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Comedy and Humor in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight


This is the story of a green super being that goes to a party with an ax and proposes a game. The Green Knight then demands anyone among the people in the party challenges him on the condition that he would return the blow in a year and a day later. Gawain volunteers to challenge him and therefore cuts off the giant’s head in one cut hoping it would die, but contrary to his thoughts the giant picks up his head and affirms their meeting after a year and a day at the Green chapel. On his way in the search for the Green Chapel, Gawain ends up at a Castle that belongs to Bertilak who lives with his wife, and they both welcome him warmly. The actions that take place in this section of the story, form a major part of the flow of the story and show the different themes as applied in the work. A few of the scenes that the writer puts across are attempts for seduction by the hosts’ wife, exchange of gifts, and meeting for revenge by the giant at the Green chapel. In this paper, the aspects of comedy and humor will be discussed to point out the different areas it is used within the story. (Besserman 219-239)

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The fact that the green Knight was the only one that was green makes a reader think that he is playing the green man figure as portrayed in medieval art. Here the role is to symbolize the vitality and fearful irregularity of nature that formed a major aspect of that time’s art. The use of the name Bertilak brings in aspects of comedy and humor as the name may be used from different origins to give different meanings. However, the different sources of the name generally point towards the portrayed character of the host, who also happens to be the Green Knight. The name may be derived from the word bachlach that means unmannerly, bresalak that means infectious and bertolais meaning a bright play, sport, or act of fun. (Hahn 314)

Instances of comedy include the way Bertilak and Gawain used to exchange their yields for the day, and at the end of it all humor comes in after Gawain is given a fox in return for the three kisses he had received from the hosts’ wife. The dealings of Gawain and the hosts’ wife also bring in aspects of comedy as the wife meddles to seduce him and in return is kissed. In another instance, the wife gives Gawain a girdle that she claims would protect him from harm bringing about aspects of comedy and humor. After meeting the Green Knight at the Green Chapel, the giant instead of cutting off Gawains’ head, swing back the axe twice then softly strikes him on the third round only causing him a prick. After this, the humor comes in when the giant reveals himself to be the lord of the Castle and opens up to him that the whole chain of occurrences had been planned. After the defeat and embarrassment that Gawain faces, he returns to Chamelot and claims that knights should wear green girdles as a show for his defeat. (Besserman 219-239)

Comedy can be shown in the part where the acts of seduction and hunting are associated in that, Gawain for the fear of his life attempts to avoid his death by the axe of the giant. As a result, he tricks the host by not giving him the girdle as the agreement was in the hope that it would save him from the harm of the giants’ axe. In this case, he resulted in the use of tricks like the fox unlike the other kills by the host to avoid giving out the girdle. The word gomen meaning game as used in this story severally is similar to gome which means man. In this case, the use of these words is meant to play the role of dramatizing the relationship between men and games which goes further than the ordinary. In this story, it is shown by the challenge the Green knight presents at the party, the exchange of blows, and gifts that are all representative of losing and winning within the flow of the story. (Hahn 314)

Temptation and testing that form a core aspect of medieval literature are shown in different cases within the story by having Gawain meeting his ends of the bargain that meant that he would die from the giant’s axe at some point. He is however tempted not to meet his part of the deal when he fails to give the Girdle to the host as agreed, in the hope that it would keep him away from his inevitable death. (Hahn 314)

The disruption of nature on human activities is dramatized in the parts where a green horse and a rider invade the party, and later the invasion and challenge by the green Knight. In this case, this part is supposed to show the relationship between chivalry and nature, and the aspect of Chivalry also forms part of the character of Gawain. (Besserman 219-239)

Another instance of comedy and humor is the explanation of the looks and size of the strange creature. Here the writer argues that the creature was one of the greatest on earth and goes further to explain that it had a wide neck, big and thick buttocks and that its legs and loins were big and long. The writer goes further to call the creature a half-giant on our planet but with distinctively small parts of its body like the waist, and also the fact that the writer portrays the creature to be green. As an explanation for this part, the author was trying to give an introducing bit for the strange character of the green knight, and in this, the writer attempts to give an implication that the creature is bigger than life. This explanation is further meant to dramatize the association of this creature with supernatural and archaic evil. (Besserman 219-239)

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Another instance of comedy is the part where the writer argues that Gawain was glad to start playing in a hall where men were drinking much and making merry and that they did not mind their deeds over time. Here the writer is trying to give the implication that there is the inevitable change in every individual despite their deeds. The writer also gives the implication of the newness of time with the start of a cycle of it that he portrays as a year. In this aspect, he seeks to give the explanation that with the changing times individuals are affected by the changes of aspects outside them. These aspects outside the individuals can be interpreted to be the changes of nature. The writer is further trying to give the implication that his story would end in an unhappy way. This ending was meant to give the view that the way to live with the inevitable shifts in life was to keep a simple approach towards it. (Besserman 219-239)

The writer also talks of a massive hall with very white chimneys, roofing, and construction mode that the writer portrays as excellent and argues would make a good place for the Christmas feast. As an explanation for this part, the writer is trying to give the implication that Gawain’s sight is caught by the magnificent building of the castle, which he was hoping to have the Christmas celebration in. In this same part, the writer also gives the implication that the Green Knight and the host were just but the same person. However, the writer’s argument that the castle seems like its cut from cardboard further gives the idea that the castle was a mere front appearance rather than the way Gawain thought it was. (Hahn 314)

Another part within the story that portrays comedy and humor is the part where, the writer says that if Gawain was the character he expected of, a man so mannered and meaningful well then, he ought to have acted courteously in the company. The writer further portrays Gawain to be forgetful of what he was being taught or having his mistakes corrected. The other part is where the writer talks of the hosts’ wife who he argues to have counsels of seduction as portrayed in her talk and the kissing that further shows the interaction she had with Gawain. Another aspect that is portrayed in this part is comedy and humor in the conversation of the lady and Gawain that had much emphasis on chastity and courtesy. Here the lady in questioning Gawain’s name and reputation uses cultural imagery in their conversation that further brings in aspects of comedy and humor. This part has dramatization of the conversations where the lady tries to teach the Knight to be a proper man and lover, which she does in an attempt to make Gawain drop his chastity and troubling behavior. (Hahn 314)

The writer also talks of the attempts of wooing of men by women that he argues makes the men end up in sorrow. The writer goes ahead to give the examples of Samson, David and Adam who were all driven into trouble by the convincing power of women. Here according to the writer Gawain is trying comparing himself to the biblical icons who were led astray by the deception of women, though the way he puts it across somehow does fade his argument in trying to blame his wrongs on the host’s wife. (Besserman 219-239)


As a summary, this work is trying to explain the different parts and ways in which humor and comedy are shown in the story. Humor and comedy as elements of communicating the ideas of this work are used by the writer as tools to help pass the ideas more successfully and efficiently. As seen in this work the elements of humor and comedy may also have been used to capture the interest of readers as they make the literature work more capturing, and also help the readers keep track of the flow of the story. It can also be argued that comedy in a piece of work can help dramatize it, where for example it will be easier to act a film from a piece of artwork that has aspects of humor and comedy within its flow.

Work Cited

Besserman, Lawrence. “The Idea of the Green Knight. ELH, Vol. 53, No. 2.” The Johns Hopkins University Press. (Summer 1986): 219-239.

Hahn, Thomas. “The Greene Knight. In Sir Gawain: Eleven Romances and Tales.” Western Michigan: University Medieval Institute Publications. 2000: 314.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, October 27). Comedy and Humor in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Retrieved from


StudyCorgi. (2021, October 27). Comedy and Humor in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

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"Comedy and Humor in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight." StudyCorgi, 27 Oct. 2021,

1. StudyCorgi. "Comedy and Humor in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight." October 27, 2021.


StudyCorgi. "Comedy and Humor in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight." October 27, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "Comedy and Humor in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight." October 27, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Comedy and Humor in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight'. 27 October.

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