The author of the late-medieval Arthurian romance Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is unknown. He was a contemporary of Geoffrey Chaucer, which means that he was writing in the late fourteenth century, and he is probably the author of three other works, including the long allegorical poem Pearl.
Although the Gawain Poet was living and writing at the same time as Chaucer, they moved in radically different cultural worlds. Chaucer was based in London which was then, as now, much more cosmopolitan than the rest of the country. Chaucer’s language, which melded the Norman French of the aristocracy with the Anglo-Saxon Germanic tongue of the general population, would become the model of written English, which is why Chaucer is sometimes called the “father of English poetry” or the “father of English literature.” His literary style was influenced by the poetry of the embryonic European Renaissance, with its formal patterns of meter and rhyme.
The Gawain Poet, on the other hand, lived in the rustic hinterlands of the English west midlands, in the area that had been the kingdom of Mercia in Anglo-Saxon times. His poetry shows less European influence than Chaucer’s, relying on older, indeed Old English verse forms, dating back to the time of Beowulf in the early eighth century, more than six hundred years earlier. In addition, the dialect in which the Gawain Poet wrote was closer to the Old English of Anglo-Saxon times than to the Middle English, with its French admixture, in which Chaucer wrote. For this reason, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight needs to be translated into modern English in order to be understood, whereas Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales can be read and understood, with a little due diligence, by modern readers.