The Role Of Women In Sir Gaiwan — страница 5

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of the symbol derives from its tantalizing ambivalence: loosed, the girdle gives promise; fastened, it denies” (279). Seen in this light, Gawain is trading the pentangle and the Virgin Mary, both symbols that deny and therefore protect, with a symbol which can be loosed and therefore makes Gawain weak and prey to other sins beyond the protection of his chastity. This idea parallels St. Augustine’s theories of concupiscence. Warner defines concupiscence as ” ‘the tendency to sin,’ a weakening of the will that makes resistance difficult, that is the permanent legacy of the Fall, the part of original sin not remitted in baptism. It is related to desire and the evils of the flesh. St. Augustine felt that it was not the act of intercourse that was sinful but the passion

necessary to perform it. It is the bodily passions that are mistrusted in Medieval Catholicism, for they weaken reason and will. This is exactly what happened to Gawain, his passion was aroused by his ‘luf-talk’ with the Lady, weakening his will and opening him up to other sins which are perhaps not as serious as a loss of chastity but are destructive to the workings of the feudal system. The poet demonstrates that his actions weaken the feudal system by showing that the consequence of his acceptance of the girdle is that he must then conceal it from his host and in the process break his agreement with Bertilak. While he has upheld his bargain with the Lady, and performed with spotless courtesy in the game of courtly love, he has had to break his word and disobey the Lord to

do it. Again we see the symbolism of the archetypes at work. Mary, in her role of Mother of God, is a symbol of obedience. Eve, in her role in the Fall, represents disobedience. He has chosen disobedience over obedience. This is where the Gawain poet makes his strongest point; the game of courtly love will ultimately break the male social bonds which hold feudalism together. Only the traditional Christian hierarchies, from which chivalry was born, can provide an adequate support. Christian love and Courtly love are antagonists. This is reinforced by the final exchange between Gawain and the Green Knight where the poet shows the way he feels feudalism should work–by banishing courtly love and women from the code of chivalry. Sheila Fisher shows how the power the women hold is

reappropriated by the men in order to support the male social order. First we see that the outcome of the beheading game, and therefore Gawain’s life, rests on his performance of the ‘exchange of winnings’ agreement, that is to say, on his fidelity to Lord Bertilak. Secondly, after the Green Knight reveals the meaning of the test, he states that the Lady acted at his behest and thereby appropriates the power she seemed to hold. Later in the scene, he reveals that Morgan sent him to Arthur’s castle in the guise of the Green Knight; however, by the time he reveals this, he has already appropriated the plan for his own purposes. It is also possible that the bartering game, which becomes the basis for the judgment, is his own invention since he does not attribute this to

Morgan’s agency. This enables him to then turn her plan, which was hatched for destructive purposes, to a noble and elevating test which serves the high moral purpose of teaching Gawain a lesson–hold true to the ideals of the Christian doctrine as a support for the chivalric code. Gawain, in his confession and absolution, goes through a similar shifting of power and blame. When the Green Knight first reveals Gawain’s failure of “cowardice and covetousness” (2374), Gawain shows deep shame and self abnegation (2369-75). However, after he has been absolved by the Green Knight, he launches into a tirade about women, all biblical temptresses, in which he becomes one in a long line of male victims unwittingly duped by women (2413-28). In this way he displaces the blame and is

able to regain his power within the story by returning not as a failure but as a fully reinstated knight of honor. This tirade against women seems to have another motivation. Hamilton points out that “When Gawain realizes that he cannot achieve perfection through chivalry, his immediate reaction is to dispense with courtesy, that chivalric value of which he is the paragon in this poem” (115). Now he is much more concerned about having been caught in the sins of cowardice and covetousness than whether he is polite.. And not only does he dispense with courtesy but he is finished with women as well. He refuses to return to the castle to make peace with Bertilak’s wife and Morgan, even though Morgan is Arthur’s half-sister. They are effectively banished. All the external