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Gaiwan, five wits


Traditionally, the “five wits” of the endless knot on Gawain’s shield in “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” have been read as the five senses—sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. The present paper, following recent work by Peter Whiteford, Simon Kemp, and Garth Fletcher, contends that the five wits may be interpreted as the five internal wits, which include imagination and memory and determine perception. This identification of the five wits as the five internal wits calls into question Gawain’s self-identity, predicated as it is upon the five wits’ faultlessness. In this context, Gawain’s self-understanding is really a self-misunderstanding, and it arguably causes the lapse in his vigilant self-monitoring.