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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. author is anonymous written c . 1400 in Middle English important in literature because it represents all of the following significant poetic genres: Arthurian romance poetry/courtly love poetry medieval alliterative poetry epic poetry.

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sir gawain and the green knight
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
  • author is anonymous
  • written c. 1400 in Middle English
  • important in literature because it represents all of the following significant poetic genres:
        • Arthurian romance poetry/courtly love poetry
        • medieval alliterative poetry
        • epic poetry
slide2

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in Middle English

Wel gay watz þis gome gered in grene,And þe here of his hed of his hors swete.Fayre fannand fax vmbefoldes his schulderes;A much berd as a busk ouer his brest henges,Þat wyth his hi3lich here þat of his hed rechesWatz euesed al vmbetorne abof his elbowes,Þat half his armes þer-vnder were halched in þe wyseOf a kyngez capados þat closes his swyre;Þe mane of þat mayn hors much to hit lyke,Wel cresped and cemmed, wyth knottes ful monyFolden in wyth fildore aboute þe fayre grene,Ay a herle of þe here, an oþer of golde;Þe tayl and his toppyng twynnen of a sute,And bounden boþe wyth a bande of a bry3t grene,Dubbed wyth ful dere stonez, as þe dok lasted,Syþen þrawen wyth a þwong a þwarle knot alofte,Þer mony bellez ful bry3t of brende golde rungen.Such a fole vpon folde, ne freke þat hym rydes,Watz neuer sene in þat sale wyth sy3t er þat tyme,with y3e.He loked as layt so ly3t,So sayd al þat hym sy3e;Hit semed as no mon my3tVnder his dynttez dry3e.

sir gawain and the green knight as arthurian romance courtly love poetry
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight as Arthurian romance/courtly love poetry
  • There is no solid evidence for/against the reign of a historic “King Arthur.”
  • Some historians suggest Arthur was a Roman military leader who held power anywhere from 3rd to 7th century A.D. (Artorius = “plowman”)
  • Arthur is more important for the legends that developed around him and his “Knights of the Round Table”

A statue of King Arthur from around 1400 AD

image from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Arthur3487.jpg

sir gawain and the green knight as arthurian romance courtly love poetry cont
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight as Arthurian romance/courtly love poetry, cont.
  • Arthur traditionally credited with uniting all England (i.e. uniting the pagan tribes) and therefore creating the potential for the development of a unique British character after the Norman invasion of England.
  • Arthurian legends reach height in/around 12th century A.D.

(from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_Arthur#The_Arthurian_romance)

sir gawain and the green knight as arthurian romance courtly love poetry cont1
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight as Arthurian romance/courtly love poetry, cont.
  • Even more importantly, it is around the legendary King Arthur that the chivalric tradition of the middle ages developed.
  • Chivalry – from the French word cheval or “horse” – refers to the code of behavior that was expected of knights (all noblemen). This tradition was also called courtesie (also French), meaning “the behavior of the court.”
chivalry
CHIVALRY
  • “Chivalry” comes from the French cheval, or horse (n.b. Norman influence in language).
  • Only the wealthiest people in medieval society could keep horses and afford to use them in combat. (Why?)
  • “Chivalry” became associated, therefore, with the qualities of “horsemen”, or knights.
  • related words: cavalier (Fr., L.), cavalry (from L. caval), caballero (Sp.)
sir gawain and the green knight as arthurian romance courtly love poetry cont2
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight as Arthurian romance/courtly love poetry, cont.
  • In Arthurian tradition, the “Knights of the Round Table” (Lancelot, Galahad, Bedivere, Agravain, Perceval, Tristan, Gawain, et.al.*) embodied – both individually and en masse, the characteristics of courtesie or “courtly love.”

*see a complete list at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knights_of_the_Round_Table

a “portrait of Gawain by artist Jackie Sullivan fromhttp://www.runtotheocean.net/sketchblog/apr03.html

sir gawain and the green knight as arthurian romance courtly love poetry cont3
Respect the king. Do nothing to bring him dishonor.

Respect women. Do nothing to bring dishonor to any woman.

Protect the poor and the weak.

Honor God as a faithful Christian.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight as Arthurian romance/courtly love poetry, cont.

Characteristics of Courtly Behavior

sir gawain and the green knight as arthurian romance courtly love poetry cont4
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight as Arthurian romance/Courtly love poetry, cont.
  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (from now on SGGK) is cited as a seminal example of Arthurian romance poetry or “courtly love” poetry.
  • Assignment: As we read SGGK, identify all behavior on the part of any character in the poem that conforms to the medieval regard for courtesie.
sir gawain and the green knight as medieval alliterative verse
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight as medieval alliterative verse
  • Like all other examples of literature we’ve read thus far, SGGK almost certainly began as an oral history carried from village-to-village by a bard – or singing storyteller.
  • Like the Iliad and Beowulf, therefore, SGGK is marked by meter, rhyme, and (as with Beowulf) alliteration.
  • All these poetic devices were intended to help in the oral retelling of the story.
slide11
He was a finefellowfitted in green --And the hair on hishead and hishorse\'s matched.It fanned out freely enfolding his shoulders,and his beard hung below as big as a bush,all mixed with the marvelousmane on his head,which was cut off in curlscascading to his elbows,wrapping round the rest of himlike a king\'scapeclasped to his neck.And the mane of his mount was much the same,but curled up and combed in crisp knots,in braids of bright gold thread and brilliant greencriss-crossedhair by hair.And the tossing tail was twin to the mane,for both were bound with bright green ribbons,strung to the end with long strands of precious stones,and turned back tight in a twisted knotbright with tinkling bells of burnished gold.No such horse on hoof had been seen in that hall,nor horsemanhalf so strange as their eyes now heldin sight.                He looked a lightning flash,                they say: he seemed so bright;                and who would dare to clash                in melee with such might?

Why is it called alliterative verse?

VERSE FORM: the "Gawain stanza"--a varying number of alliterative long lines terminated by a "bob & wheel," five short rhyming lines (ababa).

from: http://faculty.uca.edu/~jona/

second/ggknotes.htm

A

B

A

B

A

sir gawain and the green knight as epic poetry
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight as epic poetry

Review: Characteristics of the Epic Hero

1. He is a model of faith, loyalty, or bravery…

2. who makes a long, difficult journey…

3. to do battle on behalf of another…

4. perhaps using his own superhuman talents…

5. against an enemy who may himself have or be guarded by supernatural powers.

sir gawain and the green knight as epic poetry cont
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight as epic poetry, cont.

Review: Characteristics of the Epic Poem

1. An epic poem is a long, highly- stylizednarrative poem…

2. that recounts the exploits of its main character – the epic hero.

3. Because most epic poetry originated as sung or spoken verse, it is rigidly metered and rhymed.

journey quest
Journey = Quest
  • In medieval poetry, the epic hero’s journey to battle (like Achilles’ voyage to Troy or Beowulf’s to Dane-land) becomes a quest.
  • A quest is “an adventurous expedition in search of something spiritually fulfilling or self-enhancing.”
gold spurs
Gold spurs?

He was got up in green from head to heel:a tunic worn tight, tucked to his ribs;and a rich cloak cast over it, covered insidewith a fine fur lining, fitted and sewnwith ermine trim that stood out in contrastfrom his hair where his hood lay folded flat;and handsome hose of the same green huewhich clung to his calves, with clustered spursof bright gold; (ll. 151-55)

Immediately upon reading/hearing these lines about the Green Knight who has burst into Arthur’s Christmas festivities, the audience would know that he was a guy nottobe messedwith:

why the green knight
Why theGreen Knight?
  • In medieval England, the “Green Man” was a pagan representation of nature. The “Green Man” was not Satanic, but did symbolize the nature worship that characterized pre-Christian tribal paganism.
  • The “Green Man” is not evil, but is also not Christian  a battle between any of Arthur’s knights and any creature reminiscent of Britain’s pagan past is, by extension, a battle between “good” and “evil” – or between the Christian piety of Arthur’s knights and their tribal, non-Christian predecessors.
gawain s shield
Gawain’s Shield

In the poem, Gawain’s shield is very clearly described as a golden pentangle on a field of red. The pentangle, the poem goes on to tell us, represents Gawain’s Five Fifths.The pentangle is also called the “endless knot.”

in medieval symbology red signifies humility as the blood of christ gold signifies perfection
In medieval symbology, red signifies humility as the blood of ChristGold signifies perfection.

from:http://faculty.uca.edu/~jona/second/ggknotes.htm#id008

slide21
Gawain was said to possess five qualities – one for each of the pentangle’s points – wherein he farexcelled all other knights.

1

The first of these “Five Fifths” was his faultlessness in his five senses.

from:http://faculty.uca.edu/~jona/second/ggknotes.htm#id008

slide22

2

Gawain was said to possess five qualities wherein he far excelled all other knights, cont.The next (second) of these “Five Fifths” was his faultlessness in his five fingers.

from:http://faculty.uca.edu/~jona/second/ggknotes.htm#id008

slide23

Gawain was said to possess five qualities wherein he far excelled all other knights, cont.The next (third) of these “Five Fifths” was the strength Gawain drew from his devotion to the “five wounds of Christ.”

3

from:http://faculty.uca.edu/~jona/second/ggknotes.htm#id008

slide24

The Jerusalem Cross

  • The wounds in the hands.
  • The wounds in the feet.
  • The wound in the side of Christ
slide25

Gawain was said to possess five qualities wherein he far excelled all other knights, cont.The next (fourth) of these “Five Fifths” was the strength Gawain drew from his devotion to the “five joys of Mary.”

4

from:http://faculty.uca.edu/~jona/second/ggknotes.htm#id008

slide26

The five joys of Mary are also known as The Five Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary. They are:

  • the Annunciation
  • the Nativity
  • the Resurrection
  • the Ascension
  • the Assumption
slide27

5

Gawain was said to possess five qualities wherein he far excelled all other knights, cont.The last of these “Five Fifths” was Gawain’s well-known practice of the “five social graces.”

from:http://faculty.uca.edu/~jona/second/ggknotes.htm#id008

the five social graces which gawain exemplifies above all others are
The five social graces which Gawain exemplifies above all others are:
  • free-giving (generosity)
  • brotherly love
  • chastity
  • pure manners (courtesie)
  • piety

from:http://faculty.uca.edu/~jona/second/ggknotes.htm#id008

gawain faced 5 challenges
Gawain faced 5 challenges
  • to voluntarily confront the Green Knight
  • to strike his blow properly
  • to keep his vow to meet the Green Knight in a year and a day.
  • to survive journey to the green chapel
  • to resist the lady’s temptations

from:http://faculty.uca.edu/~jona/second/ggknotes.htm#id008

slide30

More on Gawain’s fifth challenge

The FIFTH TEST is the temptations and the three gifts; it tests especially the fifth point of the pentangle, the social virtues. Gawain falls: his acceptance of the girdle is not a fault; his hiding of it is a potential fault; his actual withholding of it from Bertilak is his fall. Had he given it back to the lady, he would have erased his potential fault. The real fault, from Gawain\'s point of view, is that the reality of his own mortality induces him to break the endless knot. Thus two effects of original sin are reasserted: cowardice (bodily mortality) and covetousness (willful cupidity). His nature as a man is asserting itself against his nature as a knight.

from:http://faculty.uca.edu/~jona/second/ggknotes.htm#id008

the garter
The Garter
  • Honi soit qui mal y pense
  • “Shame be upon him who thinks evil of this.”
chastity piety respect for the king
Chastity? Piety? Respect for the King?

Q: Gawain knows that he is facing certain death – and SOON – when he finally confronts the Green Knight and accepts his half of the bargain. Why would he still adhere to courtesie and resist the Lady’s temptation?

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