Sir Gawain and the Green Knight | Study Guide

Pearl Poet

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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight | Fytte the First, Stanzas 1–2 | Summary

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Summary

Fytte the First, Stanza 1

The narrator describes the founding of Rome, Britain, and other areas in medieval Europe. Aeneas, warrior at the siege of Troy, conquered provinces in the West Isles. In Italy, Romulus founded Rome, Ticius founded Tuscany, and Longobard founded Lombardy. Over the "French flood," Felix Brutus founded Britain.

Fytte the First, Stanza 2

Many strange things have happened in Britain since its founding. The narrator is going to tell the strangest and most extraordinary tale of all—one of the "wonders of Arthur," the king the narrator says is the most courteous of the British kings. The narrator will tell the story as he's heard it told himself. The legend, he says, is set down in a "story that cannot be changed."

Analysis

A fytte is a section of a song. The narrative poem is divided into four fyttes, each narrating a different stage of Gawain's story.

Fytte the First begins by establishing the story in a historical tradition. Britain is not anywhere close to being a world power in 1400. In showing that the country derives its heritage from Aeneas of Troy, and thus from the founding of Rome, the poet tries to claim for Britain an ancient classical heritage and a status as the "new Rome" that can have its own heroes.

Legends build on one another, and the narrator lists heroes well known to the audience to put Arthur and Gawain in their company. The Pearl Poet mentions having been told this story to remind the reader of an older culture of oral storytelling. The narrator himself, however, believes in the importance of written, unchanging historical record; as he says, he's telling a story "long written in the land in true words." Realizing his story is strange and extraordinary, he makes claims to veracity to gain the reader's trust.

He introduces and praises Arthur as "the most courteous" of the British kings. But even the best kings, he knows, made mistakes and "wrought destruction." Readers will find that the story he's about to tell reveals flaws in Arthur and his court.

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