Free Essays - Holy Feast and Holy Fast and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight


Length: 2484 words (7.1 double-spaced pages)
Rating: Excellent
Open Document
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Text Preview

More ↓

Continue reading...

Open Document

Forbidden Fruit in Holy Feast and Holy Fast and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight   


The forbidden fruit, its properties, and its affects, has vast ramifications within the ethics of the women in Holy Feast and Holy Fast. as well as those of the characters portrayed in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight 2. Perhaps the connection is less obvious with Gawain. It must be realized that this story contains multi-leveled metaphors which approach modern literature in their complexity. Argument will be made that Gawain betrays an isomorphism with Eden's tale. The author's attitude toward the fruit and perhaps toward fasting will become evident. Bynum's incisive argument has been extremely helpful in this analysis of Gawain; but, with respect to medieval women she has surprisingly little to say about Eve and the Tree. Although this neglect is regrettable, it is not fatal. This paper will tend to support the major theses of Holy Fast. The people described by these authors did not dwell inordinately on any essential weakness of women. It is hoped that this refocusing on the forbidden fruit will help us to see more clearly their perspectives.

The isomorphism of Gawain with the story of Eden can be demonstrated only after the stage is set. It may be helpful to think of this isomorphism as a kind of image or reflection. This puts it squarely within the realm of neoplatonic forms. Medieval nobility, often well versed in neoplatonic thought, would be quick to point out that Arthur, the king is a lesser image of God and that his court is a reflection of the heavenly host. This assertion is not without textual support.

Happiest of mortal kind
King noblest famed of will
You would now go far to find
So hardy a host on a hill. (2)

Presently, the Green Knight rides in. He mirrors Lucifer in God's court, and more; He is full of slander (7:315). He is described in titanic imagery (4:140, 9:390), which was commonly attributed to the anti-christ. The Round Table cannot abide this affront to the King so Gawain, with Guenevere's permission, steps in to intercede. Here Gawain is like Christ or Michael, going out to battle the dragon. He severs his head.

Gawain is full of reversals and inversions. This is consistent with the neoplatonic model since Arthur's court is a lesser image. Later, we will present Bynum's views on this point.

How to Cite this Page

MLA Citation:
"Free Essays - Holy Feast and Holy Fast and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight." 123HelpMe.com. 25 Nov 2017
    <http://www.123HelpMe.com/view.asp?id=6906>.
Title Length Color Rating  
Sir Gawain and The Green Knight Essay - In the Pearl poet’s Sir Gawain and The Green Knight, an epic talk emerges to reveal a man’s journey of honesty, morals, and honor. Sir Gawain accepts a challenge in place of his uncle King Arthur, with hidden tests and viable consequences. As Gawain begins his journey, he proudly upholds his knightly honor and seeks out his own death; however, Gawain gives into his human emotion and is soon distracted from his chivalrous motives. As a result of this distraction, Gawain is marked with a scar to show his dishonest and cowardly deception....   [tags: Sir Gawain and The Green Knight]
:: 1 Works Cited
1027 words
(2.9 pages)
Strong Essays [preview]
Essay on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight - Sir Gawain and The Green Knight The story, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, was told in the14th century by an anonymous poet about a young knight on his first adventure. In my analysis of Part 4, lines 2358 through 2350, I will discuss the significance of the number three, the tap, the asking of the Green Knight his name, and the green belt. I will develop the theory that the author uses this story and these significant symbols to bring out his Christian beliefs about the flesh and its weakness....   [tags: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight]
:: 3 Works Cited
911 words
(2.6 pages)
Strong Essays [preview]
Essay on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight - Sir Gawain and the Green Knight - lines 491-565 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is the greatest 14th century text. The poem is made up of two stories, one (the testing at Bercilak's castle) set inside the other (the beheading of the Green Knight at the beginning and the return blow at the end). The unknown author describes in the poem adventure of the brave and courageous Sir Gawain who challenges the Green Knight. The passage that starts Part II of the poem illustrates the feast given to honor Sir Gawain for his bravery and courage after he meets the first challenge of the Green Knight....   [tags: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight]
:: 1 Works Cited
436 words
(1.2 pages)
Strong Essays [preview]
Essay on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight - Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was written by an anonymous author in the 14th century. It was written in a dialect from Northern England. The poem uses alliteration similar to the Anglo-Saxon form of poetry. Alliteration uses a repetition of consonants. The poem ends the way it begins. At the end of each scene, the section of the poem concludes with a sharp rhyme. There are many patterns that are developed by the author in the poem. There are three literal hunts with the deer, boar and fox....   [tags: Sir Gawain Green Knight Poem Essays]
:: 1 Works Cited
998 words
(2.9 pages)
Strong Essays [preview]
The Character of the Green Knight in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Essay - The Character of the Green Knight in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight In the most general sense, the Green Knight is an anomaly to the story of " Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," the only supernatural element in what is otherwise a very believable and wholly real rendering of a specific length of time. Gawain is momentarily tricked into believing‹or, rather, hoping‹that the garter is magical in nature, but both his fear and the Green Knight dispel him of that heathen notion. Thus on the one hand the poet warns us of the danger of accepting the supernatural qua supernatural, while on the other he demands that we understand the Green Knight to be an expression of the "power of Morgan...   [tags: Sir Gawain Green Knight Essays] 698 words
(2 pages)
Better Essays [preview]
The Pentangle in Sir Gawain and The Green Knight Essay - The Pentangle in Sir Gawain and The Green Knight When writing, never explain your symbols. The author of ``Sir Gawain and the Green Knight' dropped this unspoken rule when he picked up his pen. Why. The detailed description and exposition of the pentangle form the key to understanding this poem. By causing the reader to view Gawain's quest in terms of the pentangle, the narrator compares the knightly ideals with the reality of Gawain's life. The narrator uses the pentangle to promote the knightly ideals, but he also accentuates the primary need for truth in knightly conduct....   [tags: Sir Gawain Green Knight Essays]
:: 5 Works Cited
3293 words
(9.4 pages)
Powerful Essays [preview]
Essay on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight - Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Lines 1372-1453 from The Norton Anthology of English Literature Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was written in the fourteenth century by an anonymous poet who was a contemporary of Geoffrey Chaucer. The story was originally written in a Northern dialect. It tells the story of Sir Gawain's first adventure as a knight. This section of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight pertains to the agreement between Bercilak de Hautdesert, the host, and Gawain. Bercilak is to go hunting in the morning, while Gawain sleeps....   [tags: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight]
:: 1 Works Cited
476 words
(1.4 pages)
Strong Essays [preview]
Essay about Sir Gawain and the Green Knight - Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Nothing is known about the author who wrote the medieval poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Yet it is considered one of the greatest works from the Middle English era. It tells a tale of a mysterious and magical figure (The Green Knight) who presents a challenge to the pride and wealth of Arthur's kingdom. Sir Gawain accepts the challenge. However, the real test of the Green Knight isn't about strength or swordsmanship. It's a test of character. During Christmas at Camelot, the celebration is interrupted by the entrance of the Green Knight....   [tags: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight]
:: 1 Works Cited
656 words
(1.9 pages)
Good Essays [preview]
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Essay - Sir Gawain and the Green Knight - Character Analysis of Sir Gawain "The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell" is a medieval romance poem written by an anonymous author. Sir Gawain is one of the major characters in the poem. He is a very likable personality. Sir Gawain represents an ideal knight of the fourteenth century. Throughout the story, we see Sir Gawain portrayed as a very courteous and noble knight, always trying to help King Arthur. The characteristics of Sir Gawain like kindness, generosity and firmness are revealed from his actions....   [tags: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight]
:: 4 Works Cited
1998 words
(5.7 pages)
Powerful Essays [preview]
Essay on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight - Sir Gawain and the Green Knight - Gawain Finds The Green Knight's Castle PASSAGE ANALYSIS LINES 763-841 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is an Arthurian story about the first adventure of Sir Gawain (King Arthur's nephew). The author and date of this romance are not exactly known but may be dated circa 1375-1400, because the author seems to be a contemporary of Geoffrey Chaucer. From the very start of the story, the author gives a grand introduction for Arthur and his court, and then Arthur's men are described as "bold boys" (line 21) which means that they are brave, but only boys....   [tags: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight]
:: 4 Works Cited
1356 words
(3.9 pages)
Strong Essays [preview]

Related Searches




Suffice it to say that the giant offered freely his neck to the blow and bound Gawain by oath to come to the Green Chapel and do likewise one year later.

Before we continue we must deal with the nature of Gawain's journey. Some have said that this is the story of Gawain's quest. It is not a quest but rather a fall. Though Bercilak's court is a lesser image of God's court it is also a lesser image of Arthur's. Gawain travels down the hierarchy, not up. He himself calls the whole affair "folly" (8:355) while his friends bemoan the tragedy and "ill fortune" (15:670).

In Gawain, transitions are consistently signified by certain warning flags or signposts, as it were. Among these signposts are; invocation or mention of the Virgin, mentions of the cross, recurrence of the number three, and inversion or reversal in Bynum's sense of the words. She tells us;

Thus, the male writers, artists, worshipers, and priests
in the later middle ages make use of sharp symbolic
dichotomies, and many of their most profound and moving
images were symbolic reversals. (285)

Men's stories are tales of "crisis and conversion." Likewise, these transitions are often times of personal transformation; ultimately, instruction, wisening, and initiation for Gawain. While this is more evident at the Green Chapel, it is also apparent at Bercilak's castle.

Bercilak's court can be shown to be a lesser image of God's as well as Arthur's court but also of Eden. As Gawain searches for a place to celebrate the Christmas mass and fails to find it on his own, he prays to Mary and God that he might find a dwelling. He crosses himself three times and immediately Bercilak's castle appears, as if out of nowhere. The signpost of reversal is also present since he enters the court at Christmastide, mirroring the action of the Green Knight at Arthur's court one year before. (16:750) The obvious point that this court is a reflection of God's is made clear by the Peter/the porter quip. (17:810) That this is a lesser image of Arthur's court is a point requiring elucidation. First of all, Bercilak is said to be a relative of Arthur along the maternal line. (51:2445-65) This point would not be lost on medieval nobility. Second, Bercilak's wives are a divided image of Guenevere. Many have wondered why Guenevere's eyes are gray. For the author, gray represents winter and death, (12:525) yet she is clearly Mary's image. This bifurcation, proceeding to full division in a lesser court would be right at home in classical cosmologies. The isomorphism with Eden is even more difficult to show.

Gawain, though he is "God's archangel" at Arthur's court, is "Adam in Eden" at Bercilak's court. It must be remembered that the castle was provided by God for Gawain almost out of nowhere. Bercilak, who has already been shown to be a reflection of God, shows Gawain around, makes him feel at home, and finally introduces him to the women. (18-20) All of this is highly suggestive of Eden and it will be shown that the isomorphism holds out to the end. That Gawain should reflect both God's archangel and Adam in Eden is not as unusual as might be thought. Many classically influenced christians have insisted that God bestowed more than atoms of air when he breathed into Adam's clay image. Christ himself is said to indwell Bynum's women, entering through the mouth. (133)

If Gawain is a reflection of Adam, then who represents Eve? The author refers to the old lady and the young as "the crone and the coquette" respectively. (28:1315) Our crone plays little role in the happenings at the castle. Though her very integral role is revealed later, she is thus rendered an unlikely candidate for the role of Eve. However, the coquette, who is is central to Gawain's temptation, shows herself to be very much like Adam's lady.

As the story unfolds, Gawain, like Adam, is frequently left alone with the coquette. Bercilak, who like Arthur is both gamesman and huntsman, leaves periodically, mirroring God's notable comings and goings at Eden. On the third day, while hunting, Bercilak comes upon a curious red fox. The crafty beast thinks himself to have thrown off the hounds through his running, circling, and hiding. As he comes out from hiding he is spied by three gray hounds. As the huntsmen close in he is decried as a "thief". (36-1710) Evidently, he had been poaching in the king's garden's. This fox, who presages Gawain's actions, will also give us a possible clue as to the author's perception of Adam's sin. While Bercilak is away the coquette slips into Gawain's room and begins her routine of trying to get him to "teach by some tokens the true craft of love." (32:1525) However, Gawain artfully rebuffs all of her sexual advances, thus showing that the nature of the sin is not sexual at all. Yet, he is clearly in some danger.

Great peril attends that meeting
Should Mary forget her knight. (37:1765)

The signposts of the third day and the mention of Mary alert the reader that Gawain is at a moment of crux. When the coquette sees that all of her advances are refused she tries to get Gawain to accept a pngt. The green sash is first presented as a love token, which Gawain refuses with the utmost courtesy. She then tries a different tack.

For the man who possesses this piece of silk
If he bore it on his body, belted about,
There is no hand under heaven that could hew him down,
For he could not be killed by any craft on earth. (39:1850)

This protection from death, this "pearl for his plight" to come at the Green Chapel is what he accepts from the coquette.

Adam bites the berry. Clearly, it is the contention of this paper that Gawain, in accepting the sash, is mirroring Adam taking the fruit. Yet, what does a green piece of silk have to do with a piece of fruit? Firstly, the sash is green. This color is associated by the author with spring and things that grow. (11:505) It is the color of the enigmatic knight, who, as we shall see, is very much implicated with earthiness. Secondly, the sash, like the fruit, is given by a woman. Thirdly, death avoidance is integral to a any thought of the sash or the fruit. When the coquette says "he could not be killed" (above) it is both reflection and inversion of the saying of the serpent, "Ye shall not surely die." (Gen 3:4) Fourthly, the sin is temporarily hidden. Gawain, when he receives the embroidered silk, is bidden to "conceal it well". (39:1860) Likewise, Adam and Eve sew green aprons but conceal themselves. (Gen 3:7,8) Finally, both cases are seen as robbery or poaching in God's garden. Gawain, who has covenanted to give over all of his gains to the king (23:1105-10), hides the sash in his chamber. (39:1875) When Bercilak returns from his fox hunting, Gawain greets him thus, "Never trouble about the terms, since all that I owe here is openly about the terms, since all that I owe here is openly paid." The king replies,

"Marry!" said the other man, "mine is much less,
For I have hunted all day and nought have I got
But this foul fox pelt, the fiend take the goods!
Which but poorly repays those precious things
That you have cordially conferred, those kisses
three so good."

It is not surprising that as Gawain here commits to his robbery that signposts should lie about; Marry, and the number three. But, the cross is also here since Gawain replies, "Thank you, by the rood!" Gawain's rudeness will now be revealed.

Gawain rides forth from Bercilak's castle and Adam is "sent forth" from Eden into the earth. Gawain too finds himself in a very earthy place. The Green Chapel is described as a "mound" with a hole and "grass in clumps all without". (45:2175-85)

As Gawain has come full circle, transition is close at hand with all the signposts. Mary is mentioned (45:2140), but also eluded to in Gawain's comment on his "five wits". (46:2190) This harks back to his shield (14:619), with its star (Solomon's Knot) and its occulted image of the Virgin. The "Fiend", the Green Knight, who is Bercilak in disguise, gives Gawain three "taps" with his ax. It is notable that this act, along with the giving of the sash renders Gawain Bercilak's vassal by knightly custom. The whole scene is rich with reversals of the Green Knight's visit of the Green Knight's visit to Arthur's castle . Gawain rides in, now to his own beheading, wearing the bright green sash "against the gay red" (43:2035) mirroring the giants blood "bright on the green" (10:426). After exposing Gawain's fault Bercilak gives him the sash as a token of remembrance. Though Gawain compares his fall to woman to Adam's (50:2415) this is not his final point. He gives the sash a place of honor, hanging from his right shoulder and tied at his left side. (52:2485) It will serve, not only to lower his pride, (51:2437) but also to remind him of past "cowardice and coveting." (52:2505) Thus it is shown that Gawain's, and perhaps Adam's sin was not merely overlove of life, but also thievery. Be that as it may, it seems that each gleaned a certain wisdom from the experience.

Gawain, though convicted of robbery, is allowed to re-enter Arthur's, and by implication, God's court. To eat the fruit is not merely to rob God, but also to gain wisdom. As Bynum pointed out, "to taste is to know." (151) Biting the berry is partially, but not totally, evil. There was something left of Gawain that was still worth saving. One wonders if the author of Gawain would agree with Aquinas that;

"To starve the body" would be to steal from what it should be and offer God only "stolen goods". To fast into ill-health would destroy one's "dignity" as a person. (239)

Thus, the implications of this assessment of Gawain are within the realms of medieval thought as elucidated in Holy Fast. However, they by no means encompass that thought.

Many of Bynum's women saw gluttony rather than robbery as central to Adam's (and Eve's) sin. The omni-present Aquinas examined this notion. (32) Medieval women were taught that food was dangerous, that gluttony was the root cause of other sins. (82,109) The point that Bynum fails to make is that medieval women's piety can be seen within this context, to be a response to Eve's transgression. In this sense, fasting would be a retreat, in general, from gluttony, and eucharistic piety would be a retreat, in particular, from the fruit. This is not a return to the misogyny which Bynum shunned, but rather, a re-focusing on the fruit and its implications which Bynum neglected.

Bynum's women did not dwell inordinately on any essential weakness of Eve, or of women in general. Perhaps they were familiar with the implication of I Timothy 2:14-15 that Eve was saved. It seems that Eve was equated with physical humanity as often as Mary or the body of Christ. (263) Hildegard treats this same subject with lanquage that makes Christ more of a New Eve than a New Adam. (264)

Some have seen the middle ages as a time of hatred for women, and for humanity in general. In that this paper joins with Bynum in rebuttal, it is at least a partial success. However, though it began as an analysis of a piece medieval poetry, it has evolved into a consideration of Adam and Eve and the state of their souls. Perhaps this calls doubt upon its conclusions. I don't think so. Rather, I think this speaks volumes to the thesis that the middle ages, that phenomena in general, will forever remain more complex than anything we can say about them, This realization has resulted in what Bynum calls "the impoverishment of twentieth century images." (299,302) I would not treat it so negatively. We have undone "Solomon's Knot". Yet, the star did not fall from heaven. It still burns in every one of us.

Notes
1. Holy Feast and Holy Fast, Carolyn Walker Bynum, University of California Press, 1987. References are given as; (page number)

2. I used Marie Baroff's verse translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. References are given as; (page number: line number)


Return to 123HelpMe.com