The Role Of Women In Sir Gaiwan — страница 4

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good man Gawain, on his gay bed lying” (1178-9). 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 loyalties. The first message, then, is that a knight has no business sporting with women, but there is more of a warning present as the contest in the bedroom escalates. In the bedroom, the Lady is not just an archetype suggesting certain moral associations to the reader; she is a real temptress testing his chastity and a real object of courtly love, testing his courtesy. As she presses him more and more aggressively as each day passes, the conflict between his spiritual love and courtly love becomes apparent. On the third day she “pressed

him so hotly” (1770) that the conflict is made clear: He was concerned for his courtesy, lest he be called caitiff, But more especially for his evil plight if he should plunge into sin, and dishonor the owner of the house treacherously (1773-75). While he is able to see that his chastity is more important than his courtesy, he is still desperately trying to balance the two. It is his inability to make a clear and unambiguous choice between the two which leads him to accept the girdle. While Mary, representing his spiritual love and faith, saves him from losing his chastity, as the poet says, “And peril would have impended Had Mary not minded her knight” (1768-9), Gawain still turns around and disavows her. When the Lady directly asks him if he has another love, Gawain

answers, ” ‘I owe my oath to none, nor wish to yet a while’ ” (1790-1). His devotion has been lost in his bargaining. This loss of devotion and faith is his undoing for it was his faith in Mary, through the contemplation of her five joys and her symbol on the back of her shield, which gave him his prowess and courage. With a weakening of his faith in her, which we can read as a weakening of his spiritual faith as well, he is prey to the Lady’s offer of another token to protect him, the girdle. In this way he becomes guilty of the sin of cowardice, as Gawain himself names it when his failings are revealed to him by the Green Knight. We also see that in his bargaining with the Lady and her valuation of him, he has come to value himself too highly, and in this way commits

the sin of covetousness. His disavowal of the Virgin Mary is shown when he trades one symbol for another, the pentangle for the girdle. He gives up the symbol associated with the Virgin Mary and instead embraces the girdle which is associated with the Lady. Hamilton believes that the poet constructed the pentangle as a metaphor for the confusion of chivalry and religion since “all three aspects – Gawain, religion and chivalry – are equivalent , all intertwined and interdependent, none more important the other . Gawain has lost his sense of proportion, his perception of the proper hierarchy of values” (114). We have seen that all these aspects do not support each other, that in fact, his courtesy and his continence have been at war, the weaknesses of the pentangle has

become apparent and he is forced to look for another symbol. There is another possible significance in the acceptance of the girdle as a substitute for the pentangle, his trading of a Marian symbol for a secular symbol. Richard Green points out that during the time the poet was writing, there was a well-known apocryphal story in which Mary gives Doubting Thomas her girdle, the Sacred Cintola, as a sign of his ultimate faith and truthfulness. Green points out the irony which this suggests “from a comparison of the two arming scenes (the prominent shield which serves to establish Gawain as Mary’s Knight in the first scene being replaced in the second by a secular travesty of the Sacra Cintola, its green colour carrying the ironic implication of disloyalty in love)” (7). It

supports the idea that he has been disloyal to Mary in accepting the ‘false girdle.’ We later see the girdle labeled as a sign of his ‘untrawthe,’ his faithlessness. If this story can be applied here, there are further ironies to be gleaned. The pentangle is an “endless knot’ and as such it is impenetrable. Many critics have pointed out that the girdle is not endless, and is in fact broken and needs to be tied and untied. Marina Warner shows how the Virgin became a symbol of wholeness, unbroken because of her virginity. In Medieval writings the Virgin Mary is described as “a closed gate,” a “spring shut-up,” a “fountain sealed” (Warner). Warner, in discussing the Sacra Cintola, refers to the mythological antecedents of the girdle and says “the sexuality