The Unnamed Wife in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

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The Unnamed Wife in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight the green knight’s wife plays a pivotal role in the story. Yet, she is never given a name and it is unclear what motivates her actions. She could simply be following her husband’s orders to seduce this visiting knight. She could be under the tutelage of Morgan le Fay. Or she may be acting under her own guidance and using her sexuality to carry out her own desires or gain power. In light of this uncertainty, the unnamed wife’s role in the bedroom scene is also hard to decipher. As a woman she should be submissive, and yet it is Gawain who is forced to defend himself against her advances to which he eventually submits. The multiple readings of the wife’s role also inform the notions of Christian and pagan in the story. Female power and sexuality are aligned with the wife, Morgan le Fay and paganism, while Gawain seeks protection and chastity from Mary and Christianity. Despite the power the wife may gain from pagan traditions, she could also be perceived in a Christian, patriarchal context as a sexual object who is commanded by her husband’s authority. As a result the green knight’s wife represents the duality of Christian and pagan and its prevalence in medieval society.

In the bedroom scenes the wife appears to be playing the role of a submissive woman, but is in fact using her position to dominate Gawain, who is limited by his pledge to the Green Knight. The wife tells Gawain, “My body is here at hand, Your each wish to fulfill; Your servant to command I am, and shall be still.” Here the wife is literally submitting her body to Gawain to use as he desires. Yet, she is making this proposition in order to entice him to...

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...ere her true allegiance lies. On the other hand, her position in this story provides insight into medieval society. Her antics with Gawain in the bedroom scenes reveal that her position as lady of the house is superior to Gawain’s as a knight. This situation further illuminates medieval gender roles especially when examining the lady’s relationship with her husband. Even if he may use her as a sexual pawn, she is able to assert herself thought the tactics she uses to persuade Gawain to break his oath. She is also intrinsically linked with Morgan le Fay and pagan traditions. This bond is balanced by Gawain’s connection with Mary as a figure for guidance. The wife’s position in this story epitomizes the dualities of medieval society. The conflicting social and gender roles and Christian and pagan traditions are somehow able to operate in this complex society.
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