The Role Of Women In Sir Gaiwan — страница 6

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threats they represent, and the internal conflict they generated, are eliminated. Power is back in the hands of the appropriate authority, and Gawain’s loyalties are redefined. This shifting of blame and power is demonstrated through the path the girdle takes as a symbol and who it is associated with (Fisher 89-95). First, it is offered by the lady as a love token made with her own hand. It is a woman’s garment, a symbol of female sexuality. Then, it becomes a token endowed with the magic to protect his life, still a female garment, but worn by a man. When the confession and absolution scene occur, it becomes a possession of the Green Knight. He then redefines it as a token “of the great adventure at the Green chapel” (2399). Gawain takes it up as a symbol of his shame.

When it returns to Arthur’s court, all the men of the Round Table decide to wear it, and it becomes a symbol of honor and a standard part of the male outfit. This is not the end of the message. While Gawain has clearly learned the lesson and wears the girdle now as a symbol of his shame, the other Knight of Arthur’s court have not; they laugh at Gawain’s story and proudly take the girdle as a symbol of honor. Guinevere and Morgan will return, and since the knights have not learned their lesson about the dangers of courtly love, they will be destroyed. This story becomes a message, not for Arthur’s court, but for the Aristocratic readership of _Sir Gawain and the Green Knight_, for they know what will happen to Arthur’s court as a result of not heeding this message. By

the time Gawain was written, the demise of Camelot was a common part of the lore. I believe that this is suggested by the bookend references to Troy, for I learned in _Alone of All Her Sex_, that the Virgin’s girdle has “direct mythological antecedents in the West” (279). At the judgment of Paris, Aphrodite gives Paris her girdle and promises him his pick of the most beautiful woman. He, in turn, gives her the apple of discord. All of the men of the round table have taken the girdle, and despite its redefinition as a male token, the associations with female sexuality remain. In time, Arthur’s court will face the fate of Troy, destroyed by the discord between men brought about by the desire to possess the most beautiful woman. The message is clear. For the bonds between

men to remain strong, trafficking with women, in the tradition of courtly love, must be banished. It seems as if much of what we have read this semester shows a world trying to grapple with massive social change. The books present a perspective which nostalgically supports a dying social structure, that of the feudal economy Unwittingly, these books have also shown how the feudal system, and the religious doctrines which support it, no longer fit comfortably with a more complicated world where the standard basis for exchange and loyalties is being undermined. From our perspective, _Sir Gawain and the Green Knight_, has the unintentional effect of pointing out the moral complexities facing Fourteenth Century feudalism. The conflict Sir Gawain confronts becomes a metaphor for other

problems facing the Fourteenth Century aristocracy. Gawain’s bargaining with Bertilak’s wife, a bargain outside of the traditional aristocratic exchange system, raises the question of who one should bargain with, if the acceptable venues for bargaining–among Aristocratic men –is no longer the only basis for exchange. Bertilak’s chastisement and reinstatement of Gawain in the social order, at the end of the beheading game, makes us realize that the traditional loyalties within the hierarchies were not longer enforceable. Aristocratic men could not simply reappropriate the power for their own purposes as Bertilak did in _Sir Gawain_, for by the Fourteenth Century, power was already diffused by the rise of the mercantile class, the growth of the cities and the shift in

peasant labor. Finally, we know that the traditional Christian doctrine, which the Gawain poet suggests as the answer, is itself being tested by the new social structure which did not grow out of it, as feudalism did, and so does not fit so neatly. This perspective makes _Sir Gawain and the Green Knight_ a nostalgic tale where religion held all the answers and the old system held all the power. Bibliography De Roo, Harvey. “Undressing Lady Bertilak: Guilt and Denial in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” The Chaucer Review 27 (1993): 305-24. Fisher, Sheila. “Taken Men and Token Women in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” Seeking the Woman in Late Medieval and Renaissance Writings: Essays in Feminist Contextual Criticism.. Ed. Sheila Fisher and Janet E. Halley. Knoxville: