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Faculty Mentor

Elizabeth Tavares

Subject Area

English

Abstract

To what extent did chivalry promote a power difference between the sexes? In romantic works of medieval English literature, knights are commonly seen to project their values onto a female counterpart, which consequently leads them to pin their narrative successes or failures onto that person. This article examines “Le Roman de Tristan” and “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” under the framework Stephen Ahern presents in “Listening to Guinevere”. The chivalric Tristan idolizes his beloved Ysolt to the point of delusion, causing him to condemn her when she fails to meet his unrealistic expectations, and thus to illustrate the temperamental nature of the relationship between knight and lady. “Sir Gawain” complicates the issue, as Gawain lacks the expected devotion to a lady. Using Amy S. Kaufman and Michelle Sweeney’s models of the configuration of power as lenses, I analyze Lady Bertilack’s manipulation of Sir Gawain’s chivalric values, and his resulting display of frustration towards himself, as a critique of gendered morals. By comparing these knights and their respective treatments of failure, I argue that the chivalric code’s inconstant values ultimately encourage its followers to see any female-encoded morals, whether external or internal, as the cause of knightly failure.

Keywords

medieval English literature, medieval poetry, chivalry, gender, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Tristan and Ysolt, Arthuriana

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