Price and Value in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (2015)Resumen Inglés
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Price and Value in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
The poem may have worked in the London household of some noble man, the author
argued. There’s a familiarity with the merchant culture of the metropolis and this is why
the poem marks interest in value, price and bargains. In fact, the author describes the
importance of market forces by determining both material and ethical value, in addition
to the theological and philosophical traditions.
The Old-French word ‘pris’ means ‘price’. In medieval period it meant ‘value’ or ‘wroth’, in more general, non-monetary sense as well. The later formations makes up ‘praise’ and ‘prize which had an imaginary contest of excellence meaning ‘fame, renown or good reputation’. And this is where the importance comes from in the romance.
Gawain-poet uses ‘pris’ to denote both monetary and non-monetary value making one the mirror of the other. For instance, the pentangle on his shield is ‘of pure gold hwez’ and his helmed is crowned with diamonds ‘o prys’. The jewels and metals externalise and communicate his intangible inner worth;these two links are suggested by metaphores. As a romantic conception of ‘prys’, the glamorous world of jewels and precious metals, formes an appropiate focus of interest for an aristocratic class secluded and sheltered from the less dignified aspects of economic life.
Furthermore, the mercantile language is emphasized by the use of words like ‘bargain’.
By the use of this, some authors argue that Gawain is sinking into ‘consumerism and merchandising’. The exchange of winnings is considering them to be a very important issue and not a party game.
Medieval thought on the questions of price and value was in no doubt that the process in which value is determined is exchange. What determines ‘prys’ during the Gawain’s exchange, according to medieval thinkers, is based on Chapter 5 of Aristotle’s Nicomanchaean Ethics. Aristotle’s main interest is in communitative justice and justice in exchange is a sub-category. It’s based also on ‘proportionate requital’ which means to maintain a proportionate equivalence between non-identical things. Aristotle cites shoes and a house. The shoemaker and the builder must be able to measure their relative worth despite their disparity as objects, all things that are exchanged must be somehow comparable. In practical terms, this end is achieved by the use of money. Money is an index of value and the real creator of value is not money, but need. Money was invented by convention, for the sake of exchange of need. So “need makes things ‘commesurable’ for purposes of exchange – that is, established their relative value”.
However, the exchange of winnings pushes beyond such abstract schematisations and brings us up against the recognition that it is in the operations of the market and not in the tidy classifications of moralists that value is determined. To illutrate the point, on the first day of exchange, Gawain offers a kiss as in return of the venison the lord brought. Here the corporeal is matched with the incorporeal because can we say that the kiss is superior to the venison since it is food for the spirit rather than the body – or that the venison is better than the kiss because it represents a communal rather than an individual good? We analize the effort they made to achieve their winnings. Whereas the lord had to make a long and energetic physical effort to hunt, Gawain’s kisses are accumulated as he lies comfortably in the bed. The venison is obviously the more valuable since it has an ‘objective’ utility benefitial to the majority of potential consumers while the kiss has a ‘subjective’ value because it only depends on the attitude of the individual receiver.
The desiderated commodity and the desiderating consumer are inseparable elements in the attribution of value and it opposes two kind of values. Moreover, while a kiss from a serving-wench is not as valuable as a kiss from a lady, we point out that the distinction between ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ value is both naive and misleading.
The words ‘prys’ and ‘payse’ can also assume their significance since the appreciation and admiration of the goods obtained. For instance, Gawain’s praise establishes the value of the lord’s offering even though it’s not objective utility to him. The ‘exchange of winnings’ has different ways of defining value, and in particular about the double nature of ‘prys’: subjective and objective, internal and external.
‘Prys’ for the lady of the castle denotes a duel of wits between her point of view and Gawan’s perception of the same. The lady is also aware that exchange measures value, so ‘prys’ is established by indigentia in the sense of ‘demand’; the value of Gawain’s company is determined by the simple fact that all women desire it. ‘Prys’ means ‘worth’ and ‘renown’. While she puts emhasis on the honour bestowed on him, he refuses it by insisting that this is purely subjective. She rejects this opinion by saying that the valued qualities are inherent in the admired object, and not just in the imagination of the admirer. This opens up a gap between ‘prys’ as inner worth and ‘prys’ as outer reputation. The author highlights Gawain’s individual definition of inner ‘prys’ and an outward reputation discarted as irrelevant and unimportant.
A knight ‘prys’ is the result of a collaboration between inward worth and outward renown. The values expressed in the device of the pentangle are externalised in order that Gawain may match himself to their high standars and to show that he has done this in the past. Gawain is concerned that his reputation should match his inward state and that he should match his reputation. However, when Gawain accepts the girdle, it becomes the visible sign of his invisible loss of ‘prys’ because he won’t render it to the lord at the end of the day. In fact, the girlde had a subjective value in the sense that its life-saving powers appear to exist entirely in Gawain’s mind. Again, after Gawain’s confession to the Green Knight, Gawain’s inner state must be externalised and he has to use both the scar and the girdle to show it. Besides, in the second confession the mening of ‘prys’ changes. Gawain’s ‘prys’ is evaluated by the Round Table as ‘renoun’ but Gawain considers it to be ‘blame’.
The value of such goods, it was said, can be measured by the value that men would place on them if they lacked them. The initial agreement is completely unfair since the Green Knight can replace his head if cut off, but Gawain cannot. He is under pressure because he needed to show his courage for the ordeal but he also felt physical fear for the loss of his life (intellectual rebilliousness). The exchange of blows, according to Aristotle’s argument, is not a simple fair contrapassum.
To conclude, the poet was speaking to both classes, and attempting to create an ideal to which both could aspire. So far from seeing the commercial world as contaminating knightly values, he accords it an equal dignity, and takes its realities as the firm bases on which to build his ideal of knightly ‘prys’. The poet removes the role of need in stimulating exchange; it is to get nearer to the fundamental realities of mercantile life, not to negate them. For the merchant sendings his argosies to the sea commits himself, like the knight, to the vagaries of chance, allowing it to determine his final balance of profit and loss, to make him ‘even now woth this/and now woth nothing’.