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Literary Devices in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Literary Devices Examples in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight:

Fytte the First

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"He waxed as wroth as the wind..."   (Fytte the First)

“Waxed” means grew in size or intensity. Arthur’s growing anger or “wroth” is described with a simile, saying it is as angry “as the wind.” An angry wind suggests a severe storm to come. Further, the alliteration of the repeated "W" sound draws emphasis to this passage—and Arthur's anger.

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"His glances were like bright lightning, so said all that saw him...."   (Fytte the First)

A simile is a figure of speech that describes one thing by comparing it to something else using “like” or “as” in the comparison. The Green Knight’s “glances,” the way he looks at those assembled in the hall, are described by comparing them to “bright lightning.” The simile suggests that his glances emanate power and intensity.

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"Such a steed in the world, such a hero as rides him, was never beheld in that hall before that time...."   (Fytte the First)

In this passage and the previous one, visual imagery is employed in describing the Green Knight and his horse. The images in the passages emphasize the beauty and richness of the knight’s elaborate attire and his horse’s equally elaborate decorations.

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"long written in the land in true words...."   (Fytte the First)

The author alludes to the hundreds of years that stories of King Arthur have existed in Britain and asserts that they are true, including the story he will tell of Sir Gawain. By situating this story within the greater context of other tales of King Arthur, the author positions his within an established canon to add credibility and credence to the tale.

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"the trains of treason was tried for his treachery, the truest..."   (Fytte the First)

The alliteration or repetition of the “T” sound at the beginning of “trains,” “treason,” “tried,” “treachery,” and “truest” creates rhythm in the line, in keeping with the use of alliteration in the original text, which was written in verse. Alliteration is employed frequently throughout the text.

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"More pleasant to look on was the being she led. ..."   (Fytte the Second)

To contrast two things is to point out the differences between them. Contrast is employed in describing the lady and the old woman who escorts her. The lady’s youthful, beautiful appearance contrasts with the old woman’s ugly appearance.

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"they sing for the solace of the soft summer..."   (Fytte the Second)

The repetition of the initial “S” sound in “sing,” “solace,” “soft,” and “summer” illustrates the rhythmic alliteration found throughout the text. The soft sibilance of the “S” sound underscores the gentle tone of the description of springtime.

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"This hansel of adventures had Arthur at the beginning, in the young year,..."   (Fytte the Second)

The second part of the story begins by recalling the setting of the first part when Arthur gathered his court for the holiday feast. In context, “hansel” means a gift to mark the start of an undertaking, in this case the beginning of a new year. “This hansel of adventures” is an implied metaphor, a figure of speech that describes one thing by implying that it is something else; Arthur’s “adventures” are described by implying that they are a gift to him.

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"that shed blushing beams like the bright sun..."   (Fytte the Third)

The stone in the ring is described with a simile, a figure of speech that describes one thing by comparing it to another thing, using “like” or “as.” Comparing the “beams,” the lights emanating from the stone, to those of the “bright sun” emphasizes the beauty of the ring.

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"thief..."   (Fytte the Third)

The fox is called a “thief” because foxes often raid hen houses and carry off the chickens. They also eat fruits and vegetables from orchards and gardens.

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"the flight of arrows..."   (Fytte the Third)

“The flight of arrows” is an example of imagery, a literary device that appeals to the senses. The visual image here suggests a large array of airborne arrows raining down on the deer.

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"Full early before the day the folk arose;..."   (Fytte the Third)

The passage is an example of inverted syntax. The usual syntax or structure of a sentence places the subject and verb first, but here the syntax is inverted or reversed with the subject (“folk”) and the verb (“arose”) placed last. If the syntax were not inverted, the passage would read, “The folk arose full early before the day.” Many sentences throughout the text feature this literary device.

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"It whirred and screeched like water at a mill..."   (Fytte the Fourth)

“It whirred and screeched like water at a mill” is a simile describing the sound of the grindstone against the metal, comparing it to the sound of a waterwheel that revolves in powering a mill; “whirred” and “screeched” are examples of imagery that appeals to the sense of hearing.

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"Now I feel in my five wits it is the fiend that has made this bargain with me, to destroy me here...."   (Fytte the Fourth)

“Fiend” is a common literary allusion to the devil. Gawain now suspects that the Green Knight is Satan himself. The passage illustrates the motifs of magic and supernatural events found in many Arthurian tales, motifs which are introduced in Fytte the First with the beheading of the Green Knight.

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"Here about midnight the devil might tell his matins.”..."   (Fytte the Fourth)

Canonical hours are part of Christian liturgy or practice; they are specific hours set aside for prayer each day. “Matins” are prayers said in the very early hours of the morning, beginning at midnight. Associating the devil with Christian prayers is ironic, and suggesting that the green chapel would be an appropriate place to find the devil emphasizes its eerie and sinister atmosphere.

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"but on both sides high steep banks, and rough hunched crags with projecting stones; the shadows of the cliffs seemed to him terrible...."   (Fytte the Fourth)

The visual imagery in the passage creates a sense of foreboding and an ominous mood. The word “shadows” is rich in connotative meaning, suggesting darkness and death.

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"each hill had a hat, a huge mist-cloak...."   (Fytte the Fourth)

In describing the hills, personification is employed by giving them human characteristics; each hill wears a hat and a cloak. Visual imagery is created through the description of mist enveloping the hills.

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