With the new Green Knight movie coming out this year, I’m feeling the need to talk a bit more about the magical green girdle and our lasting fixation with “plot coupons”. The Green Knight’s girdle is a classic example of a magical artifact that is central to the plot, but is otherwise meaningless. We’ve started calling these items M(a)cGuffin’s in modern literature and cinema.
In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the girdle goes one step further than the average McGuffin because Gawain obtaining and using it becomes a sign of his weakness. And, if that plot device had never existed in the story, our outcome would be the same: Gawain would receive his axe blow and still be spared by the Green Knight. Really, all the girdle serves to do is prove that Gawain is not honourable, as he lies to Lord Bertilak about receiving it and thus proves that Arthur’s knights are human. Huh. Shocking, that.