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The Green Knight(2021)

This speech describes the reality we find at the Green Chapel: an edifice once dedicated to the worship of the Christian God, now a monument to the irresistible power of the green world to spread over all. It contextualizes the skeleton motif running through the film, and ultimately shapes the meaning of the ambiguous final scene.

The Green Knight(2021)

The Green Knight comes from writer-director David Lowery and stars Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sarita Choudhury, Katie Dickie, Sean Harris, and Ralph Ineson. The story centers around Sir Gawain, King Arthur's nephew, who embarks on a quest to confront the green knight, a large tree-like creature. The story comes from a 14th century novel written by Gawain Poet.

The Green Knight, as Vikander's character, the Lady, characterizes him in a late monologue, is a symbol of supreme earthiness. He's the dominion of greenness over redness, the lust of humans and dreamers of all stripes who find their reach has exceeded their grasp. In that, comes the certainty of nature overtaking even the decrepit forms of legendary kings. Try as he might, Gaiwan cannot overcome that certainty because he's still subject to mortality, same as we all are.

Should they do so, they would win his massive green axe, but, in doing so, they would also agree to travel to the Green Chapel one year later and receive an equal blow by the Green Knight. Wanting to earn his knighthood, Gawain musters up the courage, accepts the challenge, and decapitates the fearsome Green Knight. However, not long thereafter, the Green Knight rises, lifts his own decapitated head, and reminds Gawain of their bargain. One year later his journey to the Green Chapel begins.

We haven't yet seen the film (have you booked your tickets yet?) but the 14th-century manuscript is available to view in full online, and it is also currently on display, for free, in the Treasures Gallery at the British Library. Its full-page illustrations have a charm all of their own, even if they were once dismissed as 'coarsely executed'. Take, for instance, the scene shown below, which prefaces the poem (Cotton MS Nero A X/2, f. 94v). At the top of the page, Sir Gawain (dressed in red and holding an axe) is addressing King Arthur and Queen Guinevere at their distinctly un-round table. Below, the Green Knight mounted on his green horse holds his severed head aloft, in front of a clearly bemused Gawain.

There are three further illustrations accompanying the text of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, all painted in the same palette and in which all the characters have identical features and hairstyles. These illustrations follow one another in sequence at the end of the poem (ff. 129r, 129v, 130r). First, we have Bertilak's lady entering Gawain's bedchamber in order to seduce him (f. 129r). She is wearing what seems to be a turban and a brightly spotted dressing gown. Gawain is swathed, quite fittingly, in a green blanket.

Then we have the scene of Sir Gawain (on horseback) and the Green Knight (wielding the axe) before the Green Chapel (f. 129v). It has to be said that this particular page is exceedingly green, with the odd hints of other colours to delineate Gawain and the Green Knight's blond hair. 041b061a72


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