Analysis Of Sir Gawain And The Green Knight Essay

Analysis Of Sir Gawain And The Green Knight Essay

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In many ways, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a poem constructed from various binary oppositions, all encompassed within the genre of the medieval romance. These oppositions, however, are not always as polarised as might be initially expected. This is certainly the case with the relationship between civilisation and the wild, whose continual juxtaposition often allows for the distinction between the two to become blurred. This essay will explore the difference between the topographical wild – that is, the wilderness – and civilisation, demonstrating that the two are not as different as they immediately appear to both reader and protagonist. Furthering this line of argument, this essay will also consider the definition of ‘the wild’ as ‘the uncivil’, which often encroaches on the poem’s civilised spaces, effectively challenging the notion that the wild and civilisation are essentially different.
The poem immediately establishes Arthurian Britain as a great society, whose people were ‘ϸe hapnest vnder heuen’. The scene is of ‘rych reuel’ and ‘rechles merϸes’ (l. 40), and though Arthur and his knights are full of ‘joyfnes’ (l. 86) – ‘youth’ – the emphasis on the fittingness of the celebrations (they are ‘rekenly’, l. 39; and oryƷt, l. 40) determines that this is civilised behaviour, that Camelot is the pinnacle of civilisation. When the ‘aghlich’ (l. 136) Green Knight arrives, he approaches the ‘heƷe dece’ (l. 222) and seeks the king directly. The wild – as the ‘Other’ Green Knight necessarily is – intrudes into the very core of the civilised world. The description of the foreign knight’s arrival in Gawain is markedly different from the poem’s analogue, the First Continuation of Chrétien de Troyes’s Perceval (c. 1195). ...


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...ecomes a place where Gawain is offered mercy. Like the Green Knight, who also frustrates our expectations by refusing to act with coarse brutality, the Green Chapel is civility within wilderness.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight continually frustrates our expectations, even refusing its own categorisation as a straightforward medieval Arthurian romance. As this essay has discussed, it is difficult, even erroneous, to attempt to address the notions of civilisation and wild as distinct from one another. The poet continually juxtaposes and interposes the concepts, inviting us to interrogate what exactly constitutes ‘civilisation’ and what determines its separation into the definition of ‘wild’. This tenuous relationship is typified through the character of the Green Knight, whose liminality disrupts and defies attempts to define him as either one thing or the other.

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