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Weekly Summary Blog 2- Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

by: Elizabeth Pinyan

Weekly Summary Blog 2- Sir Gawain and the Green Knight ENG 261

Marketplace > North Carolina State University > Foreign Language > ENG 261 > Weekly Summary Blog 2 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Elizabeth Pinyan

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A summary of the second lecture covering Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
English Literature 1
William Shaw
Class Notes
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This 3 page Class Notes was uploaded by Elizabeth Pinyan on Saturday January 23, 2016. The Class Notes belongs to ENG 261 at North Carolina State University taught by William Shaw in Spring 2016. Since its upload, it has received 34 views. For similar materials see English Literature 1 in Foreign Language at North Carolina State University.


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Date Created: 01/23/16
Introduction Alot has happened between Beowulf and Gawain. In 1066 the Norman Invasion occurred in order to unify the area. With the Norman Invasion came the dominance of the French language. The French fused with theAnglo-Saxon to form Middle English. This then lead to Modern English later on. There is a four part structure to Sir Gawain that follows along with the four seasons. We get to see the cycle beginning and ending with winter. We also get to see the use of the bob and wheel structure within the poem. The bob is a very short line with sometimes only two syllables which is then followed by the wheel which are longer lines with internal rhyme. Sir Gawain’s World In both Sir Gawain and Beowulf we see the idea of a hero confronting a monster. We see the hero returning with glory and honor. However, we see a difference in the definition of a hero. Beowulf is drawn on a much larger scale. Beowulf is made out to be a superhuman. He is confident and unashamed of his success. Like Beowulf, Gawain is also brave and confident but he is also humble and not at all boastful. Medieval heroism is defined by chivalry, courtesy, courage and trouthe or loyalty. We can also see similarities between the Mead Hall in Beowulf and Camelot in Sir Gawain. Both are embodiments off all that the society finds important and uses to define perfection and heroism.All of the ideals of society are expressed in these places. Rituals are a major part of Sir Gawain’s world. These rituals are very different from those found in Beowulf’s world. Lines 37-59 really capture the differences in the world of Gawain and the world of Beowulf. We learn about holidays that are celebrated with particular festivities. In these lines we see the celebration of Christmas time in Camelot. This allows us to see that Christianity has taken hold in Europe. The characters in the story pay particular attention to the rituals and the formalities associated with the Christian religion. We see this not just with these particular lines but throughout the entire story.Another social custom that we see in Gawain is romance. There are always women hanging around in both Camelot and the scenes that Gawain visits later on. We see that the role of women in society have changed tremendously since the time that Beowulf was written. In Beowulf, women had a much more limited role in society. In Gawain we already see that women are a part of the celebration. They are involved in the singing and the dancing. The only thing similar to singing in dancing in Beowulf was the performances of the scop. Beowulf is a much more male dominated world. We also see games as a social custom in Gawain. There were games associated with certain holidays such as Christmas and Easter. The game like rituals become part of us through the story. One of the greatest game in Gawain is the Green Knight. Then when Gawain goes to the court we see another game based on the exchanging of gains. Other social customs seen within these first few lines and throughout the rest of the story are conversation, feasting, hunting and battle. Another difference seen is the concepts of Womanhood. In Gawain we see two different concepts of Womanhood patterned after two different Christian women. First we see the idealized Saintly figure which is based off of the Virgin Mary. Next we see the temptress and seductress which is patterned after Eve. The concept of the temptress is seen in Lady Bertilak. Lastly we see the concept of what constitutes the nature of evil. In Beowulf the evil was seen on the outside. We had monsters that were outright destroying the town and killing people. In Gawain we do not see this outward display of evil. The only monster we see is the challenge of the Green Knight who does not directly challenge Camelot’s safety and security. However, he does threaten their values and their truthfulness. The worst thing that can happen to you in this world is the betrayal of one’s religious principles, their King and their rituals. The threats are more spiritual and cultural than physical. Gawain’s Four Part Plot Structure The poem begins in a time of Christmas Feasting. Dancing, eating and celebrating is occurring. In the middle of this celebration the Green Knight occurs and challenges someone to participate in his game. The knights are intimidated and no one wants to step forward. These are supposed to be the boldest knights in the universe yet no one was showing any courage. this forcedArthur to step in and say that if no one else wants to then he will. Right beforeArthur steps forward the Green Knight begins to taunt the knights and question their heroic qualities.AfterArthur steps forward Gawain steps forward to take his place. He asks forArthur’s permission to represent Camelot. He offers himself up humbly because he is “the least important” so his life would not be that much of a loss if something happened. This shows both humility and courage without discrediting the other knights. He then takes the axe and severs the Green Knights head only to agree to the same thing being done to him in one year. The second part of the poem is the journey of arrival of Sir Gawain. Before setting out Gawain makes sure that he has received the blessing of KingArthur. He then begins to arm himself and his horse in order to prepare for the journey. This is an epic convention seen in Renaissance epics such as The Odyssey and The Aeneid. The arming of the hero is described in great detail in the text. He intensely describes both him and his horse along with the pentangle on the shield. On the inside of the shield we see the image of Virgin Mary.As Gawain sets out to make his journey we see many trials that he comes into contact with such as wolves, serpents, loneliness and the length of the journey itself.All of these trials are tests and they are rituals of purification. In part of his journey he goes into a forest which serves as a major part of his journey. The journey into the forest is similar to Beowulf’s journey and descent to fight Grendel’s dam. The forest is Gawain’s descent into the darkness and the underworld. Here he comes into contact with his own demons. He is forced to combat his own loneliness.After he exits the forest he arrives at a castle. The castle is a typical medieval castle with a high wall, a double moat, a drawbridge and lots of protection.As he enters the castle he is greater with lots of hospitality. At this point Gawain reaches the third part of the poem. This is the portion of the poem surrounding the hunting and temptations. This is when we see the second game that Gawain is involved in. He agrees with Lord Bertilak that they will exchange whatever they gain throughout the day for three days. On the first day Bertilak hunts a deer, on the second day a boar and on the last day a fox. With each day the challenge and the dangers increases with the hunts and the animals that they are facing. Gawain is experiencing a different kind of hunt. Each morning as he sleeps he is awoken by Lady Bertilak who tries to seduce him. With each day the intensity of the seduction increases. However, Gawain does not take the bait and refuses her offer. Everyday after the temptation Gawain goes to confession, mass and then makes a confession of his actions to Lord Bertilak. However, on the third day it is a little different. Lady Bertilak offers Gawain a green girdle which Gawain accepts due to the fact that it will protect him in his battle with the Green Knight. The last part of Gawain’s story is the part of his survival and the return. He follows through with his game with the Green Knight by journeying to meet him. Just as the Green Knight is about to strike Gawain with the axe he flinches. The Green Knight rears back and begins to mock Gawain for his cowardly behavior. Gawain is ashamed and swears that he will not flinch if the Knight strikes again. With the second swing Gawain is protected by the green girdle. The axe breaks the skin a little bit but Gawain barely bleeds. The Green Knight then tells Gawain that he knows about the belt, that it was his wife that wore it and he knows about his powers. He then tells Gawain that the seduction was part of the game. Gawain feels shame over being called out for his deception. The green girdle becomes a physical representation of Gawain’s spiritual weakness. Gawain promises to wear the green girdle as the representation of his false faith. He then wears to the court wearing the girdle. Everyone in the court is so happy to see him. They all decide to wear green belts as a sign of solidarity in honor of Gawain’s courage and journey. Reflections Gawain resists all three of the temptations but then accepts the girdle, why? The Green Knight/ Bertilak said it best when he describes that Gawain did not accept the green girdle out of false faith and spiritual weakness but out of a desire to survive his encounter with the Green Knight. This also goes along with the Christian ideal that God will forgive us of our sins but we must ask for forgiveness and repent. The Hero’s Journey The first stage of a hero’s journey is the departure. This features first the call to adventure which normally goes along with a refusal of the call. There is also a supernatural aid. Sometime in the departure there is the point to which the hero crosses the first threshold. The last aspect of the departure is the belly of the whale. The belly of the whale is another way to describe the descent into darkness or into the underworld. The second stage of the journey is the initiation. This stage features the road of trials, meeting with the Goddess, the woman as temptress, atonement with the father, apotheosis and the ultimate boon. The last stage is the return. This pattern consists of the refusal of return, the magic flight, rescue from without, crossing the return threshold, master of two worlds and lastly freedom to live.


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