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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. A page from the original 14 th century manuscript . Manuscript History. Vitellius. Nero. Exists only in one manuscript from the late 14 th century Manuscript referred to as Cotton Nero A.x . [ u nder the bust of Nero, top shelf (A), ten books over]

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Manuscript History



  • Exists only in one manuscript from the late 14th century
  • Manuscript referred to as Cotton Nero A.x.[under the bust of Nero, top shelf (A), ten books over]
  • Cotton Nero A.x. also contains three other poems (Pearl, Cleanness, and Patience)

Anonymous author

  • Sometimes called the “Pearl Poet” or the “Gawain Poet”
  • Written in a Northern dialect
  • Author obviously familiar with life of the nobility

Original manuscript illustration

(Which scene is this?)



a little context

Bayeux Tapestry 1077

1154—An English King (Henry II) back on the throne

1066—William the Norman invades and conquers England

Medieval Period 1154-1485

Viking/Anglo-Saxon Rule 410-1066

Norman Rule 1066-1154

410—Romans retreat from England

1347—Black Death kills 50% of the population

991—Battle of Maldon






Courtly Love: "rules" that were developed to regulate the lovers' behaviors.

  • First appeared in medieval France.
  • Ideal is a man's unrequited (unreturned) love for a woman.
  • Usually the woman is the wife of another man —usually a nobleman or king (like King Arthur).
  • The lovelorn hero feels inferior to the woman, and he flatters her.
  • He desires to serve her, and does everything he can to be more worthy of her love (but they aren’t supposed to actually sleep together!).

Scary Celtic folklore (beheading games, exchanges of winnings)


fancy French Romance

(happy knights on quests)

= Unusual Romance


Pentangle/infinite knot:

1. Five senses free of sin

2. Five fingers never failed him

3. Christ’s five wounds (all his earthly

hope was in Christ)

4.Five Joys of Mary: Annunciation,

Nativity, Resurrection, Ascension, and

Assumption (from which his courage


5. Knightly virtues: generosity,

fellowship, piety, chastity, and



Der Hl. Augustinus und der Teufel or

Der Hl. Wolfgang und der Teufel 1471 -1475?