French Influence of Sir Gawain and The Green Knight


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French Influence of Sir Gawain and The Green Knight

 

        Sir Gawain and the Green Knight utilizes the convention of the

French-influenced romance. What sets this work apart from regular Arthurian

or chivalric romances is the poet's departure from this convention.  The

clearest departure takes place at the resolution of the piece as the hero,

Sir Gawain, is stricken with shame and remorse rather than modest knightly

pride, even after facing what appears to be certain death and returning to

his king alive and well.  Although this manner of closure would leave much

to be desired for an audience who is interested in reading a ridigly

conventional romance, the coexistence of the romantic convention with the

departure from it inspires questions concerning why the author would choose

to work within such guidelines and what the significance is of breaching

those guidelines.  By employing the chivalric convention in romantic

literature and then going beyond it to reveal other ways of thinking, the

writer challenges the very notion of chivalric conventions of the

surrounding social climate.  He demonstrates throughout the work a need for

balance.  As symbolied by the pentangle worn by Sir Gawain, representing

the balanced points of chivalric virture, each being codependent of the

other in order to remain a whole, the narrative could be considered as a

 

      What accompanies an appreciation for the seemingly sudden shift

from the typical romance at the end of the piece is the raised awareness

that the change does only seem to be sudden.  Careful exlporation of the

plot, setting, and character descriptions illuminates several deviations

from the established convention of the ideal society existing within the

text.  The effect is then a type of balancing act-- blah blah blah

 

        The opening of the piece sets a fairly typical stage for an

Anthurian romance, giving relevant historical and geographical information.

King Arthur's court is going on as it is expected to be within the social

constructs, merrily feasting and celebrating the Christmas holiday.  The

entrance of the Green Knight into Arthur's court marks a significant event.

He is a courtly figure from their recognizable world.  He appears as a

knight ought to appear: tall, handsome, and fashionably dressed; however,

the Green Knight's adherence to the conventions of the court is offset by

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his departure from that world.  He has very unfashionable long hair and a

beard; and, most noticably, he and the horse accompaning him are a stunning

color green. The author brings to question what his motives are by

juxtaposing his possession of holly, a sign of peaceful intent, with the

monstrous axe he weilds.  The fusion of human and supernatural

characteristics add to the ambiguity of the piece, the balance between

conventional and non-conventional, and give the first sign that the

construction of the narrative is dependent on this balance.

 

      The 'match': a game, yet implies death

 

        Arthur swings with the temperment and yet nothing happens.  The

response of the Green Knight is completely passive.  When Gawain intervenes,

it can be seen in two ways, that he is intervening with the courtly manner

of a true knight of the Round Table, or with an implied criticism of Arthur

for involving himself in such a challenge and on the court for letting this

to take place.  This brings about questions of the reputation of the Round

Table and of the truth of the chivalric nature of the knights in the court.

 


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