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Often times in literature, the text portrays events, experiences, or settings, based off of the life that the author lived or the time period in which the text was written. The medieval piece of literature I have chosen to examine is the piece entitled, "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight." Although this piece of literature's author is not known, the time period in which it was written is, and many of the aspects during this time period are present throughout the story.
The time period in which "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" was written was in the mid, to late fourteenth century. Not much is known about the author but many people refer to the writer as the "Pearl-poet" or the "Gawain-poet." Regardless, this poet was a brilliant romance writer and wished to remain anonymous. This poet was rumored to have written many romances during this time, and yet, never wished to have their name known. Because the author is not known, it is difficult to tell why the author wrote the stories. Many authors write through experience or to release pain through stories, or even rewrite a happy ending. We can only tell from this story that this writer came from the fourteenth century and was among many brilliant writers of that time.
One of the first ways that this story connects to its author and time period, is through its structure, or the way that it was written. This type of literature was generally associated with London and its surrounding provinces. During this time period other greats such as Chaucer were using this same structure. This poem uses a very recognizable arrangement using rhyme as a way to structure its stanzas. Also, each stanza contains words or phrases in each. Also, the poem is told in different sections, which when put together make up its entirety. Each section either contains the prologue, a climax, or historical references. Through the writings of this anonymous poet we learn many things about this time period and also make many connections between the text and the late fourteenth century.
Also, because this story is considered a romance of the medieval times, it connects to the fourteenth century. Romance stories during this time were about fictional tales with unreal adventures and embodied magic and material things such as castles and treasure. Romance poems followed along some life of a ruler, such as, Charlemagne, Alexander the great, and in this stories case King Arthur. And finally, most romances involved a code of behavior to live by and in this stories' case it was the knight's chivalry.
One of the obvious themes in "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," that also correlates to this time period, is the notion of Chivalry. During the fourteenth century, chivalry was supposed to be a way of representing that one was a Christian. Living in a chivalrous way, or by the code of the law, showed that you followed the law of God as well. At the beginning of the story Sir Gawain shows that he is chivalrous when he steps up for King Arthur and offers to take the Green Knight's proposal so that King Arthur does not have to. Sir Gawain also keeps his word when he is told to travel to the Green Knights land exactly one year later, to complete the challenge the Green Knight has given to Sir Gawain. This and several other instances reveal the true chivalry in Sir Gawain.
Another aspect in the text that is constantly referred to is the presence of God. Sir Gawain travels in the wilderness and becomes very animalistic while in the woods. Only when he prays to God for help is his plea heard and Bertilak's castle appears. Several times while stationed in the castle Sir Gawain's morals are questioned along with his chivalry, when the wife repeatedly tries to seduce his, and still he remains an honest knight. Also, another thing I noticed is that the Green Knight refers to his deal with Sir Gawain as a covenant. By referring to it as a covenant the author of the story is leading the reader to believe it is a biblical agreement, much like the covenant between Jesus and the church.
Another fourteenth century correlation between this poem and the time period is the opening setting involving one of King Arthur's lavish feasts. During this time period it was well known across the lands that in King Arthur's court there were several feasts and parties. These lavish parties were hosted in the castles and lords, ladies, and knights from the kingdom were invited to join.
Towards the very end of the novel, the plot of the Green Knight is revealed when the Knight tells Sir Gawain that it was all a magical plot made up by King Arthur's sister Morgan le Fay. During this time period Morgan le Fay was a legend introduced during Arthurian times to be a powerful sorceress. Many works of literature during this time period had her as a character in the plot. This is just another way of connecting the fourteenth century to the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
At the end of the novel the girdle is revealed to belong to the wife of the Green Knight. Sir Gawain believes that he has failed to maintain his composure and stick to the laws of the land by flinching and by wearing the girdle. Sir Gawain believes that he should wear the girdle and the color green for the remainder of his life as a sign of his cowardice. However King Arthur's court would later adopt the color green as the color of honor and many would wear this color to show their honor of the court. This color would also be added to the shield of King Arthur.
Therefore, it is obvious that "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" is a story much related to the time period in which it was written. Although the author and his motives for writing this story are not known, we still can learn a lot about the time period through this story and the way it was written. Text is merely just a clue into the mind of the author and a window into this medieval time of Romance, Drama, and epic poetry.