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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: An Introduction.

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1 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: An Introduction

2 In the beginning... Sir Gawain part of the tradition of the Morte Arthure which you know in English as the mythology of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table Arthurian legend very important in development of British literature  Seen as “British” story even though parts came from France (thank the Normans of Normandy – northern France – who invaded in 1066 A.D. and united the many warring tribes)

3 Once upon a time... Arthur born to King Uther Pendragon, time of great upheaval so sent away on advice of Merlin (wizard) to grow up as peasant rather than prince Uther dies, great upheaval (think back to Beowulf) Merlin places a sword in a stone – who ever can pull the sword out of the stone will be King of England Young Arthur pulls the sword out to give to someone else, clear he is destined to be king

4 Creation of the Round Table Arthur gathers around him the most powerful knights and fights back the Saxon invasion, brings peace to Britain for the first time since the Romans Arthur builds a castle at Camelot and knights meet at a round table – implied equality among knights Knights are extreme examples of chivalry  Respect and courtesy to women  Loyalty to king  Maintain the faith, speak the truth  Fight for righteousness

5 King Arthur Destined to be King Has a mythical sword, Excalibur, which he got from the Lady of the Lake Married to Queen Guinevere (in later stories has affair with Lancelot, the greatest of Arthur's knights) Half-sister Morgan Le Fay – bad news Mortally wounded trying to quell civil war against nephew Mordred – body carried away to Avalon where legend says he waits with his knights, ready to return if Britain in peril

6 Historical basis for myth Legend is a mix of Welsh, Breton, French stories Allegedly lived in 5 th to 6 th centuries but legend popularized by Geoffrey of Monmouth's work in the 12 th century – later added to by Chretien de Troyes (French) who added additional characters (Lancelot) and wrote stories about other knights (like Sir Gawain) Historians cannot agree whether Arthur was a real person or merely exists in myth

7 Verse form Alliterative long line consisting of two half-lines but shows off author’s skill Relationship between alliteration and stress (four stresses per line) “Heavy lines” – where there is a change in number of stresses syllables in line ( ) Bob and wheel: …most fair, Where war and wrack and wonder By shifts have sojourned there, And bliss by turns with blunder In that land’s lot had share. (15-19)

8 Importance of the myth Begins the medieval romantic tradition First example of separation of story and theme Makes clear the values of the society (chivalry, honor, etc.) Created a whole genre of stories, characters (Lancelot, Galahad, Tristan and Isolde, etc.) Has come cultural touchstone for English-speaking world

9 Sir Gawain Member of the Round Table Focus of tale around honor, chivalry Known to be a true knight until his run-in with the Green Knight which causes him to question his own pride BIG question surrounding the poem: Is this a comedy or a tragedy? Both? Neither?


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