Marginalia -- The Journal of the Medieval Reading Group at Cambridge


Reading and Believing: Covenant in the Poems of the Pearl Manuscript

Hope 3e þat He heres not þat eres alle made?
Hit may not be þat He is blynde þat bigged vche y3e.
(Patience, 123-24)1

The narrator of Patience recalls the Psalmist’s words: no one can escape the omniscience of God.2 This omniscience is specifically related by both poet and Psalmist to the faculties of sight and hearing: Jonah will not be able to escape his lord’s command simply by running away to sea since the creator of all sees and hears all. This incident, conveyed through a metonymical use of the senses, is one of many in the poems of the Pearl manuscript in which the poet explores the direct relationship between God and man and, specifically, its manifestations in the covenants of the Old and New Law.3 This essay suggests that by reading the poems in the context of figural imagery, the use of covenant in the works of the Gawain-poet points to a soteriological understanding of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.4 Gawain himself becomes a type for humanity and his final encounter with Bercilak in the chapel thus communicates a model of penance, forgiveness and salvation.

Bĕrīth is the Hebrew word which, in the Old Testament, is applied to ‘the three great covenants established by God at the three critical stages of the history of mankind: the creation, the reestablishment of mankind after the flood, and the birth of the Hebrew nation.’5 The centrality of covenant to the poems in this manuscript is manifest in the inclusion of the stories of both Noah and Abraham in Cleanness. Yet the poet does not allow these episodes in mankind’s history to remain only as aspects of the Old Law, and therefore inapplicable after the institution of the New Law with the Incarnation. Instead, as this essay seeks to demonstrate, the poet’s concept of covenant is figural: the Old Covenant is a figure of the New; the stringent bargain of God with the Jewish people will be fulfilled in the soteriological contract enacted in the Passion of Christ. The Greek version of bĕrīth, διαθηκη (diathēcē), is found in the synoptic gospel accounts of the Last Supper: τουτο το ποτηριον η καινη διαθηκη εν τω αιματι μου, το υπερ υμων εκχυννομενον6 To show clearly the fulfillment of Jeremiah 31.31, in which the prophets contrast the Old Covenant with the promise of the New,7 the most appropriate English word is ‘covenant’; however, in the Vulgate, διαθηκη is translated testamentum.

Since the Latin bible was the only authorised vehicle in the Latin West for the ‘word of God’, the origins of the Mass and its soterial implications through the sacrifice of Christ were inextricable from the legal connotations of testamentum, which include ‘treaty, agreement and covenant’ as well as the ‘Covenant between Man and God, the Old and New Testament’.8 This means that the Passion of Christ implicates believers in a legally binding agreement, which carries with it an impetus to live in a ‘Godly’ manner. I suggest that the poem itself can recreate this covenant. To reach this conclusion, we must return to the emphasis on ‘eres’ and ‘y3e’ in the quotation from Patience with which this essay began. This recalls Gower’s belief as articulated in Confessio Amantis: ‘visus et auditus fragilis sunt ostia mentis’,9 and is vital to our understanding of the way in which a poem might enact a covenantal relationship.

Gower’s words hint at the medieval theories of the brain according to which images (of words or pictures) and sounds connect directly to aspects of human understanding.10 Thus, as V.A. Kolve suggests of the religious lyric, a poem’s words can confidently be expected to lead a reader to ‘a fully imagined devotional response.’11 Indeed, the impetus to action possible through the sensory organs is seen in Pearl when the Dreamer approaches Christ:

Delyt me drof in y3e and ere,
My manez mynde to maddyng malte;
Quen I se3 my frely, I wolde be þere,
By3onde þe water þa3 ho were walte.
(Pearl, 1153-56)

One might ask how this emphasis on the senses can imply a covenantal power for narrative. The answer lies in the role of narrative imagery, since images created by a poet could be as powerful as those seen with the eye, and are prioritised over the understanding gained from words alone: ‘[m]edieval narrative calls upon the “inner eye” to a maximum degree […] because the visual memory is very strong and to images can be attached many details otherwise not readily accessible to the verbal memory.’12 Furthermore, Kolve suggests that action was a corollary of witness: to watch was to participate.13 This concept coheres with the legal process of witness, without which a covenant would not be valid and which implicates the witness himself in a binding understanding of the contract: ‘the very practice of witnessing, of seeing and hearing the material written document, converts affective memory to legal memory’.14 Through the images within these poems, therefore, the reader might be led to understanding and called to action. With the concept of covenant so strongly present in the poems of the manuscript, we see that the ordinary ‘bargain’ of reading, which exists in the relationship of reader and poet, can become a contract through which the reader might be able to reaffirm his part in the soteriological bargain of the New Covenant.

Emily Steiner suggests that the Mass itself can be seen as an enactment of both the spiritual and legal aspects of this covenant. For the bread and wine symbolise the body and blood of Christ, which form the soterial sacrifice, and further, in the act of the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the wine, we see a recreation of the legal process of indenture, in which each of the parties of the covenant retains part of the document. The documentary parallels are made by Steiner in relation to the Pardon in Piers Plowman: ‘In the Sacrifice of the Mass the priest commits an act both affirmative and destructive. He simultaneously re-enacts Christ’s breaking of the bread at the Last Supper and his immolation in the Passion, and it is the simultaneity of that action that makes it contractual.’15

This image of legal and sacrificial merging in the breaking in two of bread, or the carving in two of a body, brings particular resonance to the post-hunt rituals described in Gawain.

Bi þe by3t al of þe þy3es
þe lappez þay launce bihynde;
To hewe hit in two þay hy3es,
Bi þe bakbon to vnbynde.
(Gawain, III.1349-52)

While one might quibble at the application of covenantal theology to what appears to be a simple image of the hunt, the context of the preparation of the carcass is resolutely concerned with covenant.16 As the men ‘hewe hit in two’ the reader is reminded both of the physical gift that Bercilak will make to Gawain (his ‘sacrifice’ to his guest) and of the bargain that they have made: ‘And al I gif yow, Gawayn,’ quoþ þe gome þenne, /‘For by acorde of couenaunt 3e craue hit as your awen.’ (III.1383-84). To borrow Robert Blanch’s words, ‘Gawain’s promises [are] model medieval contracts in construction, form, and execution [that] entail carefully prescribed responsibilities as well as externalised enforcement procedures for the violation of such obligation.’17 In lieu of a documentary contract, the splitting in two of the dead animal recreates the bond of the torn document. And, of course, the carving in two of flesh cannot help but recall the torn flesh that is symbolised in the contractual breaking of bread in the mass. Thus Gawain’s participation in this covenant recalls the believer’s participation in the covenant of the Eucharist. All of these associations are held in the image that the poet creates of the preparation of the meat; they are available for the reader but not fully articulated.

So how does the poet’s model of soteriological covenant in the other poems inform our reading of Gawain? The attaining and attainment of salvation in these poems is inextricable from the sight of God. When Jonah believes himself to be hidden while in the whale’s belly, he still hopes for God’s presence in ‘þy temple’:

'Careful am I, kest out fro þy cler y3en
And deseuered fro þy sy3t; 3t surely I hope
Efte to trede on þy temple and teme to þyseluen.'
(Patience, 314-16)

In Cleanness, the poet presents a model of heaven to explain how salvation might be attained. The ultimate goal is the sight of God,18 which is attained by invitation to a feast dependent on correct, ‘clean’, behaviour. When a man arrives who ‘watz not for a halyday honestly arayed’ (134), he is expelled:

'Take3 hym,’ he biddez,[..]
Stik hym stifly in stokez, and stekez hym þerafter
Depe in doungoun þer doel euer dwellez,
[...] to teche hym be quoynt.’ (154-60)

Yet this soterial model is not rigid; it does not categorise people in the way that, for example, a Calvinist predestinarian system might. Even if one is not dressed correctly for the feast in the present, one might reclothe oneself through the sacraments:

And if He louyes clene layk þat is oure Lorde ryche,
And to be couþe in His courte þou coueytes þenne,
To se þat Semly in sete and His swete face,
Clerrer counseyl con I non, bot þat þou clene worþe.

‘[W]orþe’ simultaneously means ‘be’ and ‘become’,19 and through the dual meaning of this word the poet offers a version of salvation that encompasses not only those who are ‘clene’ in the present, but those who will become ‘clene’. The reader is therefore offered the possibility of achieving purity through participation in the sacraments, since, crucially for Gawain, through confession and absolution, one might ‘clene worþe’.

This specifically Christian (and Roman Catholic) version of covenant is not, however, viewed in isolation. The main episodes of biblical history narrated in Cleanness are, as I have said, all incidents through which the concept of the Old Covenant is developed. The God of this covenant has no room for absolution. Those who fail to live according to their side of the contract will simply be annihilated because, as at the time of the flood, ‘His mercy watz passed, /And alle His pyté departed from peple þat He hated.’ (395-96) The poet focuses on particular individuals to convey the importance of covenant, foreshadowing, perhaps, the way that the specific situation of Gawain’s adventure might speak to readers more succinctly than didactic generalisations:

Hit watz lusty Lothes wyf þat ouer her lyfte schulder
Ones ho bluschet to þe bur3e, bot bod ho no lenger
þat ho has stadde a stiffe ston, a stalworth image,
Al so salt as ani se – and so ho 3et standez. (981-84)

The reader has just witnessed Lot’s wife directly flouting the dietary laws of the covenant: [she] sayde softely to hirself: ‘þis vnsaueré hyne /Louez no salt in her sauce; 3et hit no skyl were /þat oþer burne be boute, þa3 boþe be nyse.’ (822-24)20 So the pillar of salt is a vividly apt transformation which engages the imagination and is thus a powerful reminder of the nature of covenant. Even the raven that Noah sends from the ark, rebuked by the poet for neglecting his task, is a type for fallible humanity: ‘þat watz þe rauen so ronk, þat rebel watz euer; /He watz colored as þe cole, corbyal vntrwe.’ (454-56) These episodes are memorable not just in the strong visual images which they provide for the mind’s ‘inner eye’, but also because they act as anti-types, foreshadowing the incarnation of the obedient Christ whose death will bring about forgiveness to enable sinning humankind to achieve salvation. The typological foundation of Cleanness is manifest in the poet’s description of Adam. Like Gawain, Adam is ‘a freke þat fayled in trawþe’ (236) and his broken covenant demands to be restored before mankind can be saved:

þe defence watz þe fryt þat þe freke towched,
And þe dom is þe deþe þat drepez vus alle;
Al in mesure and meþe watz mad þe vengiaunce,
And efte amended with a mayden þat make had neuer.

The ‘mayden þat make had neuer’ will give birth to Christ, whose death will fulfil the Old Covenant, and begin the New. Auerbach helpfully reminds us that such typological relationships are not just binary but, in the theology of Augustine, a ‘development in three stages: the Law or history of the Jews as a prophetic figura for the appearance of Christ; the incarnation as fulfillment of this figura and at the same time as a new promise of the end of the world and the Last Judgment; and finally, the future occurrence of these events as ultimate fulfillment.’21 This concept prioritises the present time: the acts of the poet and his readers today will influence the way that the ‘ultimate fulfillment’ will occur for each individual. Can we thus read Gawain’s story typologically?

In the opening scenes at Camelot, Gawain enters into a covenant with the knight which governs the structure of the whole romance: he will visit him in a year and a day to receive the stroke of an axe. I suggest that this awaited stroke is a type for the Last Judgement, and what will happen when it falls (will the axe decapitate Gawain? will the soul go to hell?) relates to Gawain’s actions in the intervening year. The clear connection of particular sin with penance and forgiveness portrayed in the green chapel scene provides a model for the way in which the covenant of Christianity should govern the every day life of a believer. The possibility that each person might change, might ‘clene worþe’, creates a soterial impetus for the poem: through reading, an individual may be able to understand how to live in a way that will guarantee his own salvation.

This potential for change is seen also in Pearl, when the maiden responds to the dreamer’s dismissal of the parable of the vineyard (‘Me þynk þy tale vnresounable;’ (590)) She reminds him (and the reader) that:

Hys fraunchyse is large: þat euer dard
To Hym þat matz in synne rescoghe –
No blysse betz fro hem reparde,
For þe grace of God is gret inoghe. (609-12)

‘[E]uer’ here encapsulates ‘at any time’,22 indicating that one may become worthy of salvation: like in Cleanness, one may ‘clene worþe’. Yet the impossibility of fully understanding the nature of covenant is reflected in the narrator’s sceptical reaction to the parable. Christ responds to workers disgruntled because those who came to work later will be paid the same fee:

And I hyred þe for a peny agrete,
Quy bygynnez þou now to þrete?
Watz not a pené þy couenant þore?
Fyrre þen couenande is no3t to plete;
Wy schalte þou þenne ask more? (560-64)

The words of the Pearl Christ simultaneously rebuke those who would be presumptuous about their own soterial state and reinforce the message that salvation is still attainable if sinful man (or, indeed, the reader) chooses to follow the Christian path, however late in life. The workers are reminded that the initial terms of the covenant are unaffected by its capacity to encompass other people into salvation. This divine version of justice meets with a human indignation:

Then more I meled and sayde apert:
‘Me þenk þy tale vnresonable;
Goddez ry3t is redy and euermore rert,
Oþer holy wryt is bot a fable. (589-92)

The dreamer’s inability to appreciate the meaning of the parable threatens the entire vision of heaven that he experiences in the poem.

In a valuable note on the refrain of the final section of Pearl, Howard H. Schless suggests that ‘the legal maxim of the “princes paye” at once establishes the poem’s primary confrontation (or perhaps “interfacings” is more precise) between absolutist and comparative, between New and Old, between divine and human, law.’23 If New and Old are indeed represented by the divine and human respectively, then we can see in the dreamer’s inability to comprehend the parable of the vineyard that the salvation of the New Covenant may be too large for humankind to comprehend. Certainly the ambiguous image of the perle corresponds to an inability to attain a tangible vision of heaven. The narrator famously awakes from his dream at the very moment when the sight of Christ is within reach:

þen wakned I in þat erber wlonk;
My hede vpon þat hylle watz layde
þeras my perle to grounde strayd. (1171-74)

This coheres with the figural version of covenant presented in the poem. While it unifies the old and new laws through the fulfilment of one in the other, it also points to a future fulfilment which cannot be realised in the present. The poet can offer us a glimpse, but it must remain out of reach, like a half-remembered dream.

So it is hard for humans fully to understand the terms of the Christian covenant. I propose that the resolution of Gawain’s covenant with Bercilak in the final scene in the green chapel can suggest a useful account of this bargain and its soteriological implications.

At Haut Desert, Gawain swears an oath, calling God to witness his intention to keep his word:

'Bi God,’ quoþ Gawayn þe gode, ‘I grant þertylle;
And þat yow lyst for to layke lef hit me þynkes.’
‘Who bryngez vus þis beuerage, þis bargayn is maked,’
So sayde þe lorde of þat lede; þay la3ed vchone.

Yet despite Gawain’s association with ‘trawþe’ through the pentangle symbol,24 Bercilak chooses to test him in a form of trial by ordeal. This takes the microcosm of the exchange of gifts to represent both the larger covenant governing the poem’s structure and the covenant between man and God. Paul Hyams’ emphasis on the distinction between verus and verax is particularly useful here: he maintains that, for theologians contemporary to the Gawain-poet, one can be simultaneously verus and mendax simply by withholding aspects of the truth.25 So in the incomplete exchange of the ‘goods’ that he owes according to the covenant, Gawain is a type for fallible humanity. We note that Gawain is not paired with Christ; rather, through the image of the cock, which crows three times at the time of each bedroom and hunt scene,26 he reminds us of a human gospel figure, Peter: qui dixit ei Domine tecum paratus sum et in carcerem et in mortem ire et ille dixit dico tibi Petre non cantabit hodie gallus donec ter abneges nosse me.27 This resonance is apt: Peter’s ‘betrayal’ is forgivable and forgiven, just as Gawain’s transgressions will be absolved by Bercilak.

Bercilak nicks Gawain’s neck with his axe, reminding us of circumcision which was ‘the “sign of the covenant” (’oth berith) of God with Abraham’.28 Further, since this scene occurs on January 1st, the Feast of the Circumcision, it recalls the new covenant whose tripartite structure includes ‘the circumcision by means of which Christ confirms God’s Covenant with Abraham and his seed through sacrifice’.29 So the incision in Gawain’s neck beautifully links the actual event (which is a version of penance leading to absolution) with the new covenant through a figural interpretation.30 The green chapel scene offers a paradigm of new testament salvation: Bercilak represents an omniscient God who enacts penance but ultimately forgives the fallibly human Gawain. However, I do not suggest that Gawain is in any sense a Christian allegory. Rather, I believe that an understanding of figural relationships can help us to posit a reading in which the poem is a fully formed entity, a romance in its own right, just as Cain’s murder of Abel is at once understood to be a historical event and a type of the Crucifixion. Through a figural relationship between Gawain and a human facing last judgement, the poet offers the reader a vision of salvation in a covenant which is binding but which has space for forgiveness of fallibility.

Linda R. Bates (MPhil), U. of Cambridge



ChR The Chaucer Review

MA Medium Aevum

PQ Philological Quarterly

SAC Studies in the Age of Chaucer

Bibliography of Works Consulted

The Complete Works of John Gower, ed. by G.C. Macaulay, 4 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1899-1902), I (1899)

The Cyrurgie of Guy de Chauliac, ed. Margaret S. Ogden, 2 vols (London: Oxford University Press for EETS, 1971), I

The Poems of the Pearl Manuscript: Pearl, Cleanness, Patience, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, ed. Malcolm Andrew and Ronald Waldron, paperback edn (London: Arnold, 1981)

The RSV Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, trans. by Rev. Alfred Marshall, 3rd edn (London: Bagster, 1978)

The Use of Salisbury: the Ordinary of the Mass, ed. by Nick Sandon, 2nd edn (Newton Abbot: Antico Church Music, 1990)


A Latin Dictionary, Lewis and Short (1879) (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984)

Mediae Latinitatis Lexicon Minus, ed. by J.F. Niermeyer and C.Van de Kieft, rev. by J.W.J. Burgers, 2 vols (Leiden: Wissenschaftlichen Buchgesellschaft, 2002) II (1979)

Revised Medieval Latin Word List, ed. by R.E. Latham (1965) (Oxford: Oxford University Press, repr. 1983)

Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, ed. by G.Johannes Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren, trans. by John T. Willis, 14 vols (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1977), II (1975)


Aers, David, ‘Christianity for Courtly Subjects: Reflections on the Gawain-poet’, in A Companion to the Gawain-Poet, ed. by Derek Brewer and Jonathan Gibson (Cambridge: Brewer, 1997), pp.91-101

Auerbach, Erich, “Figura”, trans. by Ralph Manheim, in Scenes from the Drama of European Literature: Six Essays by Erich Auerbach (New York: Meridian, 1959) pp.11-76

____________Mimesis: the representation of reality in Western Literature, (1942-25) trans. by Willard R. Trask, with a new introduction by Edward W. Said (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2003)

Beckwith, Sarah, Christ’s Body: Identity, Culture and Society in Late Medieval Writings (London: Routledge, 1993)

Blanch, Robert J., ‘Medieval Contracts and Covenants: The Legal Coloring of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’, Neophilologus, 68 (1984), 598-610

____________‘Religion and Law in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’, in Approaches to Teaching Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’, ed. by Mirian Youngerman Miller and Jane Chance (New York: MLA, 1986), pp. 93-101

Boulton, J., and W.G. Cooke, ‘Sir Gawayn and the Green Knight: a Poem for Henry of Grosment?’, MA, 68 (1999), 42-54

Brzezinski, Monica, ‘Conscience and Covenant: The Sermon Structure of Cleanness’, Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 89 (1990), 166-80

Clarke, Edwin and Kenneth Dewhurst, An Illustrated History of Brain Function (Oxford: Sandford, 1972)

Edmonson, George, ‘Pearl: The Shadow of the Object, the Shape of the Law’, SAC, 26 (2004), 29-63

Hardman, Philippa, ‘Gawain’s Practice of Piety in Sir Gawayn and the Green Knight’, MA, 68 (1999), 247-67

Harper, John, The Forms and Orders of Western Liturgy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991)

Kolve, V.A., Chaucer and the Imagery of Narrative: the First Five Canterbury Tales (London: Arnold, 1984), chapters 1 and 2

Neaman, Judith S., ‘Sir Gawain’s Covenant: Truth and Timor Mortis’, PQ, (55) 1976, 30-42

Schless, Howard H., ‘Pearl’s ‘Princes Paye’ and the Law’, ChR, 24 (1989), 183-85

Shoaf, R.A., The Poem as Green Girdle: Commercium in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1984)

Steiner, Emily, Documentary Culture and the Making of Medieval English Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003)

Watson, Nicholas, ‘The Gawain-Poet as a Vernacular Theologian’, in A Companion to the Gawain-Poet, ed. by Derek Brewer and Jonathan Gibson (Cambridge: Brewer, 1997), pp.293-313

Wordsworth, Christopher, and Henry Littlehales, The Old Service-Books of the English Church (London: Methuen, 1904)



1. Patience, in The Poems of the Pearl Manuscript: Pearl, Cleanness, Patience, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, ed. by Malcolm Andrew and Ronald Waldron, paperback edn (London: Arnold, 1981). All references to the poems of this MS will be to this edition and will be given in the text.

2. Ps.93.8-9: intellegite stulti in populo et insipientes aliquando discite qui plantavit aurem non audiet aut qui finxit oculum non videbit. All Latin bible references are taken from the Vulgate. (AV: Ps.94.8-9 ‘Understand, ye brutish among the people: and ye fools, when will ye be wise? He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? he that formed the eye, shall he not see?’)

3. Scholars continue to debate the authorship of the poems in this manuscript. I believe, and will assume for the purposes of this essay, that all four poems were written by a single author.

4. Hereafter referred to as Gawain.

5. Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, ed. by G.Johannes Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren, trans. by John T.Willis, Vol II (1975) (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1977), p.274.

6. Luke 22.20: ‘This cup is the new covenant in the blood of me, for you being shed’. cf Mark 14:24; Matt 26:28. Text and translation taken from RSV Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, trans. by Rev. Alfred Marshall, 3rd edn (London: Bagster, 1978).

7. ecce dies veniunt dicit Dominus et feriam domui Israhel et domui Iuda foedus novum (AV: ‘Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah’).

8. Mediae Latinitatis Lexicon Minus, ed. by J.F. Niermeyer and C.Van de Kieft, rev. J.W.J. Burgers, 2 vols (Leiden: Wissenschaftlichen Buchgesellschaft, 2002), II (1979).

9. Book 1, 288a in Complete Works of John Gower, ed. by G.C. Macaulay, 4 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1899-1902), I (1899).

10. These theories are usefully summarised in Edwin Clarke and Kenneth Dewhurst, An Illustrated History of Brain Function (Oxford: Sandford, 1972); c.f. The Cyrurgie of Guy de Chauliac, Vol 1, ed. by Margaret S. Ogden (London: Oxford University Press for EETS, 1971), p.41.

11. V.A. Kolve, Chaucer and the Imagery of Narrative: the First Five Canterbury Tales (London: Arnold, 1984), p.30.

12. Kolve, p.48.

13. Kolve, p.30.

14. Emily Steiner, Documentary Culture and the Making of Medieval English Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), p.69 c.f. pp.26-28 for the necessity of witnesses according to Henry de Bracton’s De legibus.

16. We might also recall the cutting of a calf to seal covenants in the Old Testament e.g. ‘the words of the covenant which they had made before me, when they cut the calf in twain and passed between the parts thereof’ (Jer. 34:18). All occurrences of ‘couenant’ in Gawain are cited in the appendix.

17. Robert J. Blanch, ‘Medieval Contracts and Covenants: The Legal Coloring of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’, Neophilologus, 68 (1984), 598-610 (pp.598-99).

18. 'How schulde we se, þen may we se, þat Syre vpon throne?’ (1112).

19. MED: ‘worthen’ v. 1. ‘To exist, be; also, come into being, come into existence’; 3a. ‘to become; also, develop into’.

20. ‘the covenant is sometimes called berith melach, “a covenant of salt”’, Botterweck, p.263.

21. Erich Auerbach, “Figura”, trans. by Ralph Manheim, in Scenes from the Drama of European Literature: Six Essays by Erich Auerbach (New York: Meridian, 1959) pp.11-76, (p.41). cf Augustine, Enarr. in Psalm, 39, 12 ‘The Jews of the Old Testament, quando adhuc sacrificium verum, quod fideles norunt, in figuris praenuntiabantur, celebrant figuram futurae rei; multi scientes, sed plures ignorantes’ (“when they foretold in figures that true sacrifice which the faithful know, were celebrating figures of a reality to come in the future; for they knew many things, but were ignorant of even more”), quoted by Auerbach, p.40.

22. MED: ever (adv.) 3. ‘With particularizing or generalizing force: at any particular time; at some time or other, at any time at all’.

23. Howard H. Schless, ‘Pearl’s ‘Princes Paye’ and the Law’, ChR, 24 (1989), 183-85, (p.184).

24. Hit is a syngne þat Salamon set sumquyle /In bytoknyng of trawþe, bi tytle þat hit habbez (625-26).

25. This analysis was inspired by Paul Hyams’ seminar at the English Faculty on 30th November 2005.

26. Bi þat þe coke hade crowen and cakled bot þryse (III.1412).

27. Luke 22.33-34 (AV: ‘Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” He said, “I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day until you three times deny that you know me.”’) The porter’s oath as Gawain approaches Haut Desert in Fitt II: ‘3e, Peter!’ quoþ þe porter (II.813) hints to this connection.

28. Botterweck, p.264.

29. Judith S.Neaman, ‘Sir Gawain’s Covenant: Truth and Timor Mortis’, PQ, 55 (1976), 30-42, (p.31).

30. See for example R.A. Shoaf, The Poem as Green Girdle: Commercium in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Gainesville: UP of Florida, 1984).

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