Pearl Poet's Sir Gawain Term Paper

Pages: 15 (5193 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 16  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Literature

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This errant theorist was named Guest and was a historian of English rhythms. He claimed that Huchoun of the Awle Ryale was the poet responsible for Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. His primary argument was that in a blank space in the original manuscript of Sir Gawayne and the Grene Knight, a hand of the fifteenth century has scribbled the name Hugo de, but this seems like little evidence, especially when one examines the style of the poetry. The Cottonian manuscript bears little resemblance to the other works of Huchoun. It does contain the deer, boar, and fix hunting scene in Gawain. However, this scene was probably borrowed and does not lend evidence to authorship.

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The author of the poem of Erkenwald is closer to the work of the Pearl poet than any of the poems by Huchoun. However, it can still be argued that the Pearl poet may have been influenced by him. However, by an examination of the internal evidence in the poems such as meter, style and language, it is more likely that the Pearl poet was a student of his or at least an avid reader of his. There are many parallel passages and whole lines that are repeated. However, this same effect is seen in poets of the Chaucerian school. Poets who studied together often included or emulated their masters. One theory suggests that Erkenwald was written by Pearl poet himself. However a closer examination of the phraseology and dialect would place this work somewhere near London, not the Northwest as the Cottonian manuscript (Szarmach, Tavormina, and Rosenthal, 1998).

Term Paper on Pearl Poet's Sir Gawain the Assignment

The influence of the above mentioned authors cannot be ignored in the reading of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. There have been some that have claimed that the Pearl poet is indeed one of these other authors. However, these theories have several problems. First, the meter and style may be similar, however, this is not uncommon for persons who were educated at the same school, especially if they speak the same dialect. These similarities cannot be construed as authorship, at least until all of the other evidence has been considered. In addition the character of Sir Gawain painted by the Pearl poet is very different from that referenced in the above mentioned sources. It is unlikely that an author would present one perspective and then produce a work that completely contradicts the first. Sir Gawain is obviously the work of a very talented poet who drew his influence from his contemporaries or from others in the area.

John Bowers has draws parallels between the poem and the cultural life of Richard's court, with particular attention to some of the poem's more dramatic and vivid images, including the pearl, the lamb, and the New Jerusalem (Bowers, 1995), Bowers argues that one can find too many similarities between Pearl poet and the court of Richard II. He also points out that the regalia and arms are that of Richard II. Many historians do not give this theory much credit as it is the primary consensus among scholars that the work was written long before Richard IIs reign. Adherence to Bowers theory would mean that the work is written later than is generally believed and this is not supported by the literary style, grammar and other technical elements of the poem.

Closer Look at Pearl poet's Gawain

Our first look at the personality of Sir Gawain is when the Green Knight suddenly appears at the New year's Eve celebration at Camelot. He offers a challenge for anyone to come forward and strike him with his ax. Twelve months and one day later he will return the blow. No one steps forward and King Arthur, embarrassed by his knights' lack of response (cowardice) accepts the challenge himself. Just as Arthur us about to strike the blow, Gawain jumps up and says,

Would you grant me the grace,

To be gone from this bench and stand by you there,

If I without discourtesy might quit this board,...

I am the weakest, well I know, and of wit feeblest;

And the loss of my life would be least of any;

That I have you for uncle is my only praise;

My body, but for your blood, is barren of worth;

And for that this folly befits not a king,

And 'tis I that have asked it, it ought to be mine,

And if my claim be not comely let all this court judge, in sight." (Norton, 209)

There are several interesting elements to this scene. First, the apparent cowardice shown by all of the knights is not considered to be good knightly behavior. This scene exaggerates the human qualities of the knights. They fear for their own lives more than they care about chivalry at this moment. This is a fine example of he Pearl poet's use of exaggerated human qualities to contrast with the knightly qualities that are supposed to be shown by all knights. It is unthinkable for one's liege to take the blow for his knights (Nicholls, 1985). We also learn that Gawain considers himself the weakest and feeblest of the knights. He hints that his life would cause the least loss of all of the knights. This sounds like a touch of low self-esteem, at least by modern standards. This passage also reveals that Arthur is Gawain's uncle. This was referenced in the French Conte del Graal and shows that Pearl poet had knowledge of this work prior to his writing of the Cottonian manuscript.

There are many that would interpret Gawain's actions at this point as valiant and noble. Interpreted from a modern screenplay perspective, it would appear that Gawain did step in to save the day. However, in period context there were several social mistakes made by Gawain. First of all, it is obvious that all of the knights, Gawain included, put themselves and their own self preservation above all others. Secondly, in Gawain's lament about his station in life, it hardly seems becoming for a knight to put his mother and father down in such a way. A knight should be proud of his heritage, not ashamed of it. Humility is a good and knightly virtue, however, it can be argued that in this passage Gawain appears to be ashamed of his heritage.

When Gawain sets off on the morning to meet the Green Knight, Pearl poet sings praises of the Gawain,

The fifth of the five fives followed by this knight

Were beneficence boundless and brotherly love

And pure mine and manners, that none might impeach,

And compassion most precious -- these peerless five

Were forged and made fast in him, foremost of men." (Norton, 215-216)

As Gawain set out to meet his fate, he wore a pentangle on his armor. This is an interesting perspective coming from a poet who in all other respects appears to have a markedly Christian attitude. The pentangle is a pagan symbol, reflecting a reference to the earlier religions of England. It may also have come from the portion of the poem derived from the Irish folk tale. The pentangle stands for the four elements fire, earth, air and water. The fifth element represents the spiritual element, the element that makes a pile of organic matter into a living-breathing creature. The fifth elements is the culmination and connecting force behind all of the other elements. The phrase, "the fifth of the fives" is highly complimentary towards Gawain's spiritual development. It would have been more consistent with Pearl poet to make a reference to the holy trinity instead of the symbolism of the pentangle. Therefore this pagan reference must have come from an earlier version of the story and is more likely to be from the Irish rendition.

Pearl poet did not wish to offend his Christian audience, nor did he wish to offend his own Christian virtues, so in the following verse, we find a reference to the number five based on Biblical imagery.

First, he was found faultless in his five senses, and his five fingers never failed him in any deed, and all his faith in this world was in the five wounds that Christ carried on the cross, as the Creed informs us.

No matter where he moved in melee or in battle it was his fervent thought through thick or thin that when he fought his courage came from the five joys the high Queen of Heaven had of her child.

(And so the noble knight would never wear his shield till her image had been painted on the inner half; for when he saw her face his courage never failed." (Norton, 217)

It can be argued whether he inserted this passage… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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