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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Introduction
Transcript of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Introduction
The only extant manuscript, MS. Cotton Nero A.X. in the British Library, is itself a copy of an earlier original, and dates from around 1400.
The anonymous author is today called alternately "The Pearl Poet," after the poem Pearl in the same manuscript, or "The Gawain Poet."
The same author is also thought to have composed the other two poems in the manuscript, "Cleanness and Patience."
Nothing conclusive is known of the author's identity or biography.
We read it because: 1. it is an Arthurian legend (archetype), it continues our study of alliterative verse and epic poetry, and it shows a romantic hero's journey.
http://www.luminarium.org/medlit/gawainintro.htm Romance Gawain is a verse romance.
Romance takes its name from the French "Roman," a moniker used originally for any secular work written in one of the Romance languages (Latin, Italian, Spanish, French and Portuguese)--the "vulgar tongues" (languages of the people, non-Latin).
More particularly, the term "Roman" came to be associated with tales of chivalry and courtoisie, such as the Arthurian tales. With the rise of the feudal system and the relative prosperity of the upper classes, there arose a leisure class who did not have to go out to fight monsters to the death to save their villages—this audience was a courtly one, with time for niceties, and it wanted heroes who faced fantastical challenges out of choice, not out of a survival instinct.
The romantic, or chivalric, hero often is out to find adventure, he is fighting for an idea, and his demise or potential failure will not result in the demise of a whole nation.
So Gawain sets out to find the Green Knight, and undergoes many trials to his ideals and virtue, as compared with Beowulf who has to fight Grendel and his dam to save his people. Romantic Hero Heroic Journey Gawain takes a heroic journey away from the community into uncharted territory, where like other heroes, he experiences a range of unusual experiences not available within the community, followed by a return back to where his adventures started.
A major source of the appeal of such stories (if well presented) is obvious enough—they take the reader into fascinating places, provide a rapid and varied succession of adventures, and permit the poet considerable freedom to explore many imaginative possibilities. And a good deal of the pleasure we derive from reading this book emerges from our delight in the details of the strange places the hero explores and the way he is forced to cope with many unexpected events in places where the customary rules by which his normal society functions simply don't operate (the same will be true for another book we will read—Dante's "Inferno." Some of the most thematically interesting heroic quest stories are often those in which the heroic character learns something about himself, so that he returns home significantly different from what he was when he set out.
The opportunities for such learning obviously present themselves in an intense way because typically the hero is alone and in unfamiliar territory outside the normal civilization to which he is accustomed, without the support of a status group of peers who can reinforce the traditional codes If the hero does learn something important, if he changes in some way, then almost inevitably a major thematic point of the story is going to be nature of the change in the hero's virtue: What has he learned? How has that changed him? Why is that change significant? Chivalry:
The world of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is governed by well-defined codes of behavior. The code of chivalry, in particular, shapes the values and actions of Sir Gawain and other characters in the poem. The ideals of chivalry come from the Christian concept of morality.
Chivalry Arthur's court depends heavily on the code of chivalry, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight gently criticizes the fact that chivalry values appearance and symbols over truth. Arthur is introduced to us as the “most courteous of all,” indicating that people are ranked in this court according to their mastery of a certain code of behavior and good manners. When the Green Knight challenges the court, he mocks them for being so afraid of mere words, suggesting that words and appearances hold too much power over the company. The members of the court never reveal their true feelings, instead choosing to seem beautiful, courteous, and fair-spoken.
Gawain's faults teach him that though he may be the most chivalrous knight in the land, he is nevertheless human and capable of error Wel gay watz þis gome gered in grene,And þe here of his hed of his hors swete.Fayre fannand fax vmbefoldes his schulderes;A much berd as a busk ouer his brest henges,Þat wyth his hi3lich here þat of his hed rechesWatz euesed al vmbetorne abof his elbowes,Þat half his armes þer-vnder were halched in þe wyseOf a kyngez capados þat closes his swyre;Þe mane of þat mayn hors much to hit lyke,Wel cresped and cemmed, wyth knottes ful monyFolden in wyth fildore aboute þe fayre grene,Ay a herle of þe here, an oþer of golde;Þe tayl and his toppyng twynnen of a sute,And bounden boþe wyth a bande of a bry3t grene,Dubbed wyth ful dere stonez, as þe dok lasted,Syþen þrawen wyth a þwong a þwarle knot alofte,Þer mony bellez ful bry3t of brende golde rungen.Such a fole vpon folde, ne freke þat hym rydes,Watz neuer sene in þat sale wyth sy3t er þat tyme,with y3e.He loked as layt so ly3t,So sayd al þat hym sy3e;Hit semed as no mon my3tVnder his dynttez dry3e.
Middle English It is around the legendary King Arthur that the chivalric tradition of the middle ages developed.
Chivalry – from the French word cheval or “horse” – refers to the code of behavior that was expected of knights (all noblemen). This tradition was also called courtesie (also French), meaning “the behavior of the court.”
Why the "Green" Knight? In medieval England, the “Green Man” was a pagan representation of nature. The “Green Man” was not Satanic, but did symbolize the nature worship that characterized pre-Christian tribal paganism.
The “Green Man” is not evil, but is also not Christian a battle between any of Arthur’s knights and any creature reminiscent of Britain’s pagan past is, by extension, a battle between “good” and “evil” – or between the Christian piety of Arthur’s knights and their tribal, non-Christian predecessors.
Gawain's Shield In the poem, Gawain’s shield is very clearly described as a golden pentangle on a field of red. The pentangle, the poem goes on to tell us, represents Gawain’s Five Fifths.The pentangle is also called the “endless knot.”
Symbolically, in the Middle Ages, red signified humility as the blood of Christ
Gold signifies perfection. Gawain was said to possess five qualities – one for each of the pentangle’s points – wherein he far excelled all other knights. 1. his faultlessness in his five senses.
2. his faultlessness in his five fingers 3. the strength Gawain drew from his devotion to the “five wounds of Christ.”
4. the strength Gawain drew from his devotion to the “five joys of Mary.” (aka, the five mysteries of the rosary) Five Fifths 5. the “five social graces.”
pure manners (courtesie)