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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. I. Manuscript. Cotton Nero A.x. 1375-1400 Also contains Pearl , Patience , and Purity. II. Poetic form and devices. Alliterative Revival Bob and Wheel Bob: one line of two or three syllables Wheel: four three-stress lines Entire structure rhymes ababa.

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i manuscript
I. Manuscript
  • Cotton Nero A.x.
  • 1375-1400
  • Also contains Pearl, Patience, and Purity
ii poetic form and devices
II. Poetic form and devices
  • Alliterative Revival
  • Bob and Wheel
    • Bob: one line of two or three syllables
    • Wheel: four three-stress lines
    • Entire structure rhymes ababa
iii the structure of the poem
III. The Structure of the Poem
  • Three Gawains:
    • Courteous and brave brother of Round Table
    • Flawless exemplar of Christian chivalry
    • Flawed everyman
  • ABA structure of first half
  • Fabliau-like parallels in Fitt Three
  • Concentric Ring Structure (Solomon 1963)
iv romance genre
IV. Romance Genre
  • Set in a remote place and time
  • Incorporates the marvelous, miracles
  • Hero is “superior in degree to other men and to his environment”
  • May involve conventional testing plot
    • Tester is unrealistic and remote
    • Test is extreme
    • Hero follows higher of conflicting virtues
    • Tester relents and allows hero to fulfill lower virtue (example: God and Abraham)
iv departures from romance
IV. Departures from Romance
  • Calendar/cyclic time and some real places
  • Hero is one of us, not superior to us/environment
  • Tester is split: malicious magic Morgan and likeable, realistic Bercilak
  • Gawain fails the test because he is human/sinful
  • Realism may result from 13th-14th century “penance campaigns,” new “moral psychology.”
  • Mixture of romance and realism leaves the reader wondering what rules govern this world.
v fitt one characters
V. Fitt One: Characters
  • Arthur: poet’s qualified approval
  • Sir Gawain: representative, not elect
  • Green Knight: ambiguous nature
    • Green body: supernatural
    • Green and gold equipment: courtly youth
    • Holly bob: life, peace
    • Axe: war
v fitt one the game
V. Fitt One: The Game
  • Gratuitous (thus romantic, not heroic)
  • Governed by rules (romantic, not heroic)
  • Seasonable (customary Christmas drama)
  • Quasi-legal (rules are reiterated)
  • Tests important knightly virtues
  • Involves seemingly inevitable death
  • Ernest/game ambiguity makes it possible for Gawain to treat the obligation lightly, but does not make it right for him to do so (Burrows 24).
vi fitt two
VI. Fitt Two
  • Midwinter: Indoors/outdoors
    • Wine, feasting, celebration
    • Cold, sleet, rain
  • Arming of Gawain
vi fitt two the pentangle
VI. Fitt Two: The Pentangle
  • “Truth”
    • “Loyal to people, principles, or promises”
    • Possesses “faith in God”
    • “Without deceit,” “sincere”
    • “Upright and virtuous”
  • The Fifth Five: Five Virtues
    • Generosity, companionableness, courtesy, pure mind, compassion
    • Secular and social
    • Interdependent
vi fitt two the journey
VI. Fitt Two: The Journey
  • Eight weeks: 11/2-12/24
  • Departs on All Souls’ Day
  • Four phases
    • Arthurian England
    • N. Wales (Winifred’s Well)
    • The Wirral
    • “Strange country”
  • Realistic and fantastic
vii fitt two hautdesert
VII. Fitt Two: Hautdesert
  • Parallels Camelot (A-B-A)
  • Provincial outlook – a “lopsided pentangle” – skewed expectations of G
  • Gawain’s behavior: confirms claims made for him in arming scene
  • Names: host knows Gawain’s name but Gawain doesn’t know host’s
  • Another contract – same qualities, ambiguity
viii fitt three
VIII. Fitt Three
  • Fabliau: parallelism; sexual favors are commodities
  • Dalliance: compare lines 1010-1015 to 1218-1221
  • Lady manoeuvres based on her misconception of Gawain – courtesy is all
  • Courtly ladies can pursue
  • Kisses are not adulterous
viii fitt three hunt and bed
VIII. Fitt Three: Hunt and Bed
  • In both, day three represents a departure from the noble conduct of days one and two.
    • Deer/boar are noble; fox is ignoble
  • In both, the victim . . .
    • Flees an adversary (hounds/lady)
    • Retreats from prospect of another adversary (Bercilak/Green Knight)
    • Succumbs to original adversary (hounds/lady)
viii fitt three the girdle
VIII. Fitt Three: The Girdle
  • Green and gold (should remind reader of Green Knight)
  • Not accepted for monetary value or beauty
  • Gawain acts differently after his fall:
    • Gawain goes to Confession, not Mass
    • Gawain awaits host, instead of host calling
    • Gawain goes first, not host
    • Gawain wears blue, color of faithfulness
ix fitt four arming journey
IX. Fitt Four: Arming/Journey
  • Green girdle added to arming
  • Neither unqualified condemnation nor uncritical indulgence
  • Variation from departure from Camelot – Gawain does not hear Mass – odd for day of death
  • Qualities of Death ascribed to Green Knight
    • Indiscriminate/universal/inevitable
    • Must be faced alone (guide turns back)
ix fitt four recognition
IX. Fitt Four: Recognition
  • Green Knight is Bercilak de Hautdesert.
  • Morgan la Faye, Gawain’s aunt, orchestrated events to humiliate the Round Table.
  • The exchange game was the real test.
ix fitt four confession
IX. Fitt Four: Confession
  • Replaces false confession at Hautdesert
  • Shame and mortification
  • Reparation: Gawain returns girdle (and it is given back to him)
  • Statement of sin: Gawain admits cowardice, covetousness, untruth
  • Request for penance (Bercilak refuses)
ix fitt four judgement
IX. Fitt Four: Judgement
  • Condemnation – Gawain did sin
  • Mercy – Sin was from love of life, not from lower passion or malice
  • Contrasting responses show decorum
    • Bercilak shows comparatively more mercy, for Gawain is more prone to despair than to presumption
    • Gawain shows wounded pride, but is harsh on himself
  • Problem of shifting blame to women – perhaps to make Gawain’s behavior realistic?
ix fitt four return
IX. Fitt Four: Return
  • Symbols
    • Gawain’s cut is healed.
    • Gawain wears the girdle.
    • Court adopts the girdle.
  • Contrasting responses again show decorum
    • Gawain is ashamed
    • The court downplays his sin
  • What does the court’s adoption of the girdle really mean?
x concluding points
X. Concluding Points
  • Openness and ambiguity pervade the text.
  • Text strives to combine romance and realism.
  • Text does not prove that courtly and Christian values inherently conflict, rather only that Gawain is human/sinful.
  • Gawain’s experience represents the “fundamental cycle of experience” – “social living, alienation, self-discovery, desolation, recovery and restoration” (Burrows 186).
  • Does Gawain take responsibility for his actions?

Source: Burrows, J.A. A Reading of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1966.