the Green Knight from the “Book of Hours”, 1475-1500
The Green Knight is a character in the 14th-century Arthurian poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the related work The Greene Knight. His true name is revealed to be Bercilak (or Berkilak) de Hautdesert in Sir Gawain, while The Greene Knight names him “Bredbeddle”. The Green Knight later appears as one of Arthur’s greatest champions in the fragmentaryballad ”King Arthur and King Cornwall”, again under the name “Bredbeddle”. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Bercilak is transformed into the Green Knight by Morgan le Fay, a traditional adversary of King Arthur, in order to test his court. In The Greene Knight he is transformed by a different woman for the same purpose. In both stories he sends his wife to seduce Gawain as a further test. “King Arthur and King Cornwall” portrays him as an exorcist and one of the most powerful knights in Arthur’s court.
In Sir Gawain, the Green Knight is so called because his skin and clothes are green. The meaning of his greenness has puzzled scholars since the discovery of the poem, who identify him variously as the Green Man, a vegetation being in medieval art; a recollection of a figure from Celtic mythology; a Christian symbol; or the Devil himself. The medieval scholar C. S. Lewis said the character was “as vivid and concrete as any image in literature.” J. R. R. Tolkien called him the “most difficult character” to interpret in the introduction to his edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. His major role in Arthurian literature includes being a judge and tester of knights, and as such the other characters see him as friendly but terrifying and somewhat mysterious (from wikipedia)