The Role Of Women In Sir Gaiwan — страница 3

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Lady is an older woman and the two are compared, ‘For if the one was winsome, then withered was the other” (951). Rather than just representing the vicissitudes of time, the comparison is a moral statement about women and their association with sex, sin and death. Marina Warner quotes several Medieval theologians and concludes “the lure of her (Eve’s) beauty was nothing but an aspect of the death bought about by her seduction of Adam in the garden” (58). Further, decay of the flesh is often a symbol of spiritual decay and this also traces to Eve who “cursed to bear children rather than blessed with motherhood was identified with nature, a form of low matter that drags man’s soul down the spiritual ladder (Warner 58). The juxtaposition of the two women clearly

demonstrates this concept. This moral ‘drag’ becomes apparent from the beginning of his association with the Lady. On Christmas morning, “that morning when men call to mind the birth of our dear Lord born to die for our destiny” (996-7), instead of finding solace in the meaning of Christmas, Gawain and the Lady “found such solace and satisfaction seated together, in the discrete confidences of their courtly dalliance” (1011-12). When Gawain was alone in the forest, fearing death, he could only think of one thing, that Mary should lead him to a place to say mass on Christmas. Now he is so consumed with his ‘luf-talk’ that he has forgotten the significance of the day. This scene is only a foreshadowing of the dangers of courtly love; the bedroom scene is the real

proving ground. First, the poet subtly shows how courtly love can fall outside the bounds of the male feudal hierarchy and its rules. On the first day of her assault the Lady begins to establish her own bargain with Gawain–a bargain of courtly love– through a subtle set of valuations based on his prowess in ‘luf-talk’. She says to him: ‘For were I worth the whole of woman kind, and all the wealth in the world were in my hand, And if bargaining I were to bid to bring myself a lord- With your novel qualities, knight, made known to me now, Your good looks, gracious manner and great courtesy, All of which I have heard of before, but here prove true- No lord that is living could be allowed to excel you.’ And Gawain replies: ‘Indeed, dear lady, you did better,’ said the

knight, ‘But I am proud of the precious price you put on me, And solemnly as your servant say you are my sovereign. May Christ requite it you: I have become your knight.’ Unwittingly, Gawain has entered into another bargain, but now Gawain’s bargain is with a woman rather than a man, and his ability to please her with his talk is being tested rather than the other bargains which test his loyalty, valor and truthfulness. The poet is setting up the different bargains to ask the question, which is the most important value of chivalry. The Lady believes courtly love is the highest value in chivalry as she says on the second day: Since the choicest thing in Chivalry, the chief thing praised, is the loyal sport of love, the very lore of arms (1512-13). 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. It is further suggested that this relationship has eclipsed other relationships within the code of chivalry. And, unlike the other contests, established by men, where the rules are clearly defined, the Lady’s game is ambiguous. We can see this as the seduction progresses; Gawain’s moral code cannot stand strongly enough in this arena. 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. The Lord is in the lead, the boldest and most active. The rules are followed exactly. Notice how much detail is spent in each hunting scene describing the rules of carving and distributing the days spoils. For example, the poet says of the first day’s hunt: Those highest in rank came up with hosts of attendants, picked out what appeared to be the plumpest beasts And, according to custom, had them cut open with finesse (1325-27). While the hunt is going on Gawain is lying in bed. The poet mentions this in each hunting scene to emphasize the contrast. For example, on the first day he says, “Thus by the forest borders the brave lord sported, and the