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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, instead, the Lady has drawn him away from Mary and made him forget the significance of the day. From the first day of their bedroom sessions, the Lady subtly establishes a bargain of her own with Gawain; one based on his prowess in courtly love.
Clear hierarchies and rules are meticoulously explained; the lord is in the lead, the boldest and most active, and detail is spent in each hunting scene describing the rules of carving and distributing the days spoils.
While the hunt is going on Gawain is lying in bed, and this is mentioned in each hunting scene to emphasize the contrast.
In the fourteenth century, chivalry was in decline due to drastic social and economic changes.
Although feudalism-along with chivalry-would eventually fall for other reasons, including a decrease in cheap human resources due to a drop in population caused by plague epidemics and the emergence of a mercantile middle class, the Gawain author perceived a loss of religious values as the cause of its decline.
She answers his prayers and leads him to Bertilak’s castle; however, his arrival at Bertilak’s court throws him into a totally different world.
Here, Gawain impresses courtiers of Bertilak’s castle with his prowess in the field of courtly love rather than the feats of daring or his upholding of his honor, traits that would draw compliments in Arthur’s court.On his journey to look for the Green Knight he is beset by a number of hardships, and is finally brought to the point of despair.Alone and freezing in the forest, he prays to Mary for shelter and a place to say mass on Christmas Eve.It is meaningful that the bedroom scenes are juxtaposed with scenes from Bertilak’s hunts.It seems as if this is what the Gawain poet intended to suggest when he positioned the bedroom scenes within the hunt scenes.The first knights were monastic ones, vowing chastity, poverty and service to God, and undertaking crusades for the good of their faith.The divergence between this early model and the fourteenth century knight came with the rise of courtly love in which the knights were led to their great deeds by devotion to a mistress rather than God.Camelot is portrayed in its youth, long before it too is tainted by Lancelot and courtly love; Arthur is young, “child-like (86)” and the “fine fellowship [of Camelot] was in its fair prime.” The analogy is obvious: Arthur’s court embodies chivalry’s pure roots, where martial exploits were the primary subject of interest, whereas Bertilak’s castle represents the low point of the degeneration the poet perceives chivalry to have undergone.The Lady’s association with courtly love also ties this aspect of chivalry with degeneration and sin.The discrepancy between this and the church’s mistrust of women and desires of the flesh is obvious, and the poet uses women in the story to deliver this message.In contrast to reality at the time, women in the story are given great power: Mary, when properly worshiped, gives Gawain his power, Lady Bertilak operates alone in the bedroom and singlehandedly taints the chevalier, and Morgan the Fay instigates the entire plot, wielding enough power.