Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: the Role of Women

2398 Words10 Pages
In the fourteenth century, chivalry was in decline due to drastic social and economic changes. Although feudalism-along with chivalry-would eventually fall for other reasons, including a decrease in cheap human resources due to a drop in population caused by plague epidemics and the emergence of a mercantile middle class, the Gawain author perceived a loss of religious values as the cause of its decline. Gawain and the Green Knight presents both a support of the old feudal hierarchies and an implicit criticism of changes by recalling chivalry in its idealized state in the court of King Arthur. The women in the story are the poet's primary instruments in this critique and reinforcement of feudalism. The poet uses the contrast between the…show more content…
This points out a serious conflict; in the game of courtly love, a man is forced outside of the traditional male hierarchies, placed on equal footing with a woman, and not subject to the feudal loyalty system. Above all, unlike the other contests established by men where the rules are clearly defined, the Lady's game is ambiguous. <br><br>It is meaningful that the bedroom scenes are juxtaposed with scenes from Bertilak's hunts. It seems as if this is what the Gawain poet intended to suggest when he positioned the bedroom scenes within the hunt scenes. The hunt scenes show an unambiguous world of men and an appropriate venue for male chivalric action. The men are outside, in vigorous, heroic, manly pursuit, training for what is really the purpose of chivalry--the defense of the land and the service of the Church. Clear hierarchies and rules are meticoulously explained; the lord is in the lead, the boldest and most active, and detail is spent in each hunting scene describing the rules of carving and distributing the days spoils. While the hunt is going on Gawain is lying in bed, and this is mentioned in each hunting scene to emphasize the contrast. In contrast to the hunt scenes, Gawain's situation seems too pleasurable, bordering on the sin of luxury and representing a private world outside of the traditional hierarchies, rules and
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