Mini-Lecture 6 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Mini-Lecture 6 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight -...

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Mini-Lecture 6: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight 1. About the text itself The poem SGGK is found in a solitary manuscript often referred to as the Pearl manuscript, named for the first of four poems bound together and presumed to be written by the same anonymous poet, who is presumed to be a man and is referred to as the Pearl -poet or the Gawain -poet. The manuscript dates to the late 14 th C. and is thus contemporaneous with Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales . However, although both are written in Middle English, the dialects, poetic style, themes and concerns, subject matter, and tone differ substantially between the two texts. Chaucer’s Middle English is that of London, of the royal court and center of commerce, while the Pearl -poet’s Middle English is much closer to the Germanic Old English of pre- Conquest England. The vocabulary, diction and spelling are all more archaic than that of Chaucer. In addition, two older letter forms, the thorn þ and the yogh , are still found in SGGK and the other poems of the Pearl manuscript, though they are well out of Chaucer’s urban, Norman-influenced Middle English. The dialect of SGGK is that of the West Midlands, an area in the west of England near present-day Wales. The poem is written in the alliterative long line (i.e., no caesura), with a less formal metrical and stress system than that found in Old English poetry. It also features the bob- and-wheel at the end of each stanza, a rhyming set of five lines – the first only two syllables in length – that either sums up or comments on the stanza it completes. The bob-and-wheel derives originally from spinning and weaving, so it is that the tale is woven as well. 2. Epic vs. Romance Unlike Beowulf , an elegiac epic, SGGK is part of the tradition of courtly romance. Its concerns are therefore different. There is more focus on the individual than on the society. Both the chivalric code and the courtly love tradition feature prominently in the text, in the characters’ behaviors and attitudes. While the chivalric code dictates service to one’s lord and to defending the defenseless, the code of courtly love prescribes attitudes and behaviors about how a nobleman and a knight should serve his lady in terms that mirror service to the lord. Three important and widely read texts spoke to these duties in the Middle Ages: Ovid’s Ars Amatoria (The Art of Love, c. 1 BC), originally intended as an ironic satire on love, was read seriously in the Middle Ages; Andreas Capellanus’ Art of Courtly Love (late 1170s) which set out rules for loving a lady; and Guillaume de Lorris’ and Jean de Meun’s Roman de la Rose (1237-77), an allegorical depiction of the lover’s attempt to win the lady’s heart, allegorized as
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This note was uploaded on 03/01/2011 for the course ENG 320 taught by Professor Bollermann during the Spring '10 term at ASU.

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Mini-Lecture 6 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight -...

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