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Lecture 4

ENGL 200 Lecture 4 - Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.docx

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McGill University
English (Arts)
ENGL 200
Wes Folkerth

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Introduction  This poem is divided into four parts: o Part 1: Arthur’s court and the appearance of the Green Knight o Part 2: The Journey, and the ―Interlude‖ at the castle o Part 3: Seduction of Gawain o Part 4: Gawain’s Return  This poem was authored by an unknown ―Gawain poet‖  This poem is part of a larger manuscript, and there are three others that are more secular  The poem has a regular form, in terms of stanzas  Note that the poem is translated from Middle English into Modern English  Many of the works at this time were authored by poets from various dialects, and are in the more archaic side o Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was authored by a poet in the West Midlands (more difficult to understand) o The Canterbury Tales were authored by Chaucer, who was from the south of England, around London, and is therefore more modern  The poet uses many verses that rhyme, and this creates a sort of music that is nice to listen to and is attractive to listeners  The poet also uses many really old words, and the translator attempts to preserve much of it in order to make it sound more archaic and thus more authentic  Notice that even works such as the Bible have archaic words since it would make it sound more authoritative  The geography of the poem largely reflects the region in which the author was familiar with  This poem can be classified as an Arthurian Chivalric Romance o It is called a romance because it is story told in a vernacular language (therefore, not Roman, Latin or French) – English (at that time) o These tales are often associated with female leadership in some form o The figure of Arthur is very important in all of these poems  Many countries at the time of this writing became aware of the significance of literature as a means of preserving a culture  Sir Gawain is quite an unfamiliar and fresh name, but he did have a reputation as a lover  Edward III was king of England during that time, and England experienced a period of political instability  Knights during that period were also vulnerable in battle – nonetheless, Knights in culture were still very important  During this period, the Order of the Garter was established – in this order, knights used the green girdle as a sign of honor  During this period, here are some standpoints of chivalry: o The position of knights was uneasy o There was a peasant revolt in 1381 o Aristotle texts were being published that threw the natural standing of the culture (during the Renaissance) o The knights had a responsibility to maintain order, and this was done through contracts o ―Troth,‖ which means truth, means that you will fulfill your promises – and this is the main quality that is being tested o However, even Sir Gawain tells some lies, and is eventually forgiven and gets a scar on the neck. To remind himself of the sins that he had committed, he wears a girdle to remind himself that he did not live up to his ideals  Chivalry is ―Troth‖ and is represented by the pentangle, a sign of truth  The pentangle (star) was a sign of truth, a sign of solemnic reason – 5 things, 5 fingers, 5 senses (to judge the nature of the world around you) – making it a very important symbol  There is an inner and outward manifestation of the truth  There is an important manifestation (Mary’s truth), where it is the trough in the pentangle The Poem  The poem begins with a really happy atmosphere at Arthur’s court, where is a lot of female influence. Importantly, this female influence will be driving factor in this poem.  People in this court were sort of cool for that time – and they were very full of themselves Pg. 164 Lines 85-106 (Arthur’s Court) ―But Arthur would not eat till all were served; So light was his lordly heart, and a little boyish; His life he liked lively—the less he cared To be lying for long, or long to sit, So busy his young blood, his brain so wild. And also a point of pride pricked him in heart, For he nobly had willed, he would never eat On so high a holiday, till he had heard first Of some fair feat or fray some far-borne tale, Of some marvel of might, that he might trust, By champions of chivalry achieved in arms, Or some suppliant came seeking some single knight To join with him in jousting, in jeopardy each To lay life for life, and leave it to fortune To afford him on field fair hap or other. Such is the king’s custom, when his court he holds At each far-famed feast amid his fair host So dear. The stout king stands in state Till a wonder shall appear; He leads, with heart elate, High mirth in the New Year.‖  There is a sense of decadence, that Arthur is not content with what is around him – he wishes for somebody to entertain him, to tell him a story  He got what he wished for: right in the middle of the stanza, the Green Knight appears, almost as if to grant Arthur’s wish Pg. 165 Lines 130-150 (The Green Knight’s Entrance) ―Of the service itself I need say no more, For well you will know no tittle was wanting. Another noise and a new was well-nigh at hand, That the lord might have leave his life to nourish; For scarce were the sweet strains still in the hall, And the first course come to that company fair, There hurtles in at the hall-door an unknown rider, One the greatest on ground in growth of his frame: From broad neck to buttocks so bulky and thick, And his loins and his legs so long and so great, Half a giant on earth I hold him to be, But believe him no less than the largest of men, And that the seemliest in his stature to see, as he rides, For in back and in breast though his body was grim, His waist in its width was worthily small, And formed with every feature in fair accord Was he. Great wonder grew in hall At his hue most strange to see, For man and gear and all Were green as green could be.‖  It is very strange that the knight is totally green  There is a green man quality to this knight, as somebody who comes in to stir trouble  However, there is something that is very natural about this knight  The green knight takes over the hall, and puts forth a challenge  Although Arthur himself wants to do it, Sir Gawain takes over, and decapitates the knight  This brings up the question: ―Why does Gawain take over from Arthur?‖ – It might be because of the common courtesy that Sir Gawain possesses  There is also a certain importance to the shield Pg. 175 Lines 619-646 (The Shield, and the Pentangle) ―Then they showed forth the shield, that shone all red, With pentangle portrayed in purest gold. About his broad neck by the baldric he casts it, That was meet for the man, and matched him well. And why the pentangle is proper to that peerless prince I intend now to tell, though detain me it must. It is a sign by Solomon sagely devis
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