The Role Of Women In Sir Gaiwan — страница 2

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literature was designed to glorify” (28). Even before examining the Lady’s operation in the bedroom, the moral contradiction between the two archetypes is evident and defines the dilemma he will face. If we look now look at the unique archetype of the Virgin Mary and her special relationship to Gawain, we see how the poet has structured the bedroom scene as the conflicting demands of spiritual and courtly love. Mary is unique among women in Christianity. She is the model of female behavior representing humility and obedience to God in her role as the Mother of God. She is a virgin, untainted by sexuality, which is considered the root of all evil in the early Christian church. As Marina Warner says in _Alone of All Her Sex_, “The cult of Mary is inextricably interwoven with

Christian ideas about the dangers of the flesh and their special connection with women.” She is a life giver without sin, the only woman to have both motherhood and chastity. This seems to sum up the positioning of Mary on one side representing spiritual love, chastity, obedience and life and Lady Bertilak on the other as the archetype of both courtly love and biblical temptress with associations of lust, disobedience and death. Describing this concept so fundamental to Christianity, Marina Warner says “To this day it is a specially graceful analogue… a great vault thrown over the history of western attitudes to women, the whole mighty span rising on Eve the temptress on one side, and Mary the paragon on the other” (60). That Gawain is Mary’s Knight is made clear as he

is robed for battle. She is represented as one of the five points of the pentangle, through the five joys of Mary, and her image is etched on the back of his shield. The poem describes the arming scene which shows her special relationship to him: That his prowess all depended on the five pure Joys that the holy Queen of Heaven had of her child. Accordingly the courteous Knight had that Queen’s image etched on the inside of his armored shield, So that when he beheld her, his heart did not fail. (645-65) It is important to note that he derives his prowess and courage from his special relationship with Mary. As long as Gawain is facing the dangers which grow out of his bargain with the Green Knight, which does not test his contradicting loyalties in love, his spiritual faith is

clear and unshaken and his prowess and courage hold. On his journey to look for the Green Knight he is beset by a number of hardships and is finally at the point of despair. As he lies freezing in the forest he prays to Mary find him shelter and a place to say Mass on Christmas eve. She answers his prayers and leads him to Bertilak’s castle. When Gawain comes to Bertilak’s court he is thrown into a totally different world. Here, it is Gawain’s prowess in courtly love that the courtiers of Bertilak’s castle are interested in rather than some feat of daring like that which Arthur wanted before starting dinner. They say: This noble Knight will prove what manners the mighty bring; His converse of courtly love shall spur our studying (920-927). De Roo has argued that

Arthur’s court, which is described as “in its fair prime” (54) and Arthur as “childlike” (86), represents the early days of chivalry, when it was still young and innocent, given over to jousting and martial exploits more than love. Bertilak, as an older figure, presides over a much more sophisticated and worldly court and presents a more complicated moral situation for Gawain. In Arthur’s court, Guinevere sits statically on a dais, silent. In Bertilak’s court, Bertilak’s wife is a force to be reckoned with in the bedroom. Even in the early days of Arthur’s court, a level of moral decay is suggested with their frivolous celebration of Christmas and their reaction to the Green Knight’s challenge. There is a warning implicit in the dangers facing them, that the

continuing separation of chivalric and Christian values will inevitably be destructive. This separation becomes clear from the beginning of his sojourn in Bertilak’s court and it is demonstrated in his first meeting with the Lady. After his arrival, we see Gawain at Mass “in serious mood the whole service through”(940). This serious mood is immediately forgotten with the sight of the Lady. All he wants to do is to escort her down the aisle and admire her loveliness: Most winsome in ways of all women alive, She seemed to Sir Gawain, excelling Guinevere. To squire that splendid dame, he strode through the chance. (944-46) This scene contains another implicit warning; women may look beautiful, but they can also be the route to death and decay. Strolling down the aisle with the