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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Manuscript Unknown author, though clearly a popular poet, well-educated, and versed (though not professionally so) in.

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Presentation on theme: "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Manuscript Unknown author, though clearly a popular poet, well-educated, and versed (though not professionally so) in."— Presentation transcript:

1 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

2 Manuscript Unknown author, though clearly a popular poet, well-educated, and versed (though not professionally so) in theology Unknown author, though clearly a popular poet, well-educated, and versed (though not professionally so) in theology The poem shows influence of Latin and French language and culture, but is written in North Midlands dialect The poem shows influence of Latin and French language and culture, but is written in North Midlands dialect Written around (roughly the same time period as Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales Written around (roughly the same time period as Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales Single manuscript also contains Pearl, Patience, and Purity (Cleanness) Single manuscript also contains Pearl, Patience, and Purity (Cleanness)

3 Poetic Form and Devices Alliterative Revival – 14 th century movement to “use the old native metre and style long rusticated for high and serious writing” (Tolkien 1975) Alliterative Revival – 14 th century movement to “use the old native metre and style long rusticated for high and serious writing” (Tolkien 1975) Stanza form and rhymed verse reflect French influence (vs. stichic or heroic couplet form of Beowulf ) Stanza form and rhymed verse reflect French influence (vs. stichic or heroic couplet form of Beowulf ) “Bob and wheel” structure (blend of Anglo-Saxon and French) “Bob and wheel” structure (blend of Anglo-Saxon and French) −Stanzas: unrhymed lines, four stresses per line, three of which are usually alliterated −Bob: one iambic line of two syllables, one stress (emphasis) −Wheel: four three-stress lines (summary and anticipation) −Bob and wheel structure rhymes ABABA

4 Poetic Form and Devices “Wherefore a marvel among men I mean to recall, A sight strange to see some men have held it, One of the wildest adventures of the wonders of Arthur. If you will listen to this lay but a little while now, I will tell it at once as in town I have heard it told, As it is fixed and fettered In story brave and bold, thus linked and truly lettered, as was loved in this land of old.” (Stanza 2)

5 Structure of the Poem Symmetrical structure: Four parts, three major elements Symmetrical structure: Four parts, three major elements Beheading game Beheading game Temptation story Temptation story Exchange of winnings Exchange of winnings Circular or “concentric ring” structure (Solomon 1963) – begins and ends with Brutus, January and King Arthur’s court Circular or “concentric ring” structure (Solomon 1963) – begins and ends with Brutus, January and King Arthur’s court Two New Year’s Days, two beheading scenes, two courts, two robing scenes, two confessions, three hunts, three kisses, three axe strokes, three hunt scenes and three bedroom scenes Two New Year’s Days, two beheading scenes, two courts, two robing scenes, two confessions, three hunts, three kisses, three axe strokes, three hunt scenes and three bedroom scenes Three Gawains: Three Gawains: Courteous and brave brother of Round Table Courteous and brave brother of Round Table Flawless exemplar of Christian chivalry Flawless exemplar of Christian chivalry Flawed everyman Flawed everyman

6 Beowulf and Sir Gawain Both heroes belong to a ruling military class Both heroes belong to a ruling military class Both warriors are courageous Both warriors are courageous Both are zealous for their personal honor Both are zealous for their personal honor Both risk their lives for the honor of their liege lords Both risk their lives for the honor of their liege lords Both of their stories include magic as an element Both of their stories include magic as an element

7 Beowulf vs. Sir Gawain Beowulf makes a boastful speech about his accomplishments; Gawain lives by a code of humility Beowulf makes a boastful speech about his accomplishments; Gawain lives by a code of humility Beowulf is basically a pagan story to which Christian values have been added. Sir Gawain serves his Heavenly Lord as well as an earthly one. Beowulf is basically a pagan story to which Christian values have been added. Sir Gawain serves his Heavenly Lord as well as an earthly one. Beowulf is a sad poem, but Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is subtly comic. Beowulf is a sad poem, but Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is subtly comic. In Beowulf the hero dies, but Sir Gawain is (possibly) redeemed after his failure. In Beowulf the hero dies, but Sir Gawain is (possibly) redeemed after his failure. Beowulf speaks of his glories in past battles, but the poet who wrote Sir Gawain and the Green Knight glosses over Gawain’s past battles with men and monsters as the action shifts from the battlefield to the bedroom. Beowulf speaks of his glories in past battles, but the poet who wrote Sir Gawain and the Green Knight glosses over Gawain’s past battles with men and monsters as the action shifts from the battlefield to the bedroom.

8 Elements of Medieval Romance Set in a remote place and time Set in a remote place and time Incorporates the marvelous, miracles Incorporates the marvelous, miracles Hero is “ superior in degree to other men and to his environment” Hero is “ superior in degree to other men and to his environment” May involve conventional testing plot May involve conventional testing plot Tester is unrealistic and remote Tester is unrealistic and remote Test is extreme Test is extreme Hero follows higher of conflicting virtues Hero follows higher of conflicting virtues Tester relents and allows hero to fulfill lower virtue (example: God and Abraham) Tester relents and allows hero to fulfill lower virtue (example: God and Abraham)

9 Gawain as Medieval Romance References to ecclesiastical calendar/cyclic time and real places References to ecclesiastical calendar/cyclic time and real places Hero is one of us, not superior to us/environment Hero is one of us, not superior to us/environment Tester is split: malicious, magic Morgan le Fay and likeable, realistic Bertilak de Hautdesert Tester is split: malicious, magic Morgan le Fay and likeable, realistic Bertilak de Hautdesert Gawain fails the test because he is human/sinful Gawain fails the test because he is human/sinful Realism may result from 13 th -14 th century “ penance campaigns, ” new “ moral psychology. ” Realism may result from 13 th -14 th century “ penance campaigns, ” new “ moral psychology. ” Mixture of romance and realism leaves the reader wondering what rules govern this world. Mixture of romance and realism leaves the reader wondering what rules govern this world.

10 Fitt One: Establishing Tradition Opens with the siege of Troy connecting to epic tradition connecting to epic tradition allusion to Aeneas and theory of Britain’s origins (Brutus—great- grandson of Aeneas) allusion to Aeneas and theory of Britain’s origins (Brutus—great- grandson of Aeneas) recalls fears of invasion present (100 Years War) recalls fears of invasion present (100 Years War) establishes Arthur and his court as heirs of the epic tradition establishes Arthur and his court as heirs of the epic tradition

11 Fitt One: Characters King Arthur: ideal of traits and tradition “king most courteous,” but also “first in fame,” “high in pride” (Stanza 3) “…it pleased him not to eat Upon festival so fair, ere he first were apprised of some strange story or stirring adventure, of some moving marvel that he might believe in” (Stanza 5)

12 Fitt One: Characters Green Knight: ambiguous nature “All of green were they made, both garments and man” “and verily all this vesture was of verdure clear” “a rich robe above it all.... embroidered upon…with birds and with flies in a gay glory of green, and ever gold in the midst.” (Stanza 8)

13 Fitt One: Characters Gawain: Arthur’s champion? A model of courtly/chivalric virtue “I am the weakest, I am aware, and in wit feeblest, and the least loss, if I live not, if one would learn the truth. Only because you are my uncle is honour given me:” (Stanza 16)

14 Fitt One: The Game Gratuitous (thus romantic, not heroic) Gratuitous (thus romantic, not heroic) Governed by rules (romantic, not heroic) Governed by rules (romantic, not heroic) Seasonable (customary Christmas drama) Seasonable (customary Christmas drama) Quasi-legal (rules are reiterated) Quasi-legal (rules are reiterated) Tests important knightly virtues: “ trauthe ” Tests important knightly virtues: “ trauthe ” Involves seemingly inevitable death Involves seemingly inevitable death

15 Fitt Two: Time Flies The year is marked by the passing of natural and ecclesiastical seasons: “a year slips by swiftly… After Christmas there came the crabbed Lenten that with fish tries the flesh and with food more meagre; but then the weather in the world makes war on the winter…” (Stanza 23)

16 Fitt Two: The Arming of Gawain “…the gilded gear in plenty there glittered upon it. The stern man stepped thereon and the steel things handed, dressed in a couplet of damask of Tharsia, and over it a cunning capadoce that was closed at the throat and with fair ermine was furred all within…” (Stanza 25)

17 Fitt Two: The Pentangle “…the pentangle depicted in pure hue of gold.... It is a sign that Solomon once set on a time to betoken Troth, as it is entitled to do; for it is a figure that in it five points holdeth, and each line overlaps and is linked with another, and every way it is endless; and the English, I hear, everywhere name it the Endless Knot.” (Stanza 27)

18 Fitt Two: The Five Fives 1.Five senses 2.Five fingers 3.Five Wounds of Christ 4.Five Joys (annunciation, nativity, resurrection, ascension, assumption) 5.Five virtues (beneficence, brotherly love, pure mind, pure manners, faith)

19 Fitt Two: The Journey “At whiles with worms he wars, and with wolves also, at whiles with wood-trolls that wandered in the crags, and with bulls and with bears and boars, too, at times; and with ogres that hounded him from the heights of the fells.” (Stanza 31)

20 Fitt Two: Hautdesert, or, Bizarro Camelot Parallels Camelot Parallels Camelot Provincial outlook – a “ lopsided pentangle ” – skewed expectations of Gawain Provincial outlook – a “ lopsided pentangle ” – skewed expectations of Gawain Gawain ’ s behavior: confirms claims made for him in arming scene Gawain ’ s behavior: confirms claims made for him in arming scene Names: host knows Gawain ’ s name but Gawain doesn ’ t know host ’ s Names: host knows Gawain ’ s name but Gawain doesn ’ t know host ’ s Another contract – same qualities, ambiguity: the Exchange of Winnings (Stanza 45) Another contract – same qualities, ambiguity: the Exchange of Winnings (Stanza 45) Pay attention to the women! (Stanza 39) Pay attention to the women! (Stanza 39)

21 Fitt Three: The Hunt(s) Fabliau : parallelism; sexual favors are commodities Fabliau : parallelism; sexual favors are commodities Openness, action and noise (hunt) vs. enclosure, word play and erotically- charged quiet (bedroom) Openness, action and noise (hunt) vs. enclosure, word play and erotically- charged quiet (bedroom) Inversions (hunter vs. hunted) Inversions (hunter vs. hunted) Quarry (deer/innocence trapped, boar/ferociousness and flirting, fox/sly, crafty conquest) Quarry (deer/innocence trapped, boar/ferociousness and flirting, fox/sly, crafty conquest) Butchering/field dressing scenes render the trophy, as Gawain’s soul is laid bare Butchering/field dressing scenes render the trophy, as Gawain’s soul is laid bare

22 Fitt Three: The Girdle Green and gold (should remind reader of Green Knight) Green and gold (should remind reader of Green Knight) Not accepted for monetary value or beauty—he believes it is Providence (?) Not accepted for monetary value or beauty—he believes it is Providence (?) Gawain acts differently after his fall: Gawain acts differently after his fall: −Gawain goes to Confession, not Mass −Gawain awaits host, instead of host calling −Gawain goes first, not host −Gawain wears blue, color of faithfulness (Stanza 77)

23 Fitt Four: Arming and Journey, Part Deux Green girdle added to arming (Stanza 81) Green girdle added to arming (Stanza 81) Offered final temptation (Stanza 85) Offered final temptation (Stanza 85) Variation from departure from Camelot – Gawain does not hear Mass – odd for day of death Variation from departure from Camelot – Gawain does not hear Mass – odd for day of death Qualities of Death ascribed to Green Knight Qualities of Death ascribed to Green Knight −Indiscriminate/universal/inevitable −Must be faced alone (guide turns back)

24 Fitt Four: Flinching! “But Gawain on that guisarm then glanced to one side, as down it came gliding on the green there to end him, and he shrank a little with his shoulders at the sharp iron.” “He made at him a mighty aim, but the man he touched not, holding back hastily his hand, ere hurt it might do. Gawain warily awaited it, and winced with no limb, but stood as still as a stone or the stump of a tree that with hundred ravelled roots in rocks is embedded.” “Lightly his weapon he lifted, and let it down neatly with the bent horn of the blade towards the neck that was bare; though he hewed with a hammer-swung, he hurt him no more than to snick him on one side and sever the skin.

25 Fitt Four: Recognition “For it is my weed that thou wearest, that very woven girdle” The Green Knight is Bertilak de Hautdesert! “She made me go in this guise to your goodly court to put its pride to the proof.... in hope Guinevere to hurt, that she in horror might die aghast at that glamoury that gruesomely spake with its head in its hand before the high table.” Morgan la Faye, Gawain ’ s aunt, orchestrated events to humiliate the Round Table!

26 Fitt Four: Confession Replaces false confession at Hautdesert Replaces false confession at Hautdesert Shame and mortification Shame and mortification Reparation: Gawain returns girdle (and it is given back to him) Reparation: Gawain returns girdle (and it is given back to him) Statement of sin: Gawain admits cowardice, covetousness, untruth Statement of sin: Gawain admits cowardice, covetousness, untruth Request for penance (Bertilak refuses) Request for penance (Bertilak refuses)

27 Fitt Four: Judgment Condemnation – Gawain did sin Condemnation – Gawain did sin Mercy – Sin was from love of life, not from lower passion or malice (Stanza 95) Mercy – Sin was from love of life, not from lower passion or malice (Stanza 95) Contrasting responses show decorum Contrasting responses show decorum −Bertilak shows comparatively more mercy, for Gawain is more prone to despair than to presumption −Gawain shows wounded pride, but is harsh on himself Problem of shifting blame to women – perhaps to make Gawain ’ s behavior realistic? (Stanza 97) Problem of shifting blame to women – perhaps to make Gawain ’ s behavior realistic? (Stanza 97)

28 Fitt Four: Return Symbols Symbols − Gawain ’ s cut is healed −Gawain wears the girdle as a symbol of his shame −Court adopts the girdle Contrasting responses again show decorum Contrasting responses again show decorum −Gawain is ashamed −The court downplays his sin The story returns to its beginning with Brutus The story returns to its beginning with Brutus What does the court ’ s adoption of the girdle really mean? What does the court ’ s adoption of the girdle really mean?

29 Concluding Points Openness vs. ambiguity Openness vs. ambiguity Romance and realism Romance and realism Text does not prove that courtly and Christian values inherently conflict, rather only that Gawain is human/sinful. Text does not prove that courtly and Christian values inherently conflict, rather only that Gawain is human/sinful. Gawain ’ s experience represents the “ fundamental cycle of experience ” – “ social living, alienation, self-discovery, desolation, recovery and restoration ” (Burrows 186). Gawain ’ s experience represents the “ fundamental cycle of experience ” – “ social living, alienation, self-discovery, desolation, recovery and restoration ” (Burrows 186). Does Gawain take responsibility for his actions? Does Gawain take responsibility for his actions? What is the poet’s message? What is the poet’s message? Can this story be understood through a feminist lens? Can this story be understood through a feminist lens? Source: Burrows, J.A. A Reading of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1966.


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