle English version of The Green Knight from 1925)
University of Calgary Web Resources for Pearl-poet Study: A Vetted Selection (multiple linked resources)
Film and Television
The Green Knight (2021) Trailer:
Audiobooks, Podcasts and Music
In Our Time: S21/14 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Dec 13 2018 (this is an excellent listen)
Sir Gawain And The Green Knight by Heather Dale
Miscellaneous Works and Retellings
Adventure Time, “Seventeen” (Ok, not exactly an historical depiction but it IS the Green Knight!)
Theatre and Opera
1971: The Tyneside Theatre company presented a stage version of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight at the University Theatre in Newcastle. Directed by Michael Bogdanov; adapted for the stage from the translation by Brian Stone.
1978: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was first adapted as an opera by composer Richard Blackford on commission from the village of Blewbury, Oxfordshire.
1991: Opera adaptation called Gawain by Harrison Birtwistle first performed.
1992: Simon Corble wrote a stage version with medieval songs and music for The Midsommer Actors’ Company.
Wow! And there are dozens more academic papers and books we didn’t include. If you have any favorites, or we missed some film or television adaptations, let us know in the comments.
Image source: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (from original manuscript, artist unknown)