Gawain Criticism

Post ’em here, gang!

18 Comments

  1. Louis M. DeCuollo
    September 14, 2008
    English 203
    Literary Criticism

    Walls, Kathryn. “The Axe in “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”.” ANQ 16.1 (2003): 13-18. 13
    Sep. 2008
    The Axe

    Kathryn Walls, author of The Axe in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight provides the reader of her literary criticism that the axe, which the Green Knight uses against Sir Gawain, has deep symbolic meaning rooted in Christianity as well as Judaism.
    Walls describes how the Sir Gawain poet portrays the Green Knight attacking the main character with an axe by striking him in the neck. The Green Knight makes three attempts to attack him (1), however he only actually hits Sir Gawain once in the neck. Doing so, the Green Knight is “(inflicts) only a minor injury” (1). This is quite symbolic according to Walls. She continues with listing different people who have made an attempt to analyze this vital portion of the poem and how discusses their opinions on the subject matter. She states that he is a “deathless executioner” (1).
    Walls continues her argument that the axe has Christian roots by stating that the axe is to the Green Knight as the pilgrim staff is to Saint James (1). However, this is not the only interpretation that she speaks of during this criticism. She states that people have believed that the staff is a symbolism of the traditionally Jewish ceremony of circumcision; however she states that those that have claimed such things are unable to explain exactly why the Green Knight wields an axe instead of a pilgrim staff or a priest knife (2). She concludes her argument with the interpretation by Joseph Longo. He believes that the axe is a direct Catholic reference to the words of John the Baptist in the book of Matthew 3:10. John the Baptist states that “And now also the axe is laid to the root of the trees: every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down” (3).
    Walls does an excellent job of discussing how this poem shares a relationship between Jewish traditions and Christian text. Through the use of analysis as well as other literary techniques, she is able to provide with evidence that the axe in the poem can be a visual symbol of the Matthew 3:10 bible verse. She believes that the neck wound that the Green Knight gave Sir Gawain is a symbol of a Christmas gift while the terms which placed Arthur’s knight in this predicament represent the harshness of John the Baptist’s words of God in the Old Testament. I believe that this author does a good job of getting straight to the point of the religious connection of this poem as well as deeply analyzing statements about the poem prior to their own. Also, Walls does a good job in analyzing how Sir Gawain repents to the lord at the end of the poem thus seemly escaping judgment (4).

  2. John the Baptist isn’t in the OT, young padawan. And you’re missing a few grammatical items.

    Good man to git ‘er done, though.

  3. I was saying how he was talking about the OT sir. And I shall go through it again and fix it if I may. Or does it matter sir?

  4. what is that avatar?

  5. No need to fix it, Louis. I just misread it — probably due to reading knobby papers all day.

    Oh, And I think his avatar is a really cool zodiac thingamajig (technical name), James.

  6. James D. DeCuollo
    ENGL 203
    Dr. Livingston

    Farrell, Thomas J. “Gawain’s Wound.” Journal of the Modern Language Association of America 100.1 (1/1985): 97-99

    “The Immortal Wound: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”
    Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was a tale of courage and deceit. Mr. Thomas J. Farrell writes that Gawain represented the misguided will of Arthur and his court. In essence, he is stating that the lie and flaws of Gawain were to represent the overall problems that may have gone on in Arthur’s court and in essence, the majority of the knights of that time period. He states that the over gracious and giving lord of the castle that Gawain came across and Arthur both were flawed characters because they both gave too much to the point that it was a sign of personal pride; however, the Arthur also mentions that the entire court and Gawain changed at the end of the story.
    When Gawain was sliced with the axe, it symbolized the correction of Gawain’s soul. It was wandering down a path that was full of lies and deceit. According to Farrell, the neck is associated with the will in medieval literature and art; therefore, the actual will of the Green Knight in the beginning was severed because he intended to fight and kill whoever wronged him by slicing him. At the end, however, we discover to our great surprise that Gawain lives to fight another day. When Gawain returns with the green banner, after he discovers that he is to be entirely selfless in pride and every decision he makes is to be measured, his brothers in Arthur’s court rejoice at his sight and join under his banner symbolically throwing away the old ways of personal pride and obtaining new characteristics such as true courage, pride in a group not oneself, true chivalry, and most of all, they understood that selfless commitment is honorable.

  7. Yes, it is a zodiac map. However, it was also thought of during the Ancient Greece era as well as the Roman era as the map of human intelligence or knowledge. That is why I have chosen that image.

  8. Caroline Lytle
    September 16, 2008
    English 203
    Literary Criticism

    Cooke, Jessica. “The lady’s ‘blushing’ ring in ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’.” The Review of English Studies (1998): 1-5

    In her article, “The lady’s ‘blushing’ ring in ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’,” Jessica Cooke discusses the commonly overlooked significance of the ring Lady Bertilak offers Sir Gawain. Often overshadowed by Gawain’s acceptance of the girdle, the offering of the ring and more notably Gawain’s refusal to accept it help illustrate both the virtue and frailties of Gawain’s character. To the average medieval English audience the symbolism of the ring would be blatantly obvious. Rings at that time were often offered to knights by ladies as both protective talismans and love-tokens. Some argue that the offering of the ring represents the temptation of wealth, which Gawain successfully resists demonstrating his lack of materialism. Cooke suggests instead that both the girdle and the ring represent scales of temptation, the ring representing both wealth and protection and the girdle representing just protection. The girdle whose only quality is protection, is the lesser of the two evils, Gawain’s acceptance of it serves as an indication of his virtue. Cooke addresses the reason why the ring is commonly overlooked by arguing that a linguistic clue pertaining to the color of the ring itself has gone unnoticed. According to Cooke the ring contains a red stone. The word “blusschande”, which in existing translations of the poem show as “gleaming” or “shining,” is really supposed to be translated “to shine red” based off the Old English word “blyscan” which, according to Cooke, is usually cited as the root of the word “blusschande.” Cooke asserts that the Gawain- poet’s contemporary audience would have understood the ring to be shining red beams not just shining beams. The symbolism of color throughout the story is obvious. Red symbolizes, royalty, divinity, the Passion of Christ, energy, love, and was also believed to have the ability to guard against illness and harm. Cooke maintains as a whole, the red and gold ring signifies Gawain’s personal aspiration to represent a moral ideal. However, red also can symbolize blood, violence, cruelty and fierceness. Cooke argues that the dual meaning associated with the color red serves as a type of warning to the audience, reminding them of how even the virtuous can encounter the less pleasant qualities of temptation. Cooke also notes that Lady Bertilak tempts Gawain in three ways, first by asking him for his glove (a well recognized and totally inappropriate love-token), then offering him her ring (also inappropriate but slightly less so than the glove) and finally the girdle. Gawain errs, but only slightly by accepting the gift least damaging to his honor – the girdle. Through his choice he conveys his hope to live through his encounter with the Green Knight, and demonstrates his willingness to accept something only if it is of little material value.
    In my opinion Cooke does bring up an interesting point with this idea of a kind of flawed perfection, demonstrated in Gawain’s lapse into temptation. It reminds me of the Alexander Pope quote, “To err is human, to forgive divine.” Man will always struggle to embody his ideals. This begs the question of whether or not it is even possible for man to achieve a moral ideal without failing. I believe the Gawain-poet is illustrating how the innate frailty of human virtue is in many ways a constant reminder of our need for God.

  9. Steven Enck
    English 203-01
    Dr. Livingston
    Sir Gawain Criticism

    Savage, Henry L. “Sir Gawain and the Order of the Garter.” ELH, Vol. 5, No. 2
    (Jun., 1938), pp. 146-149

    Few stories in English literature are as popular and mysterious as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Influences from the story can be seen in many books and motion pictures, yet the author is to this day unknown. There are few clues identifying this literary genius, but enough can be derived to spark numerous theories. In Sir Gawain and the Order of the Garter, author Henry L. Savage provides a compelling argument that can potentially help find the identity of the Gawain poet.
    It is never easy to use literature to acquire information about an author. This is especially evident when concerning time and publication. In the time that Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was written it was common for poets and authors to neglect to write dates and information regarding the mechanics of literature. The Gawain poet never wrote a date or even his own name in the poem. If he did, it was recorded on a copy that we do not hold presently. Savage takes a historical approach to this discussion. He reviewed sources that were roughly dated around the same time that Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was written. His main piece of evidence is the quote at the end of the poem that reads, “Honi Soit Quio Mal Pense”. This quote references the Order of the Garter, which dated between 1345 and 1360 (147). The evidence is compelling, yet more would certainly be needed to make an assumption.
    Savage routes off of the dates retrieved from this quote. The Gawain poet obviously did not write this; it was written on a copy of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight many years later. Using multiple sources of information, Savage speculates that the Gawain poet could have served in the royal house or offices, but indefinitely had some interaction with national royalty. He also presents the theory that the poem was written as a gift for Enguerrand de Coucy (148,149). However, Savage agrees in his article that the information backing these theories is quite flimsy, potentially leaving the reader with no affirmative information.
    When reading Savage’s article, I had only one question. Why do we want to know the author’s identity? Will it somehow make Sir Gawain and the Green Knight a better poem? Will it answer a multitude of questions that will change the course of literary history? The poem is a marvel, and it is important to understand the author, but the almost sadistic intent to uncover this mystery plagues too many stories. It seems redundant when most articles written about a poem are about theories of the unknown author, instead of the literary masterpiece that we have. In his article, Savage provides a compelling argument about the possibilities of the Gawain poet, but the article obviously appeals to readers with a historical interest.
    In conclusion, Savage provides information that raises many questions. He does not drown the reader with many theories about who the Gawain poet was, but simply provides an outline of who he could have been associated with. It is a popular theory that the author had interactions with the royal family. Savage capitalizes on the fact that he does not have much information, but takes what little he has and makes strong arguments. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a marvelous poem and in the future it is a great possibility that the author’s identity may be revealed.

  10. John Gargano
    September 14, 2008
    English 203
    Literary Criticism

    A Kiss Is Just a Kiss: Heterosexuality and Its Consolations in Sir Gawain and the Green
    Knight
    By Carolyn Dinshaw
    Diacritics, Vol. 24, No. 2/3, Critical Crossings (Summer – Autumn, 1994), pp. 205-226
    Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

    The poem of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight explores many different topics such as chiverly, honor, King Arthur, knighthood, etc. One topic that often seems to be absent from scholary discussion is the sexuality embedded withn the poem. The Heterosexuality withen the poem plays a large part not only for the sake of providing a backdrop with which to test honor but also as a source of amusment for the reader. For example the reader knows that beacuse of the agreement that Sir Gawain had with Bertilak, a trade off will take place each afternoon in which Bertilak must trade whatever he has aquired thoughout the day with whatever Gawain has aquired by staying at the lord’s house (as well as with his wife). This proposes an interesting dilemma, one that fortunately does not take place. “To Complicate the consideration of those kisses: remember that if Gawain had succumbed fully to the lady’s seduction and if he had honored the terms of his promise to the lord he would in fact have had to have sex with the lord- to yield his winnings, that is, his sexual conquest, in his own body, just as he has done with the kisses he recieved. Homosexual sex is thus one hypothetical fulfillment- in fact we might say the logical end of the interlocking plots the lady and Bertilak play out- but it is a forbidden end”. It is important to also note that although a sexual exchange would have to have taken place had Sir Gawain slept with the lord’s wife it is also important to note that exchaning a kiss with another male was not in most occasions,considered out of the ordinary. This is further illistrated at the begining of the poem when King Arthur kisses Gawain as he sets out on his journey. What makes the topic of sexuality in general so interesting in regards to this poem is the fact that it is so often overlooked in place of other issues.

  11. ya’ll are a bunch of Nancies!

  12. Morgan, Gerald. “The Validity of Gawain’s Confession in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” The Review of English Studies 36(1985): 1-18.

    It is obvious to even the most shallow of readers that Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a story about Christian people. However, in the story, a very interesting, and potentially blasphemous act is witnessed by the reader. Gawain, on the day of his possible death, goes to a church to confess his sins. However, his confession is often seen as shallow, as he chooses to omit a very key sin he committed while being hosted at Bertilak’s castle. This article by Gerald Morgan supports the claim that his confession is indeed valid and heart-felt, and not just a formality taken before his potential death. He points out the infidelity committed by Gawain, but uses knowledge of the chivalric code followed by the knights of the time to argue the triviality of this unconfessed sin.

    Morgan explains that before a knight goes to battle, he confesses his sins, publicly if possible. However, if the opportunity is not available, confession to a priest is acceptable. He points out that the sin of infidelity of an agreement is hardly a sin, one not even required to be confessed in public. This minor offense was commonly overlooked if it did not have dire consequences. In the story, the queen states the rather value-less condition of the girdle she gave to Gawain, taking away any major effects from the infidelity.

    Morgan also points out Gawain’s enthusiasm to go to confession. Three times before the morning he goes, he states his need and desire to go to confession before confronting the Green Knight. This proves his loyalty to God, and his desire to please Him. Therefore, there is no reason he would hold any sin he thought was important from confession. If Gawain thought the matter important, there is no reason to doubt he would have omitted it from his confession.

    These points prove the validity of Gawain’s confession the morning of his likely doom. There was no intent to deceive, and the matter was too trivial to even be mentioned. Gawain, despite this very minor mistake, was still a man devoted to God.

  13. “Critical Studies of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”
    Edited By: Howard, Donald R., Zacher, Christian
    University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame London, Notre Dame, Indiana, 1968
    “A Psychological Interpretation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”
    Manning, Stephen (279- 294)

    “Critical Studies of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” By: Donald Howard and Christian Zacher, offers a variety of different criticisms on this poem. The criticism I chose for “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” examines the psychological effects on Sir Gawain’s actions throughout the poem.
    “The term physiological is taken to indicate some concidration of mental states, especially as they affect behavior, then Sir Gawain and the Green Knight has claims to being psychological.” (280)
    Stephen Manning introduces three excerpts from the poem, Gawain returning to King Arthur’s court(280), Gawain’s confessions to the Green Knight(281), and Gawain’s willpower against the temptations of Lady Berilak(288) which present pyscological torment on Gawain. In lines 2501-2504, Sir Gawain returns to King Arthur’s court. He feels ashamed after realizing Bertilak’s deception, the fact he had not cut his head off after a year of anticipating his death psychologically tormented Gawain.(280) In lines 2280-2281 Sir Gawain also feels ashamed due to the way he had flinched when the Green Knight raised his large axe to cut off his head. A true knight would never flinch in the eyes of death. Sir Gawain realizes this and psychologically tortures himself. Gawain feels guilt after he does not confess to receiving the magical green girdle which would save his life. In lines 2379- 84 Gawain realizes this act is un-chivalrous by lying to the Green Knight, and in turn, psychologically tortures himself. In this scene, “Sir Gawain recognizes his specific inclination to evil”(281). Sir Gawain had prayed to the Virgin Mary for guidance while he was alone in the woods demonstrating his Christian faith. When Sir Gawain lied to the king he had not only broken the code of chivalry, he had also sinned, through Lady Bedelear’s seduction.
    “Sir Gawain does not yield to her temptations for at least two specific reasons: first, because he has other things on his mind, and second, when the temptation apparently becomes most acute on the third day Gawain does not sin, even though he comes perilously close to it.”(288)
    Sir Gawain’s torments were present on the second and third day of waiting in the kings palace.(288) This leads us back to the taking of the girdle. This in fact is not a sin but an act of breaking chivalry. Lady Bercilak tortures him psychologically by telling him the girdle would protect him with its magic from sure death. There are many other psychological preferences in this poem concerning Sir Gawain, Stephen Manning presented an interesting criticism in his chapter of “Critical Studies of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”

  14. Alas, Mr. Fossum is the only person so far to nail the bibliography entry. Tsk-tsk-tsk.

    Other than that, these are looking really great, folks. Excellent summaries and comments. I probably need to slow down the syllabus to give us more time to talk about this stuff.

  15. Nicholas George Mickalis

    Nicholas George Mickalis
    English 203
    Dr. Livingston
    September 16, 2006

    Dinshaw, Carolyn. “A Kiss Is Just a Kiss: Heterosexuality and Its Consolations in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” Critical Crossings: Summer-Autumn. 1994. pp 205-226: Diacritics. Vol 24: No 2/3. The Johns Hopkins University Press Stable.URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/465173

    Literary Criticism of The Kiss

    In Carolyn Dinshaw’s article, the beginning paragraph contains an important observation which leads to her argument. This observation is the author’s intent to keep the play very shallow in terms of substance, and to show much importance in the areas of formality of courtship. She calls this action, “the labor of limitation”, (Dinshaw, p.205). The way that she defines this term is, “the reduction of the poly-valent sign tot eh monovalent meaning”, (Dinshaw, p. 205). I feel this is important, because she uses scientific terms to describe the author’s intent, making a science out of his writing. Thus showing that the author has put much effort into making “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” put forth a one-dimensional perspective. She uses this path to make her main argument and reinforces the labor with valid findings. She begins explaining her argument by pointing out that in the beginning of the play the kisses are uncomplicated and trivial. She then examines on the inference of the kisses throughout the play, sexual identity, sexual relations, the principle of intelligibility, and the representation of heterosexuality, and homosexuality within the text. The author explains the possible implications of erotic, seductive, and sexual intentions of kisses throughout the play. This is where she points out an important philosophical element within the play. This element is that the author produces the implications of homosexuality (in terms of male relationships), and discredits the theory (Dinshaw, p. 206). She proves this in her analysis of several works by gay theorists. Then she puts forth the idea that even though there have been civilizations in the past that have had same sex intercourse, their sexual identities were heterosexual. She considers the term homosexual to be irrelevant, because at the time it was a cultural custom to have sexual intercourse with the same sex. In other words, what she is trying to portray is that at the time it was acceptable to have sexual intercourse with the same sex within a heterosexual relationship. This is where sexual identity comes into play to validate her theory. Sexual identity was entirely heterosexual, and therefore excludes homosexuality from the equation. Within the footnotes on page 207 she clearly states that homosexuality is a common anachronism in reference to the Middle Ages and most other history. Therefore she refines her argument by stating that the poem encompasses same sex intercourse as sexuality within heterosexuality due to its normality of the middle ages, and does not portray a separate identity(Dinshaw,p.206-08). She talks some on the implications of this theory of women, but ultimately she is mainly interested in the application on the male aspect, because of the English medieval Christian background of the play within the play. At this time in the article, the author gives examples of when the theory is threaten by the confused, lost nature of Gaiwan in several instances, but in the end the “labor of limitations” saves the integrity of her theory. Therefore she finalized her argument by stating that theory of homosexuality within the poem is a hasty conclusion, and that one must look at all the facts laid about throughout the poem and history.
    Upon reading the article the first time around, I found that it was very difficult to follow. After re-reading and examining the article very carefully I found that Dinshaw makes a very sturdy argument against the concept of homosexuality, not only from information from her sources and the text, but a integration of the two. Her research and her argument definitely have validity, and a balanced approach due to her integration of homosexual, heterosexual, unbiased, and historical sources. One might argue that she has much redundancy in her paper, but I feel that this is necessary. The redundancy comes from the multiple approaches one could take to prove her argument wrong, which she sufficiently covers. The thing that I liked the most about her style of writing was the fact that she attacks both the weaknesses and strengths of her arguments proving her reasoning to get to the truth of the matter. Overall I feel that this is one of the better articles that I have read, and feel confident in adopting her ideas.

  16. Alan M. Markman, “The Meaning of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” in PMLA, Vol. LXXII, No. 4.(1957) pp. 574-86.

    This piece of criticism argues that Sir Gawain is a representation of the perfect man and that his antagonist in the Green Knight. Gawain first shows his “perfection” when he bypasses Arthur and takes the Green Knight’s challenge to Arthur. Gawain proves his courage by stepping up to protect his king. Gawain’s next step of courage comes when he follows through with his promise to the Green Knight one year later and embarks on his quest to find the Green Chapel. Along the way, he stumbles upon Bercilak and his wife. Bercilak, who is actually the Green Knight in disguise, gives quarter to Gawain as his lord. Gawain displays his honor and integrity as a knight when he gives back to his lord what was given to him by his lord’s wife. The first day, he was given one kiss, and he returned that kiss to his lord. The second day he received two kisses, and he returned two kisses to his lord. The third day, he receives three kisses and a magic sash, and returns three kisses, but keeps the sash in an attempt to protect his life from the future events to come. Each kiss, however, is temptation for more than a kiss from his lord’s wife. Gawain shows his loyalty and does not sleep with Bercilak’s wife. His respect for his lord accentuates his duty and role as a knight.
    This criticism is focusing on only the good aspects of Sir Gawain’s deeds. The opposing view would focus on how Gawain was flawed. On the third day being hosted by Bercilak he did not return everything that was given to him. He kept the sash. Although he did return three kisses, he broke his code of honor by keeping the sash for his own selfish purposes. His cowardice absolved to the surface. Gawain did not sleep with his lord’s wife, but he did receive her kisses. In the beginning when the Green Knight first offers his challenge, Gawain accepts. The criticism argues that Gawain displays the traits of a perfect man by accepting the challenge; however Gawain himself states that he is the runt in the pack. He knows he is the weakest and he knows that his life would be one hardly missed if anything were to happen to him. His acceptance of the challenge was merely a ploy to put his name out on the platter. It was a selfish attempt to gain respect from his peers. Gawain was a knight, but he was not the ideal man. His flaws were those of sin and vice, just like all men possess.

  17. Besserman, Lawrence. “The Idea of the Green Knight”. ELH, Vol. 53 (Summer, 1986), pp. 219 – 239.

    In Lawrence Besserman’s criticism he attempts to describe who the Green Knight is, fiend/hero, devil/savior, savage/gentleman. He is both the “literary green man” and “literary wild man”. He is “youthful, vital, and loving” while at the same time being “demonic and grotesque”. Therefore while reading it is impossible to pigeon hold this character into being a Christ or Satanic figure. Even while the Bertilak and the Green Knight switch outward appearances, (he) still brings with him traces of the other. Besserman also points out in the description of the Green Knight’s green skin “occurs at the exact center [of his description in line 149]” allowing the Gawain poet to unify the two extremes of the character. The Gawain poet is obvious with his duality of this character while more subtle with that of other characters. The Green Knight often inadvertently brings out the true character of others. For instance, Gawain though seen as an honorable knight is brought down to his true core a fallible man. The Highly esteemed King Arthur is often shown to be an idiot. Even the girdle of cowardice is transformed into a symbol an honor which others begin to wear. But at the core who is the Green knight? Is a monster who remembers what it’s like to be beguiled by a woman, Morgan La Faye, and has compassion on Gawain who was also beguiled by a woman? Or is he truly Bertilak, “Tester of Knights”? Note that at the end of the poem, Gawain confesses his true character as most others are seen for what they truly are, while the Green Knight remains green.

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