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Camelot: The Archetypal Environment

In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the setting plays an integral role in the meaning of the poem. The three settings are all inseparable from the events which take place there and the manner in which Gawain is affected by the inhabitants. Camelot, Lord Bertilak’s castle and the Green Chapel and their characters are considerably distinct from each other, each affecting and appealing to Gawain in a particular way. Because of its many positive qualities and familiarity, ultimately, the most attractive and appealing setting is Camelot.

Lord Bertilak’s castle has several positive aspects but is not the most appealing ecause most of these elements are deceptive and potentially dangerous. Although the castle appears magically, it seems realistic because it is “most comely that ever a king possessed,” (42) and, much like other ornately decorated wealthy mansions, “there were curtains of costly silk” (45). The citizens and knights are “many worthy men” (45) and Gawain is given the designation that “most welcome he was of all guests in the / world” (47).

The castle appears to be the ideal place to serve as a knight for the lord is at “his life at the prime,” (45) and the lady “more lovely than Guinevere” (48). The people enjoy gay dancing and “so a wondrous wake they held,” (50) that the days in the enchanting castle are pure bliss. Yet, exhibited by the omission of the Feast of the Holy Innocents, there is much deception to this seemingly perfect castle. The members of the castle do sit and give respect according to a certain hierarchy; but, at the high seat next to the Lady and Lord, sits a pudgy, hideous woman who is directing this mysterious setting.

Although Morgan le Fay makes the castle seem welcoming and ideal, Gawain’s stay there will be marred by a test. Lady Bertilak’s determined pursuit to win his love is not an invitation to courtly love but rather a trial of his chastity and chivalry. Her boldness in inviting Gawain to seduce her is an inappropriate gesture which can only lead to danger. The castle, however lavish and traditional it seems, is a magical entity which is used as an instrument to test the twenty- five fold perfection of Gawain.

Ultimately, Gawain leaves Lord Bertilak’s castle no longer able to wear the pentangle which epitomizes the perfection and completion of a genuine knight, but leaves wearing the girdle. This seemingly helpful and life-preserving cloth is rather a symbol for the portion of the test he fails. Although Lord Bertilak’s castle appears to be even more welcoming than classical Camelot, it is far too mystical and is hardly the most appealing. Regardless of how appealing the Green Chapel may seem, it represents a threatening and intimidating place for Gawain. The Green Chapel is a setting of nature’s beauty and richness.

The grass and herbs are lush and the protected chapel is surrounded by life nurturing water. The wild beauty of the forest and randomness of the surrounding rea is unquestionably pure and innocent. The Green Knight is welcoming and greets Gawain with “may God keep thee! ” (88). Although there is no defined hierarchy, the Green Knight is straightforward about the beheading game and how it should be played. It is apparent that although there are clear rules at the Green Chapel, the visitor’s perspective easily affects the way in which the setting is interpreted.

Gawain comes to the Green Chapel to offer his beloved life as part of a game. Consequently, Gawain sees only the green which shows “devotions in the Devil’s fashions,” (87) and the hot, bubbling water is lowing by nothing more than a “cleft in an old crag” (86). The Green Chapel is a place of mysticism but lacks the deception and obvious magic of Bertilak’s castle. For this reason, regardless of the Green Knight’s friendliness and fairness, he seems threatening and overbearing. His build and gaiety are not admir….. ed as are Lord Bertilak’s.

The form in which the Green Knight appears as Bertilak is festive and harmless, but in this setting, the same physique makes Gawain feel vulnerable and pessimistic. It is in the Green Chapel where Gawain must face the consequences of his actions. Although he is admired by the forgiving and generous Green Knight, Gawain holds steadfast to the fact that he has failed the test entirely due to his minor imperfection. Even though the Green Chapel is a lush and wildly beautiful environment, it can easily be portrayed as threatening and hazardous; which is why the Green Chapel is not the best setting.

Camelot is the most ideal setting because it is has extravagant richness and fame, a structured hierarchy and, most of all, is the familiar, welcoming environment which Gawain ultimately chooses. Arthur’s fame is world renown as it is compared with the Roman Empire or the great city of Troy for of “all that here abode in Britain as kings / ever was Arthur most honored” (20). Arthur and his Round Table contribute to “merriment unmatched,” (20) and during the festivities, the citizens of Camelot enjoyed themselves with “all the meats and all the mirth that men could devise” (20).

Camelot earns the title “under heaven first in fame,” (21) for such a courteous and virtuous king with such loyal knights is an honor which should be given due respect. The days are filled with joyful dancing, gift exchanging, and amusing kissing games and the generous king nd queen sit “ever the highest for the worthiest” (21) with good Gawain at the lady’s side. King Arthur invites all, including the Green Knight, with generosity and respect. Yet, when the Green Knight insists on playing the Beheading Game, Gawain is quick to prevent Arthur from risking his life.

This shows that regardless of the carefree and festive environment, Gawain is never forgetful of his first duty. All the activities at Camelot follow a strictly defined code. Whether the code be one for loyalty to the lord, for chivalry or for how to treat a guest, it is clear and easy to recognize. Camelot has an abundance of ositive qualities which combine to form the model setting. As the model setting, Camelot also lacks many of the unattractive qualities of Lord Bertilak’s castle and the Green Chapel.

First, everything that appears to be true and innocent in Camelot is, in fact, openly real. Camelot cannot be deceptive like Bertilak’s castle and everything from the hierarchy to the honest welcomes has no alternate meaning or motive. Unlike the Green Chapel, visitor’s can only view the castle in a beautiful and positive manner as “all happiness at the highest in halls,” (20) incapable of distortion or misconception. The rules are clearly defined just like at the other two settings but unlike the rules of the Exchange of Winnings, there is no hidden intent.

The illogical hierarchy of Bertilak’s castle is not present and one can easily see that the most noble, virtuous, and beautiful sit the highest where they belong. No one is intimidated by each other and when the Green Knight enters he is recognized as “the mightiest on the middle-earth” (23) but not feared. People’s intentions are not misconstrued as is possible in the Green Chapel and each respectable man gets his due respect. Gawain leaves Camelot not with the shameful irdle, but rather with the prestigious pentangle which he deserves.

Camelot is the most favorable because it does not exhibit any of the poor qualities which are evident in the other two settings and, therefore, is the most appealing environment. Camelot succeeds in being the most attractive and superior setting of all three which Gawain visits due to main attributes. The unattractive qualities are absent in Camelot while providing a most comfortable environment. Only an environment filled with pure utopian qualities such as those of Camelot, can be considered archetypal and ideal.

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