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This article proposes that Sir Gawain and the Green Knight presents emotionally focused content that actively invites readerly empathy with its flawed hero. This poem recruits the potential of the literary text both to represent human emotion, and also to arouse emotional responses in the reader (or hearer). This twofold affective capacity has yet to be analyzed as a key component of the text’s durable appeal and cross-cultural intelligibility. Gawain works as an engaging narrative because it invites from the reader a full understanding of the hero’s hesitant embodied experience, and in turn encourages an empathetic response to a finely nuanced dilemma. Through the representation of mental and emotional states, it primes the reader to simulate the emotional experiences of the hero; to invest affectively in his situation by entertaining the emotions presented in the textual fiction; and to enter a text world that stresses joy over other possible emotional keys.