King Arthur "lay at Camelot at Christmastide” (37). The word “lay” means the king lies in a recumbent posture at Camelot during Christmastime (37). Camelot is the capital of Arthur’s kingdom, located in southwest England or southern Wales. King Arthur is joined by gay knights and guests around the Round Table. According to legend, Merlin made the Round Table after a dispute broke out among knights about precedence. The Round Table seated one hundred knights. However, the table described in the poem is not round. The knights and guest were there for “feasting and fellowship and carefree mirth” (40). The term “carefree mirth” means free from care or anxiety. The knights and guests were there to express pleasurable feelings, gratification, happiness and joy (40).
The “feast was in force full fifteen days” (44). The fifteen day feast includes “the meat and the mirth” (45). Mirth” means pleasurable feelings, gratification and happiness and joy (45). The feast includes “gaiety and glee” (46). "Gaiety and glee” is the condition of being gay, cheerfulness with gratification, and entertainment through playfulness of jousting (46). The feast also includes “dancing” (47). In the 14th Century, guests and knights would perform a carol-dance. Carol-dancing is a ring of men and women holding hands, moving in dance step to the rhythm of music.
During the days of feasting, “these lords and these ladies” hearts were high (49). In “peerless pleasures,” in unequal pleasures, they “passed … their days” (50). The guests were the “most-noble knights known under Christ” (51). The ladies were the “loveliest ladies that lived on earth” (52). The king was the “comeliest“ (53). The term “comeliest” is applied to those of noble station, and refers to their pleasing or agreeable morality, to notions of propriety and æsthetic taste (53). "Comeliest" includes a becoming, decent and decorous disposition (53).
Modern English Translation:
This king lay at Camelot at Christmastide;
Many good knights and gay his guests were there,
Arrayed of the Round Table rightful brothers,
With feasting and fellowship and carefree mirth.
There true men contended in tournaments many,
Joined there in jousting these gentle knights,
Then came to the court for carol-dancing,
For the feast was in force full fifteen days,
With all the meat and the mirth that men could devise,
Such gaiety and glee, glorious to hear,
Brave din by day, dancing by night.
These lords and these ladies, for life was sweet.
In peerless pleasures passed they their days,
The most noble knights known under Christ,
And the lovelies ladies that lived on earth ever,
And he the comeliest king, that that court holds,
For all this fair folk in their first age
Happiest of moral kind,
King noblest famed of will;
You would now go far to find
So hardy a host on hill.
Þis kyng lay at Camylot vpon Krystmasse
With mony luflych lorde, ledez of þe best,
Rekenly of þe Rounde Table alle þo rich breþer,
With rych reuel ory3t and rechles merþes.
Þer tournayed tulkes by tymez ful mony,
Justed ful jolilé þise gentyle kni3tes,
Syþen kayred to þe court caroles to make.
For þer þe fest watz ilyche ful fiften dayes,
With alle þe mete and þe mirþe þat men couþe avyse;
Such glaum ande gle glorious to here,
Al watz hap vpon he3e in hallez and chambrez
With lordez and ladies, as leuest him þo3t.
With all þe wele of þe worlde þay woned þer samen,
Þe most kyd kny3tez vnder Krystes seluen,
And þe louelokkest ladies þat euer lif haden,
And he þe comlokest kyng þat þe court haldes;
For al watz þis fayre folk in her first age,
Þe hapnest vnder heuen,
Kyng hy3est mon of wylle;
Hit were now gret nye to neuen
So hardy a here on hille.
Links to other Stanzas from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, by the Gawain poet:
Pearl, Cleanness, Patience, and Sir Gawain reproduced in facsimile from MS. Cotton Nero A. x with Introduction by Sir I. Gollancz, E.E.T.S. 162, 1923.
Syr Gawayne, ed. Sir F. Madden, Bannatyne Club, 1839.
Sir Gawayne and The Green Knight, ed. R. Morris, E.E.T.S. 4, 1864, revd. Sir I. Gollancz 1897 and 1912.
Sir Gawain and The Green Knight, ed. J. R. R. Tolkien and E. V. Gordon, Oxford, 1925.
The Poems of the Pearl Manuscript: Pearl, Cleanness, Patience, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Eds. Malcom Andrew, and Ronald Waldron. Exeter: U of Exeter, 1987.
“Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, The Middle Ages. 8th ed. Vol. A. Eds. Alfred David, and James Simpson. New York, N.Y.: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2006. 160-213.
1. Medieval picture, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, depiction from original manuscript, King Arthur top center, 14th century AD., at British Library, London, England.
2. Medieval feast, artist unknown, century unknown.
3. Medieval jousting, rider unknown, artist unknown, century unknown.
4. Medieval hall, Winchester Great Hall, the only structure in existence from Winchester Castle. The hall was built in 1302 AD, and the castle was built in 1067 AD. Winchester, Hampshire, England.
5. Medieval dance, artist unknown, 9th century AD.
6. Medieval castle, Kent Dover Castle, 12th century AD., Dover, Kent, England.
7. Medieval coat-of-arms, Queen Elizabeth I, September 7, 1533 to March 24, 1603, Queen of England and Ireland, British Museum, London, England.
8. Medieval banquet, place unknown, century unknown.
9. Medieval dance, artist unknown, century unknown.