Sir Gawain and Feminism Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a lively Arthurian romance about a young knight of the round table who takes on the challenge of a mysterious green knight who wanders into Arthur’s hall. The Green Knight asks Sir Gawain to strike him with his own axe, and in one year’s time he will return the blow. Time passes and Sir Gawain does everything in his power to procrastinate his impending meeting with the Green Knight.
He leaves for his quest, and on Christmas day after wishing for a lace to hear mass, a shimmering castle appears in the distance and the lord of the castle welcomes Gawain inside. Little does he know, the welcoming lord is actually the Green Knight. This is the part of the story with women become involved, or should I say woman, because there is really only one who plays a large role in the story. There are others who are mentioned, or are included for smaller roles, but there is only one main character who also happens to be a female; that is my first problem with the text.
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I m aware that it was written in a time of courtly love, and when women weren’t looked at as contributors to society, but the lack of representation, not to mention the lack of good representation, is troubling. The story progresses and the Lord, whose name we learn is Lord Bertilak strikes a deal with Gawain, a sort of game, if you will. He will go hunting every day with his men and when he returns, he will trade whatever he has won that day for whatever it is that Gawain has acquired while staying at the castle. Gawain agrees to the game, nd they agree to start the next day.
Their game progresses like this: Bertilak goes off to hunt and brings back some sort of kill each day, while Gawain stays home, he spends time with the beautiful lady Bertilak. She tries her best to seduce the Knight and each day succeeds in gaining kisses from him. The pals, Bertilak and Gawain exchange their winnings in a friendship reminiscent of todays bromance. That is until the final day when the Lady Bertilak convinces Gawain to let her give him her sash. Gawain of course, is ashamed of his betrayal to his friend and goes to bed nhappy.
The next day Gawain is to meet the Green Knight to seal the deal, so he puts on all his armor including the green sash from Lady Bertilak. When big, bad mister Green Knight tries to cut off Sir Gawain’s head he can’t do it. Eventually it is revealed that Lord Bertilak is actually the Green Knight himself and that the entire scheme was put together by Morgan Le Faye, the great ‘evil’ sorceress mentioned in many Arthurian legends. After this, Lord Bertilak and Sir Gawain have a bro moment about how much women suck, and then go on with their lives.
This leads me to my second point, throughout the entire text the women in the story are painted in a negative light. Lady Bertilak spends the whole poem attempting to seduce Sir Gawain, regardless of the fact that she has a husband or that Gawain is friends with said husband. This is regarded negatively by Gawain, and is illustrated by the language that talks about these scenes. Yet, Gawain is never once criticized for his part in the act of kissing Lady Bertilak, a married woman and the wife of his friend.
The only egative impact of Gawain’s role in the courtly romance, is his own shame, but none 0T tne otner cnaracters Teel tne need to call nlm out on nls actions. In tne ena 0T tne story, Sir Gawain and Bertilak lament about how manipulative and deceitful women can be; they go on to discuss how women have been the down fall of many a historical men, such as Adam, Solomon, and Samson, but Gawain is never reprimanded for his actions, only for his dishonesty about the sash. The character of Morgan Le Faye is disguised as an old, ugly woman throughout the telling of the tale ntil the very end.
Morgan is arguably an intelligent, yet cunning woman, because she came up the whole plot to test Gawain’s loyalty, but these characteristics are also played in a negative light. Any trait that a women possesses in this text, whether good or bad, is written off as bad or turned against them in some way. The men in the story are too quick to shed the negative light on the women, and not take any of the blame for themselves. The text as a whole is very enjoyable, but when looked at from feminists prospective, has a lot of problematic and troubling content.