Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Study Questions & Essay Topics
1. The host’s wife goes after the man she wants, and uses a great deal of rhetorical and argumentative skill to seduce him. To what extent would you describe the host’s wife as a powerful or progressive female character?
2. What are the three reactions to Gawain’s sin at the end of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight? How do they compare to one another?
3. Names—or a lack thereof—play an important role in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Discuss a few of the ways that the naming process or a name itself functions in the poem.
Suggested Essay Topics
1. Why might the Gawain-poet wish to frame his Arthurian, courtly romance within the context of classical epic?
2. What different ideological systems govern morality in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight? Do they seem to compete with one another, or do they overlap? Which systems appear to dominate by the end of the tale, and why?
3. What forms of love (brotherly love, spiritual love, courtly love, erotic love, and so forth) exist in the text, and in what types of relationships do they appear (friendships, marriages, relationships with God, and so forth)? Does love most commonly manifest itself as suffering or as ennoblement? Why do you think so many scholars analyze this text as part of the courtly love tradition?
4. In Part 4, the Green Knight and Gawain agree that all their problems can be blamed on women. Do you think we’re meant to take the “woman blaming” ending seriously or to question it, and therefore (perhaps) to question the entire misogynist tradition to which Gawain alludes?
5. Many scenes and characters in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight are doubled or multiplied. Why do you think the writer structures his poem this way? What effect does the repetition of passages have on the reader? How does this formal element of poetic composition relate to what is happening at the content level? You might choose one doubled scene (like Gawain’s departures from Camelot and Hautdesert) or character (Bertilak and the Green Knight) or something otherwise multiplied, like the “five fives” of Gawain’s pentangle.
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