cover image Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Simon Armitage, Translator, James Simpson, Introduction by . N

Composed in medieval England by an unknown poet and set in what were (even then) the old days of King Arthur, the tale of Sir Gawain begins when a magical warrior with green skin and green hair interrupts the Christmas party at Camelot with a bizarre challenge: “If a person here present, within these premises,/ is big or bold or red blooded enough/ to strike me one stroke and be struck in return” in once year's time, says the knight, “I shall give him as a gift this gigantic cleaver.” Pure, loyal Sir Gawain accepts the agreement: the adventures that ensue include a boar hunt, a deer hunt, and an extended flirtation with a noble lady, designed to test Sir Gawain's bravery, fidelity and chastity, and to explore—with some supernatural help—the true meaning of virtue. The Gawain-poet, as he is known to scholars, wrote in Middle English (reproduced here); though it is slightly harder to read than Chaucer, the grammar is more or less our own. Armitage (The Shout ), one of England's most popular poets, brings an attractive contemporary fluency to the Gawain-poet's accentual, alliterative verse: We hear the knights of Round Table “chatting away charmingly, exchanging views.” This is a compelling new version of a classic. (Oct.)