In the Fourteenth Century, Feudalism and its offspring, chivalry, were in decline due to drastic social and economic changes. In this light, _Sir Gawain and the Green Knight_ presents both a nostalgic support of the feudal hierarchies and an implicit criticism of changes, which, if left unchecked will lead to its ultimate destruction. I would suggest that the women in the story are the Gawain poet's primary instruments in this critique and reinforcement of Feudalism. By positioning The Virgin Mary (as the singular female archetype representing spiritual love, obedience, chastity, and life) against Morgan and Bertilak's wife (who represent the traditional female archetypes of courtly love, disobedience, lust and death) the Gawain poet points out the conflict between courtly love and spiritual love which he, and other critics of the time, felt had drastically weakened the religious values behind chivalry. As such, the poem is a warning to its Aristocratic readers that the traditional religious values underlying the feudal system must be upheld in order to avert destruction of their way of life.
It is easy to read _Sir Gawain and the Green Knight_ as a romantic celebration of chivalry, but Ruth Hamilton believes that "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight contains a more wide-ranging, more serious criticism of chivalry than has heretofore been noticed" (113). Specifically, she feels that the poet is showing Gawain's reliance on chivalry's outside form and substance at the expense of the original values of the Christian religion from which it sprang. As she shows, "the first order of knights were monastic ones, who took vows of poverty, obedience, and chastity. The first duties th...
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...eties facing Arthur's Camelot--specifically women, magic, adultery, and incest--with Morgan representing a trope for all the ills.
Morgan, Gerald. "The Action of the Hunting and Bedroom Scenes in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight." Medium Aevum 56 (1987): 200-16.
Morgan argues that a moral struggle is suggested by the juxtaposition of the hunt scenes and the bedroom scenes, with the Lady in the role of the hunter and Gawain as the hunted.
Warner, Marina. Alone of all Her Sex: The Myth and the Cult of the Virgin Mary. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1976.
Warner's book details the special importance of the Virgin Mary throughout Christianity and explores her religious and secular meaning. She discusses such things as the Church's attitude toward virginity, the role model of the Virgin martyr, the Virgin's relics, and her role as an intercessor with God.
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