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Faculty Mentor

Elizabeth E. Tavares

Subject Area

English

Abstract

In focusing on the gendered perceptions of shame in “Beowulf” and “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” I argue that shame is used as a tool to maintain the social order with male characters, while female characters are used in tandem with feelings of humiliation to maintain this order, often severely limiting their agency. In both texts feelings of humiliation and shame were emotions to be utilized in displays of dominance, primarily through the act of flyting; as one man worked tirelessly to belittle the other, his own social power was increased. Shame-based tactics, like the flyte work when maintaining the social order for male characters. Queen Modthryth of “Beowulf,” however, fails at properly fulfilling her role in Anglo-Saxon society, but is not provided with a flyte to acknowledge her behavior. In contrast Lady Bertilak from “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” is used to test Sir Gawain’s dedication to the chivalric code, while Morgan le Fay inevitably maintains the social order in her orchestration of the Green Knight’s challenge; shame and its literary representations do not operate in the same ways for women as they do for men.

Keywords

Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, medieval English literature, gender and sexuality studies, shame

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