Literature Notes: Beowulf, Arthur, Sir Gawain Flashcards

Terms Definitions
The Narrator
The narrator makes it quite clear that he is also a character in his book. Although he is called Chaucer, we should be wary of accepting his words and opinions as Chaucer's own. In the General Prologue, the narrator presents himself as a gregarious and naïve character. Later on, the Host accuses him of being silent and sullen. Because the narrator writes down his impressions of the pilgrims from memory, whom he does and does not like, and what he chooses and chooses not to remember about the characters, tells us as much about the narrator's own prejudices as it does about the characters themselves.
The Knight
The first pilgrim Chaucer describes in the General Prologue, and the teller of the first tale. The Knight represents the ideal of a medieval Christian man-at-arms. He has participated in no less than fifteen of the great crusades of his era. Brave, experienced, and prudent, the narrator greatly admires him.
The Nun's Priest
Like the Second Nun, the Nun's Priest is not described in the General Prologue. His story of Chanticleer, however, is well crafted and suggests that he is a witty, self-effacing preacher.
The Yeoman
The servant who accompanies the Knight and the Squire. The narrator mentions that his dress and weapons suggest he may be a forester.
The Cook
The Cook works for the Guildsmen. Chaucer gives little detail about him, although he mentions a crusty sore on the Cook's leg.
The Plowman
The Plowman is the Parson's brother and is equally good-hearted. A member of the peasant class, he pays his tithes to the Church and leads a good Christian life.
The Reeve
A reeve was similar to a steward of a manor, and this reeve performs his job shrewdly—his lord never loses so much as a ram to the other employees, and the vassals under his command are kept in line. However, he steals from his master.
The Franklin
The word "franklin" means "free man." In Chaucer's society, a franklin was neither a vassal serving a lord nor a member of the nobility. This particular franklin is a connoisseur of food and wine, so much so that his table remains laid and ready for food all day.
The Physician
The Physician is one of the best in his profession, for he knows the cause of every malady and can cure most of them. Though the Physician keeps himself in perfect physical health, the narrator calls into question the Physician's spiritual health: he rarely consults the Bible and has an unhealthy love of financial gain.
The Skipper
Brown-skinned from years of sailing, the Skipper has seen every bay and river in England, and exotic ports in Spain and Carthage as well. He is a bit of a rascal, known for stealing wine while the ship's captain sleeps.
The Manciple
A manciple was in charge of getting provisions for a college or court. Despite his lack of education, this Manciple is smarter than the thirty lawyers he feeds.
The Merchant - The Merchant trades in furs and other cloths, mostly from Flanders. He is part of a powerful and wealthy class in Chaucer's society.
The Man of Law
A successful lawyer commissioned by the king. He upholds justice in matters large and small and knows every statute of England's law by heart.
The Clerk
The Clerk is a poor student of philosophy. Having spent his money on books and learning rather than on fine clothes, he is threadbare and wan. He speaks little, but when he does, his words are wise and full of moral virtue.
The Squire
The Knight's son and apprentice. The Squire is curly-haired, youthfully handsome, and loves dancing and courting.
The Host
The leader of the group, the Host is large, loud, and merry, although he possesses a quick temper. He mediates among the pilgrims and facilitates the flow of the tales. His title of "host" may be a pun, suggesting both an innkeeper and the Eucharist, or Holy Host.
The Parson
The only devout churchman in the company, the Parson lives in poverty, but is rich in holy thoughts and deeds. The pastor of a sizable town, he preaches the Gospel and makes sure to practice what he preaches. He is everything that the Monk, the Friar, and the Pardoner are not.
The Summoner
The Summoner brings persons accused of violating Church law to ecclesiastical court. This Summoner is a lecherous man whose face is scarred by leprosy. He gets drunk frequently, is irritable, and is not particularly qualified for his position. He spouts the few words of Latin he knows in an attempt to sound educated.
The Friar
Roaming priests with no ties to a monastery, friars were a great object of criticism in Chaucer's time. Always ready to befriend young women or rich men who might need his services, the friar actively administers the sacraments in his town, especially those of marriage and confession. However, Chaucer's worldly Friar has taken to accepting bribes.
The Monk
Most monks of the Middle Ages lived in monasteries according to the Rule of Saint Benedict, which demanded that they devote their lives to "work and prayer." This Monk cares little for the Rule; his devotion is to hunting and eating. He is large, loud, and well clad in hunting boots and furs.
The Prioress
Described as modest and quiet, this Prioress (a nun who is head of her convent) aspires to have exquisite taste. Her table manners are dainty, she knows French (though not the French of the court), she dresses well, and she is charitable and compassionate.
The Miller
Stout and brawny, the Miller has a wart on his nose and a big mouth, both literally and figuratively. He threatens the Host's notion of propriety when he drunkenly insists on telling the second tale. Indeed, the Miller seems to enjoy overturning all conventions: he ruins the Host's carefully planned storytelling order; he rips doors off hinges; and he tells a tale that is somewhat blasphemous, ridiculing religious clerks, scholarly clerks, carpenters, and women.
The Pardoner
Pardoners granted papal indulgences—reprieves from penance in exchange for charitable donations to the Church. Many pardoners, including this one, collected profits for themselves. In fact, Chaucer's Pardoner excels in fraud, carrying a bag full of fake relics—for example, he claims to have the veil of the Virgin Mary. The Pardoner has long, greasy, yellow hair and is beardless. These characteristics were associated with shiftiness and gender ambiguity in Chaucer's time. The Pardoner also has a gift for singing and preaching whenever he finds himself inside a church.
The Wife of Bath
Bath is an English town on the Avon River, not the name of this woman's husband. Though she is a seamstress by occupation, she seems to be a professional wife. She has been married five times and had many other affairs in her youth, making her well practiced in the art of love. She presents herself as someone who loves marriage and sex, but, from what we see of her, she also takes pleasure in rich attire, talking, and arguing. She is deaf in one ear and has a gap between her front teeth, which was considered attractive in Chaucer's time. She has traveled on pilgrimages to Jerusalem three times and elsewhere in Europe as well.
The Knight
The first pilgrim Chaucer describes in the General Prologue, and the teller of the first tale. The Knight represents the ideal of a medieval Christian man-at-arms. He has participated in no less than fifteen of the great crusades of his era. Brave, experienced, and prudent, the narrator greatly admires him.
Beowulf
The protagonist of the poem. Beowulf is a Geatish hero who fights the monster Grendel, Grendel's mother, and a fire-breathing dragon. Beowulf's exploits prove him to be the strongest, ablest warrior of his time. In his youth, he personifies the values of the heroic culture. In his old age, he proves a wise and effective ruler.
Grendel
A demon descended from Cain. Grendel preys on Hrothgar's warriors in the king's mead-hall, Heorot. Because Grendel's ruthless and miserable existence is part of the retribution exacted by God for Cain's murder of Abel, Grendel fits solidly within the ethos of vengeance that governs the world of the poem.
Wiglaf
A young kinsman and retainer of Beowulf. Wiglaf helps Beowulf in the fight against the dragon after the other warriors run away. Wiglaf adheres to the heroic code, thereby proving himself a suitable successor to Beowulf.
The dragon
An ancient, powerful serpent that guards a horde of treasure. Beowulf fights the dragon in the third and final part of the epic.
Grendel's Mother
A demon even more monstrous than Grendel. Grendel's mother seeks revenge on Hrothgar's men for the death of her son. Beowulf journeys to her magical, creature-filled lair beneath the swamp in order to defeat her.
King Hrothgar
The king of the Danes. Hrothgar enjoys military success and prosperity until Grendel comes to terrorize his realm. Hrothgar is a wise and aged ruler, and he represents a different kind of leadership from that exhibited by the youthful warrior Beowulf. He is a father figure to Beowulf and a model for the kind of king that Beowulf becomes.
Hygelac
Beowulf's uncle, king of the Geats, and husband of Hygd. Hygelac heartily welcomes Beowulf upon his return from Denmark.
Unferth
A Danish warrior who is jealous of Beowulf. Unferth is unable or unwilling to fight Grendel, thus proving himself inferior to Beowulf.
Sir Gawain -
The story's protagonist, Arthur's nephew and one of his most loyal knights. Although he modestly disclaims it, Gawain has the reputation of being a great knight and courtly lover. He prides himself on his observance of the five points of chivalry in every aspect of his life. Gawain is a pinnacle of humility, piety, integrity, loyalty, and honesty. His only flaw proves to be that he loves his own life so much that he will lie in order to protect himself. Gawain leaves the Green Chapel penitent and changed.
Green Knight
A mysterious visitor to Camelot. The Green Knight's huge stature, wild appearance, and green complexion set him apart from the beardless knights and beautiful ladies of Arthur's Camelot. He is an ambiguous figure: he says that he comes in friendship, not wanting to fight, but the friendly game he proposes is quite deadly. He attaches great importance to verbal contracts, expecting Sir Gawain to go to great lengths to hold up his end of their bargain. The Green Knight shows himself to be a supernatural being when he picks up his own severed head and rides out of Arthur's court, still speaking. At the same time, he seems to symbolize the natural world, in that he is killed and reborn as part of a cycle. At the poem's end, we discover that the Green Knight is also Bertilak, Gawain's host, and one of Morgan le Faye's minions.
Gringolet
Gawain's horse.
Queen Guinevere
Arthur's wife. The beautiful young Guinevere of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight seems to have little in common with the one of later Arthurian legend. She sits next to Gawain at the New Year's feast and remains a silent, objectified presence in the midst of the knights of the Round Table.
Morgan le Faye -
The Arthurian tradition typically portrays Morgan as a powerful sorceress, trained by Merlin, as well as the half sister of King Arthur. Not until the last one hundred lines do we discover that the old woman at the castle is Morgan le Faye and that she has controlled the poem's entire action from beginning to end. As she often does in Arthurian literature, Morgan appears as an enemy of Camelot, one who aims to cause as much trouble for her half brother and his followers as she can.
Bertilak's wife
Bertilak's wife attempts to seduce Gawain on a daily basis during his stay at the castle. Though the poem presents her to the reader as no more than a beautiful young woman, Bertilak's wife is an amazingly clever debater and an astute reader of Gawain's responses as she argues her way through three attempted seductions. Flirtatious and intelligent, Bertilak's wife ultimately turns out to be another pawn in Morgan le Faye's plot.
Bertilak of Hautdesert -
The sturdy, good-natured lord of the castle where Gawain spends Christmas. We only learn Bertilak's name at the end of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The poem associates Bertilak with the natural world—his beard resembles a beaver, his face a fire—but also with the courtly behavior of an aristocratic host. Boisterous, powerful, brave, and generous, Lord Bertilak provides an interesting foil to King Arthur. At the end of the poem we learn that Bertilak and the Green Knight are the same person, magically enchanted by Morgan le Faye for her own designs.
Green Knight -
A mysterious visitor to Camelot. The Green Knight's huge stature, wild appearance, and green complexion set him apart from the beardless knights and beautiful ladies of Arthur's Camelot. He is an ambiguous figure: he says that he comes in friendship, not wanting to fight, but the friendly game he proposes is quite deadly. He attaches great importance to verbal contracts, expecting Sir Gawain to go to great lengths to hold up his end of their bargain. The Green Knight shows himself to be a supernatural being when he picks up his own severed head and rides out of Arthur's court, still speaking. At the same time, he seems to symbolize the natural world, in that he is killed and reborn as part of a cycle. At the poem's end, we discover that the Green Knight is also Bertilak, Gawain's host, and one of Morgan le Faye's minions.
/ 40
Term:
Definition:
Definition:

Leave a Comment ({[ getComments().length ]})

Comments ({[ getComments().length ]})

{[comment.username]}

{[ comment.comment ]}

View All {[ getComments().length ]} Comments
Ask a homework question - tutors are online