The Middle Ages interpreted the female ideal as silent and submissive, evoking images of Coventry Patmore’s misogynistic 19th Century poem “The Angel in the House”. That said, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, set in this era of misogyny and subjugation, has often been depicted as presenting females contrary to this perception, portraying the Romance genre as “essentially the theatre of its feminine figures”(Heng 501). However, this can be regarded as a misconstrued perception of the work as, rather than advocating feminine power, the Gawain-poet can be perceived as following the tradition of his age in positing woman as either weak or sinful.
Courtly Love within the text, expressed through the term “courtesy”, is the thematic embodiment of such a misconception; demonstrating how some are able to determine feminine power, where others find none. Courtly Love was a firmly embedded theme of the age, impacting the perception of the female and forging the Romantic genre in reference to the chivalric acts undertaken by lovelorn knights. In placing the female on an-often-unobtainable pedestal it enabled them to act as inspiration for knights, who would attempt treacherous feats in their name, this was perceived as demonstrating their increased power. Such is expressed within the text through Gawain’s stating “I am at your service” (39) in accordance with a “knights duty” (40). This supposition of power mirrors Lady Bertilak’s appropriation of the male role in pursuing Gawain. However, Fisher determines that “women often figure significantly…in order to become involved in the construction (and at times, dest...
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...ing “if there’s no objection from…the queen” (12), Gawain implies that Guinevere’s permission is just as important as Arthur’s. However this act can be perceived as simply a chivalric formality of the time, rather than her opinion being of actual relevance, as implied through the art of Courtly Love. Comparatively ‘the lady’s’ bedroom scenes with Gawain can be paralleled to her husband’s hunting, which denotes the “transferring of power built in the masculine pursuit to the feminine” (Knight). However, though acting as Gawain’s pursuer, her strength is undermined in making her actions dependent upon Lord Bertilak. Knight depicts this as not true power but merely “the semblance of superior power”. Thus the poem can be determined as attempting to subvert the superficial appearance of liberation to symbolise its ridiculousness through the reliance upon male characters.
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