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The Role of Women in Sir Gawain and The Green Knight

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The Role of Women in Sir Gawain and The Green Knight


Sir Gawain and The Green Knight is an example of medieval misogyny. Throughout Medieval literature, specifically Arthurian legends like Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the female characters, Guinevere, the Lady, and Morgan leFay are not portrayed as individuals but social constructs of what a woman should be. Guinevere plays a passive woman, a mere token of Arthur. The Lady is also a tool, but has an added role of temptress and adulteress. Morgan leFay is the ultimate conniving, manipulating, woman. While the three women in this legend have a much more active role than in earlier texts, this role is not a positive one; they are not individuals but are symbols of how men of this time perceive women as passive tokens, adulteresses, and manipulators.

Guinevere from the very beginning of the legend is portrayed as a passive, typical lady of the court. In stanza four, the author describes Guinevere almost as a trophy or ornament of the court: "Queen Guinevere very gaily was gathered among them/....The prettiest lady that one may describe/She gleamed there with eyes of grey/To have seen one fairer to the sight/That no one could truly say" (74-84). Guinevere does not take an active role in the court. She does not have speaking role and basically just sits among the knights of the Round Table. Her passivity and silence could be the result of medieval anti-feminism. According to Bloch in medieval times what a woman wants is to speak. Medieval authors such as Andreas Capellanus, the supposed author of The Art of Courtly Love writes, "Furthermore, not only is every woman by nature a miser, but she is also envious, and a slanderer of other women......fickle in her speech,....a li...


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... because of her beauty. And Morgan leafy while she might be an all-powerful sorcerer, she is a ultimately a manipulator and scapegoat.

Works Cited:

Bloch, R. Howard. Medieval Misogyny and the Invention of Western Romantic Love. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1991.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Sixth Edition, Volume One. General Ed. M.H. Abrams. New York: Norton, 1993.

Works Consulted:

Bennett, Michael J.  "The Historical Background" in A Companion to the Gawain-Poet, pp. 71-90.  Derek Brewer and Jonathan Gibson, editors.  Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1997.

Putter, Ad.  An Introduction to the Gawain-poet.  New York: Addison Wesley Longman, 1996.

Riddy, Felicity.  "Jewels in Pearl" in A Companion to the Gawain-Poet, pp. 142-55.  Derek Brewer and Jonathan Gibson, editors.  Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1997.


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