Medieval English Literature - Week 5 (2016)Apunte Inglés
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Heroism in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Romance is a genre in medieval times that is basically an aristocratic genre, representing
characters actions that appeal to the values of the aristocratic audience. A number of
romances also provided a darker image of knights. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (late 4thC the idea of knighthood had been under scrutiny, the role of a knight was being slowly replaced
by a more professional militarism).
Sir Gawain is first mentioned in stanza 6, “sitting beside Guinevere”, he has this honour of sitting next to the queen. His bond is also a family one, strong and faithful (loyalty and courage). References to him are all positive, he is a sort of an ideal. Stanza 27, Gawain had a reputation (reinforcement of it), “good and true and faithful [...] void of all villainy”. Stanza 44, “true man” sometimes ‘truth’ can refer to fidelity, spelt ‘troth’, reputation of being a faithful knight. Gawain as the epitome of a knight (ideal).
There are other references to Gawain as a seducer, he tries to find a balance between being courteous and seducing this lady. Offering and resisting struggle to do so.
There are three attempts (symbolism in numbers) to cut off his head - axe blow. In the last one, the Green Knight only makes a little scratch in Gawain’s neck. Gawain survives it, he has proven to honour his word, but then the Green Knight saves his life. Gawain has gone through a number of tests to prove his loyalty, strength, righteousness, ... which has been a huge test in itself. He breaks promises to the lord (he hid something from him). He fails in courage (accepts he has been a coward with the lady).
Misogynistic passage 2420-. Stanza 101, everyone’s happy that Gawain survives, but Gawain isn’t very happy with the welcoming he receives because he feels humbled for that reception.
Gawain has failed as a hero, as a knight, he professes and acknowledges that. There’s an implicit pride, idea that Gawain took his reputation for granted. He had to keep a secret and he relied on his reputation for it not to be revealed. Reputation lasts until one single failure destroys the good name one has.
It was produced for the elite, and general romances reflected their ideals. It was an element of the culture of the time that contributed to the construction of these social codes (chivalry, courtly love... etc.) but one thing is the ideal and another, reality. Some celebrated them, others denounced them. Presentation of the knight as such in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, but criticising him (not in a harsh way though, in a re-affirmative way). Token of shame turned into an element of brotherhood. “The Brutus books” (Eneas descendent) (goes back to the beginning of the poem, circular). The fact that Gawain fails as a knight, the poem could be questioning those values.
Stanza 37 The knight is treated very kindly. He is offered food, generosity. A feast would normally consist of meat, but it was a time when one had to prepare himself for winter, with fish. Eating fish of Unybook: arodrigueslopez all kinds is a very good meal, so it is ironic. This gentle knight judged that meal generously ‘feast’. There a lot of anticipations, the castle was a trap for the knight, to put Gawain to the test.
Stanza 38 The approach to the knight was appropriate. Expected behaviour of a knight. This stanza has a function as presenting Gawain as the perfect knight in contrast to when he fails. He is perceived as a living example to teach the other knights.
Stanza 39 Christianity, Gawain has the image of the Virgin Mary on the inside of his shield. Is Gawain a Christian poem though? It is not concerned about a Christian message, the salvation of the soul...