Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: Allusions and Subtle Parallels to the Story of David

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In a recent article, Benjamin D. Utter argues that “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” has incorporated a number of elements from the story of David found in the book of Samuel. In the first place, there are a number of general shared themes and motifs between the story of David and Arthurian romances:

Scholars have not overlooked the similarities between the Book of Samuel and the story of Arthur. Both concern legendary monarchs for whom there is little other historical evidence, and present intriguing problems in terms of generic status, cobining national myth, folklore, priestly propaganda, monstrous challengers, and political history. R.A. Shoaf refers to Arthur as he appears in the Alliterative Morte as “Britain’s David,” and it is generally acknowledged that almost any medieval tale involving giants owes at least something to Goliath and his young challenger. Beowulf, for example, seems to bear the influence of the David story: Andy Orchard tallies “no fewer than twelve … points of overlap” between “Beowulf’s fight with Grendel and David’s encounter with Goliath”. (127)

Utter goes on to note the “striking ways in which the poem’s action corresponds to or at least appears to be inflected by the David story” (129). For example, just as Goliath is an intimidating “six cubits and a span” (I Samuel 17:14), the Green Knight is a “half giant at least” (2099-2102). Or again, just as Goliath taunts the Israelites with their supposed inadequacy, the Green Knight taunts the Arthur’s knights, calling them “bot berdles chylder” (mere beardless children) (208).

To read the remainder of Utter’s comparison of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” with the David story, see Benjamin D. Utter, “Gawain and Goliath: Davidic Parallels and the Problem of Penance in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight“, Comitatus: A Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 44 (2013): 121-55.

See also: R.A. Shoaf, “The Alliterative ‘Morte Arthure’: The Story of Britain’s David“, The Journal of English and German Philology 81.2 (1982): 204-226; Andy Orchard, A Critical Companion to “Beowulf” (Cambridge, 2005): 142, 143-45.

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