The confessional scenes in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight have long been sources of contention in scholarship. Critics are unable to reach a consensus on why Gawain hides the green girdle before his confession at Bertilak's castle, and on what significance the second quasi-confessional episode at the Green Chapel holds. Ideas about confession developed by the likes of Simon of Tournai, Alan of Lille, Thomas Aquinas, and John Duns Scotus can help to decode these puzzling sections of the text. This article contends that Gawain follows a standard penitential narrative outlined by canon law and scholastic theology, from an imperfect state of sorrow for his sins (attrition) to a perfect state (contrition). That is, after his initial confession, Gawain embarks on a penitential development that is completed only once he has faced the Green Knight and returned to Camelot, turning from attrition to contrition.

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