Faculty Mentor

Elizabeth E. Tavares

Subject Area



The boundaries between verbal arguments and physical retribution are complicated and difficult to directly identify. This paper examines the points at which verbal sparring, conventionally dubbed “flyting,” turns to physical altercations. In identifying these points in "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" and "The Wife of Bath’s Prologue," I find that rhetoric turns to violence after affronts to particular morality-based identities. In my reading of "Sir Gawain," I posit that the eponyms’ flyte and subsequent fight in the fourth fitt represent an attack on both the institution of King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table and on Sir Gawain’s personhood. In Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Wife of Bath,” I suggest a reading wherein the violence between Allison and Janekin represents a fight against the rhetoric of oppression. Throughout the essay, I show how physical retribution is, in these texts, an excusable method of defense against language, particularly when personal and political senses of honor are verbally attacked.


English literature, medieval poetry, violence, Chaucer, Wife of Bath, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight