Sir Gawain and Medieval Society
“Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” lies within the medieval style of literature. The author of this piece of great literature is unknown. However, the author is often referred to as the Pearl-poet. Sir Gawain was written approximately in the late fourteenth century in England. In medieval writings, there are different types of genres. The genre of this piece is considered to be Romance and Arthurian legend. Arthurian legend refers back to literature pieces written with reference to mythical past of King Arthur's Court. The narrator of this poem is in third person and mostly in present tense except for some of the commentaries, which are in present tense. The story takes place in a few different locations which are Camelot, the wilderness, Bertilak's Castle, and the Green Chapel. “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” give many significances to why it so belongs to the medieval style and society.
A main characteristic of this poem is its use of symbols which is highly used in medieval culture of literacy. In some cases, these symbols are rather simple to identify. The pentangle emblem of Gawain is not difficult to recognize. One of the reasons this emblem is so obvious is because the author comes right out and delivers the significance, bringing the story to a stand still for a moment. The pentangle is identified as Gawain's perfection and power of evil. The poem describes the pentangle as a symbol of faithfulness and “endless knot.” The poem also gives reference to King Solomon, who had the emblem on his ring which was given to him by an angel and said to give him power over demons. Another easy symbol to relative to the story and the culture is the color green. In English writings, green was traditionally used to symbolize nature and its associated attributes: fertility and rebirth. Green with gold as in the Green Knight and the girdle, it symbolizes youth's passing. On the other hand, in Celtic Mythology, green represents death. The color green is common in the medieval style and culture but has different meanings between each genre. The poem also has different symbolic places that are not so clear spot or identify. Sometimes it takes reading the poem more than once to realize the repeating of certain numbers or realizing things are done or show up a particular amount of times. One of these is the number three. Illustrations of this use is when three kisses are exchanged between Gawain and Bertilak's wife, Gawain is tempted by her on three separate days, Bertilak goes hunting three times, and the Green Knight swings at Gawain three times with his axe. Great minds of the medieval times thought that everything in the physical and natural world reflected the mind of God, the creator. Also, by understanding the significance of the symbols, human beings could come closer to knowing God. Different meanings were often found in discoveries of the medieval society. The society was one that interpreted the Bible. They came about four different ways of interpreting: literal, allegorical, moral, and spiritual. It is easy to realize the importance, the people of this culture placed on symbols and their meanings.
Identifying this piece of literature in the Romance genre is not difficult to realize. Medieval romances often narrate the amazing adventures of a courteous, heroic knight, often of extraordinary ability, who stands by chivalry's strict codes of honor and demeanor, sets out upon a quest and defeats evil doers. Therefore, the Knight wins the love of a lady. The whole “knight” personification was really transformed in this period. So, the fact that a poem was written involving the issue of a knight is common for the medieval time setting. It often was written about the King Arthur myth and his courtship. The knight's image is so famous it has had numerous books and movies centering around the being. In the poem, the Green Knight delivers this image of superiority and mythical type powers. During the middle ages, knights were big in sport and tournaments were held to show their skills. Knights became more common in the eleventh century and this is when the tournament for knights was invented. Realistically, it was expensive for one to have the material for a knight's tournament, but was a way a serf, of that time period, could earn their freedom. In the twelfth century, a group of monks encouraged ethical warfare and motivated the formation of orders of chivalry. Inherited titles of nobility were produced at this period of time. The middle age writing was not only about King Arthur and the Knights, but also writers wrote on morality. Sir Gawain was given a choice and with it became a path for him to follow. On his course, Sir Gawain's knightly virtues and courteousness is challenged, showing his ordinary human side. A knight in medieval writings was portrayed as this great, “be perfect all the time” type of figure. In the poem, Sir Gawain struggles with these perfections when he is at the Bertilak's Castle and the host's wife is there. At this castle, Bertilak's wife tries to seduce Sir Gawain three different times and he manages to get out of the whole situation with just a kisses and a green silk girdle that the lady said protects from all physical harm. Sir Gawain keeps the girdle. Sir Gawain is challenged in different situations on the strength of his moral and knighthood values. As in most literature of the Romance Genre, the knight, Sir Gawain, lives on, after the Green Knight does not kill Sir Gawain, but instead reveals his identity, which is Bertilak.
Through the course of this piece of writing, it understood the similarities between the poem, “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” and the middle age culture and society. This poem gives examples of symbolism which is highly used in the medieval literature. Also, in the Romance genre, knighthood is given quite a large emphasis. Through the middle ages, knighthood was highly developed and promoted. Sir Gawain was very much a developed figure of the medieval literary period.