Sexuality in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Essay

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The Complications of Sexuality in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Gawain's travels in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight suggest a world in which home--i.e., Camelot--is "normal," while away--the opposing castle of Hautdesert where Gawain perforce spends his Christmas vacation--is "other," characterized by unfamiliarity, dislocation, perversity. And in fact the atmosphere at Hautdesert appears somewhat peculiar, with various challenges to "normal" sexual identity, and with permutations of physical intimacy, or at least the suggestion of such intimacy, that are, to say the least, surprising. The typical journey of medieval romance juxtaposes a "real" world where things and people behave according to expectation with a "magical" world in
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(After the siege and the assault had ceased at Troy, the city battered and burnt to coals and ashes, the fellow that there wrought the machinations of treason was tried for his treachery, the foulest on earth: It was Aeneas the noble, and his noble kin, who then subjugated provinces, and became masters of well-nigh all the wealth in Western Europe. Then noble Romulus directs himself hurriedly to Rome. With great arrogance he builds that city in that place, and gives it his own name, as it is now called; (likewise) Ticius (travels) to Tuscany and founds dwellings, Longbeard lifts up homes in Lombardy, and far over the French Flood [i.e., the English Channel] Felix Brutus with joy on many broad banks plants Britain, where war and vengeance and wonder have existed in alternation therein, and often both bliss and blunder have very often alternated since.)2

In thus contextualizating the action of the poem, the Gawain-poet subtly challenges the centrality of Camelot. The poet zooms in from Troy to Rome and finally to England, thus placing Arthur (named in the second stanza) and Camelot (introduced in the third) quite literally at the edge of the map. The late thirteenth-century Mappa Mundi which eventually found its way to the cathedral at Hereford, in western England near the Gawain-poet's Welsh origin, is typical of
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