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The four knightly virtues in the medieval poem sir gawain and the green knight

It has no obvious immediate source, either in French or English; although it contains plot elements and motifs found elsewhere in Arthurian romance its combination of them is unique.

What qualifies one to be a hero like Gawain in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight?

Beyond this formulation of its own non-Anglo-Saxon history, the English aristocracy was nevertheless imaginatively integrated into French chivalric practice; the English nobility read and enjoyed French chivalric romance, peppered its speech with courtly French expressions, and employed a largely French lexis in its 1 definition of what constitutes chivalric behaviour.

English and French traditions thus play out in Sir Gawain to construct a uniquely hybridised version of insular romance. Most recently a different kind of hybridity, a reading of the poem inflected by postcolonial theory, focusing on its origins in the English-Welsh borderland has been adumbrated Ingham 2001; Arner 2006. The manuscript is written in a single hand in the dialect of the south Cheshire-north Staffordshire area; Sir Gawain occupies fols.

Three other poems in the same dialect precede Sir Gawain in the manuscript. All three have religious subjects; the first, Pearl, is a dream-vision in which the dreamer encounters his dead daughter and learns some truths about salvation.

The other two poems are biblical paraphrases: Cleanness Purity in older editions yokes together biblical stories under the rubric of sexual and ritual purity; Patience, directly preceding Sir Gawain, retells the story of Jonah.

It is now generally accepted that the four poems are the work of a single author. Sir Gawain was first edited along with a number of other English Gawain poems in 1839, and again for the Early English Text Society in 2 1864; this edition was revised several times in the nineteenth century.

Nothing is known of the author of the four poems, though a number of candidates, patrons and contexts have been suggested Andrew 1997. He wrote for an audience for whom chivalric ideology needed no explanation; whether author and audience regarded chivalry as immune from criticism is a different question. Thus the poems, particularly Pearl and Sir Gawain, demand a courtly context; that the author was a chaplain attached to the household of a great regional magnate is both plausible and attractive Bennett 1997: Although they are recorded in a regional dialect, the poems need not necessarily have been composed in Cheshire.

As Jill Mann has argued, the poet may have worked in the London household of a Cheshire noble Mann 1986. The bob initiates the rhyming pattern, so that bob and wheel rhyme ABAB; these sections often provide authorial comment on the action of the preceding stanza. Since then, Britain has been a land renowned for the marvels which occur there.

  1. For some recent critics Ingham ; Arner the hybridity of Sir Gawain is rather to be understood in terms of postcolonial theory. It has no obvious immediate source, either in French or English; although it contains plot elements and motifs found elsewhere in Arthurian romance its combination of them is unique.
  2. Viator, 14, 289- 302.
  3. In the light of his forthcoming meeting with the Green Knight, Gawain willingly takes the girdle; later he seeks out a priest and makes his confession.

Arthur maintains the custom, familiar from earlier tradition, of refusing to eat on high feast days until some marvel occurs. As the court chatter, the hall doors swing open and in rides a huge figure, half-man, half-giant. Both he and his horse are bright green.

The court is stunned into silence and an embarrassed Arthur steps forward to take up the challenge. He is pre-empted by Gawain, who modestly claims that his life is of little value and undertakes to present himself for the return blow at next New Year. The headless knight rides off, leaving the court to their feasting. Thus equipped, he sets off in search of the Green Chapel with no very clear idea of where it can be found, journeying through a bleak wintry landscape along the Welsh-English borders.

On Christmas Eve he anxiously prays to the Virgin for a lodging where he can keep the Christmas feast. Immediately he catches sight of a splendid castle; he is warmly welcomed by its inhabitants and their lord. They are delighted to learn that it is Gawain who will be spending Christmas with them. The lord introduces Gawain to his extraordinarily beautiful wife, and to her companion, an ugly, but greatly- respected, elderly woman. The lord plans to spend the next three days in hunting; since Gawain is still recovering from the rigours of his journey, the host suggests that he remain in the castle in the company of the women.

By way of amusement, the lord proposes that he and Gawain should exchange what they win during the course of the next three days: On the first morning the lord sets out early in pursuit of deer, while Gawain lies late in bed. He is surprised and abashed when the lady of the castle quietly lets herself into his bedroom and engages in a flirtatious conversation in which she suggests that she sexually desires him.

When the husband returns home with the deer he has caught, he formally awards them to Gawain, who in return gives him the kiss.

He refuses, however, to say where he got it, since this was not part of the covenant. The pair agree to play the game again the following day. Gawain continues politely to resist, but accepts two more kisses, bestowed on the lord at the end of the day in exchange for the captured boar. When Gawain tries to refuse, mindful of the exchange agreement, she reveals that it is magical.

In the light of his forthcoming meeting with the Green Knight, Gawain willingly takes the girdle; later he seeks out a priest and makes his confession. When the lord returns, Gawain hurries to give him the three kisses he has received that day, but neglects to pass on the girdle. In return, the lord hands over the fox-pelt, the paltry result of his day in the field. Next morning Gawain puts on his armour and wraps the girdle over his surcoat.

Then, in the company of a guide, he sets out for the Green Chapel. The guide gives a 6 frightening account of the ferocity of the figure who haunts the Green Chapel, and advises Gawain to ride away, promising never to reveal that he did not keep the appointment. When the Green Knight appears, Gawain bends his neck for the blow, but flinches a little as the blade comes down.

The Knight checks his stroke and reproves him. Gawain promises to stand firm, and the Knight brings down the axe again, stopping at the last moment when he sees that Gawain is now resolute. Praising Gawain, the Knight makes him a gift of the girdle as a souvenir of his adventure. The Knight identifies himself as a certain Bertilak of Hautdesert, and explains that the plot was undertaken at the behest of Morgan le Fay, the elderly woman in the castle.

Gawain declines an invitation to celebrate the New Year at Hautdesert, and makes his way back to Camelot, where he receives a joyful welcome. The court adopt the green girdle as a sign of honour. Critics have often commented on the symmetricality of the plot and structure of Sir Gawain see Hanna 1983: The events of the poem, framed by the Galfridian introduction and conclusion, take place as part of a typical Arthurian quest; a stranger comes to Camelot offering a challenge and a member of the Round Table responds.

The plot is driven by the Beheading Game, a motif which occurs in a number of other medieval texts Brewer 1992.

  • These traits of bravery, honor, and courage are what make Sir Gawain a hero;
  • In thirteenth-century French romance, Morgan is interested in testing the boundaries of chivalry and discovering where its values can be compromised, as well as acting as a 14 spokeswoman for feminine desire within the chivalric system Larrington 2006;
  • In its zeal to extirpate all traces of paganism, Christianity had cut itself off from the sources of life in nature and the female;
  • The scene is set then for the kind of adventure which Gawain is prone to facing in French tradition Busby ; Spearing
  • French Gawain could not spend long with a woman without trying to solicit a kiss l;
  • London and New York:

Typically the Beheading Game is a straightforward test of courage and promise-keeping; having beheaded a usually supernatural opponent, the hero simply has to present himself for the return blow in order to win. Although sometimes impetuous, he is famed for his courtesy — mentioned by Chaucer and repeatedly invoked by the Lady Spearing 1970: Gawain is modest too: In fact his only merit is that Arthur is his uncle: Armoured with this understanding of chivalry, and protected by his private devotion to the Virgin who appears on the inside of his shield, Gawain rides away on his adventure as the finest representative of the Arthurian court.

  • Similarly, Gawain finds the Lady's advances in the third seduction scene more unpredictable and challenging to resist than her previous attempts;
  • In fact his only merit is that Arthur is his uncle:

It is piety, not feebleness, which makes him pray for shelter at Christmas; when the castle appears so promptly it seems that his prayers have been answered. Courtiers nudge each other excitedly: Yet these are not boorish provincials: Even on Christmas Eve, a day of fasting, Gawain is impressed with the number and variety of fish dishes served for supper.

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The scene is set then for the kind of adventure which Gawain is prone to facing in French tradition Busby 1980; Spearing 1970: Gawain thus finds himself in the hands of the women; although he understands the game he plays with the lord, he is not aware that the women are also playing with him.

On her departure though, the lady shocks Gawain by doubting whether he really is Gawain, insinuating that the genuine i. French Gawain could not spend long with a woman without trying to solicit a kiss l.

Alarmed by this challenge to his identity, Gawain accepts her 12 kiss.

  • As Jill Mann has argued, the poet may have worked in the London household of a Cheshire noble Mann
  • Courtesy and chivalry in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight:

Though Mary was mindful of her knight l. The shame which Gawain feels when he realises the extent to which he has been duped is manifested by his extreme physical reaction: Although he blames the women for beguiling him, ultimately he realises, as Bertilak spells out the identity and motivation of Morgan, that the very blood rising in his cheeks, the blood of Arthur, heir of Brutus and Aeneas, of which he is so proud, is also that of his aunt Morgan, who has both deceived and vindicated him.

In thirteenth-century French romance, Morgan is interested in testing the boundaries of chivalry and discovering where its values can be compromised, as well as acting as a 14 spokeswoman for feminine desire within the chivalric system Larrington 2006: Gawain has learned, but cannot fully accept, that human perfection is not possible Aers 1997. English chivalry has been tested against the values of French romance. One of the preoccupations of French Arthurian narrative — how to balance of public honour-driven behaviour, gendered masculine, and private, emotionally-inflected courtliness, gendered feminine — has been interrogated and some provisional answers found Larrington 2006: Chronicle and romance, French and English tradition have fused in a hybrid masterpiece.

For some recent critics Ingham 2001; Arner 2006 the hybridity of Sir Gawain is rather to be understood in terms of postcolonial theory. This rather cosy view of the effacement of ethnic difference by insisting that homosociality can resolve the issue and that English the four knightly virtues in the medieval poem sir gawain and the green knight and the autonomy of English knights are authorised precisely because they are gendered masculine is contested by Arner 2006.

However if Sir Gawain reflects the hybridity of insular culture in the late fourteenth century, as I have argued here, it is primarily a reflection of hybridised Anglo-French aristocratic culture to which the poem attends, rather than to the fleeting glimpses of a repressed and alienating Welshness. Critiquing Chivalry Had Sir Gawain not been preserved along with the other poems in Cotton Nero Ax, but simply been transmitted alone, we might well read it as a straightforward secular Arthurian romance, even as the work of a lay author.

Given the company it keeps in the manuscript, however, readers have tended to pay particular attention to its religious elements, asking whether Sir Gawain in fact constitutes a clerical critique — if a humane one — of the chivalric and courtly values which romance purports to celebrate.

There is some evidence for such a reading. The mutterings of the courtiers when Gawain leaves on his quest may be more problematic.

Yet their complaint that Gawain is taking a Christmas game too seriously raises questions about their understanding of games, rather than implying carelessness about promise- keeping and personal honour. Either interpretation is possible, as well as a range of positions in between.

Some critics argue that Gawain becomes compromised by his retention of the girdle, particularly since this apparently leads to an insufficient confession on his final day at the castle see bibliography in Wasserman and Purdon 2000: Yet the language of confession is employed again by both Gawain and the Green Knight at the Green Chapel.

Gawain certainly does not think so, but the court agree with Bertilak. The Gawain of this poem is perhaps the first Arthurian character who understands, in the Socratean phrase, that the unexamined life is not worth living.

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And we share with him, on first reading of the poem, the appalled, embarrassed rush of blood to the cheeks when it becomes clear how skilfully the poet, Bertilak and the women have misdirected us Pearsall 1997: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is deeply rooted in the European chivalric romance tradition; yet it finds its expression in an Englishness sprung from British pseudo-history, the north Midlands landscape bordering on the unstable country of Wales, and in a language which welds Old English, Old Norse and the French phrases of courtliness and chivalry into a supple and vigorous idiom.

Sir Gawain asserts the primacy of a considered set of chivalric values at the same time as it emphasises that the exponents of martial masculinity and the pursuit of honour will always need to take account of the pleasures and emotions of the private domain, of that most deeply- rooted instinct in human nature, the desire for self-preservation, and, finally, to recognise the emergence of a new understanding of interiority and self-consciousness on the part of the Gawain-poet and in his all-too-human creation.

Christianity for courtly subjects: A Companion to the Gawain-Poet pp. The ends of enchantment: Texas Studies in Language and Literature, 48, 79-101. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: Sources and Analogues, 2nd edn.

Chaucer, Gower, Langland and the Gawain- Poet.