Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, III & IV
Sir Gawainand its Audience
- Note the poet's manipulation of readerly expectations and of the conventions of romance.
- What is the real quest, what is the real test in this poem?
The Element of the Erotic
- Courtly love, or "fyn'amor": the emphasis on graceful and idealized relations between the sexes. Note: Courtly love is an almost entirely literary phenomenon.
- The northern court's emphasis (and the lady's particular emphasis) on Gawain's reputation for graceful dalliance and "love-talking."
- The poem's sophisticated narrative design: the significant interlacing of the three outdoor hunts and the skirmishes in the bedroom.
- "Courtesye" vs. "Clannes" in the verbal battles in the bedroom: Gawain's dilemma being that his trauthe is on the line in the exchange-of-winnings game.
- The redefinition of the green girdle from love token to magical talisman.
- What precisely is the nature of Gawain's errancy in accepting the girdle?
- The meeting in the Green Chapel: once it is revealed that Gawain's host and the Green Knight are the same person, the need for retrospective reinterpretation of Gawain's experience.
- Entanglement of the outcome of the "beheading" game with the outcome of the "exchange-of-winnings" game, which itself was all bound up with how Gawain responded to the temptation of the hostess.
The Moral of the Story?
- Status of Green Knight at end of poem: Spiritual guide? Father confessor? Force of nature? Agent of mysterious supernatural forces? To what extent is he a free agent?
- Significance of Morgan le Faye's eruption into the explanations at the end of the poem? The unfamiliar becomes the familial: Morgan is Gawain's aunt.
- Multiplication of testers; of tests, games and contracts; of temptations; and multiplying judgments upon Gawain's performance.
- How do we reconcile the Green Knight's judgment of Gawain, Gawain's self-judgment, and the Round Table's assessment of his success? (Note that the poet doesn't explicitly tell us which to prioritize.)
- The constant renegotiation of the significance of the green girdle in the later stages of the poem.
- Redefinition of Gawain's identity? The knight defined by the endless knot of the pentangle becomes the knight who is marked by the green girdle.
- The poet's refusal to offer us any encompassing moral; the reader must make the final call on the particular significance of Gawain's questing and testing.