Drawing from Joseph Turner’s analysis of medieval rhetoric, I will argue that the Pearl-poet alters traditional structural and linguistic forms in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in order to engender a rhetoric of otherness through the Green Knight’s speeches. This strange, new rhetoric distances the familiarity of Camelot’s court, and brings the setting of the poem to the Green Knight’s otherworldly realm. As the ‘Other’ becomes the norm, notions of selfhood are questioned; Gawain’s quest is exactly a quest to find his identity beyond the confines of Camelot. Therefore, I will demonstrate how the Pearl-poet crafts a poem whose humorous reworking of familiar rhetoric effaces preconceived values and expectations both in the narrative and in readers’ responses to it.
The character of Sir Gawain has been discussed as a hero and an anti-hero, but his role in negotiating with emblematically foreign powers and expanding the territorial boundaries of Arthur’s legendary kingdom – crucial elements in later medieval English self-fashioning – has received less attention. This paper will examine narrative and cultural functions of Gawain in several short Middle English romances, with reference to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and to French Arthurian romance. The Gawain-poet’s Gawain is never described as a landowner, but his story turns on a depiction of Arthur’s neighbours to the north as strange and unfamiliar. In a group of short romances including The Awntyrs off Arthur, The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle, and the Scots Knightly Tale of Gologras and Gawain, the knight’s roles as a point of literary reference and a narrative catalyst become bound up with a new recurrent role as a landowner in the contested northwest.
The number of surviving Middle English romances featuring Sir Gawain as hero is testament to the popularity of this knight in 15th-century England. In this paper I will offer an alternative reading of the role of Sir Gawain in the narrative of The Awntyrs off Arthure, an alliterative romance featuring two distinct episodes composed in Carlisle c.1425. The Awntyrs off Arthure survives in more copies than any other Middle English Arthurian romance, demonstrating its wide circulation within late medieval society. Although in both episodes Gawain’s actions are largely conventional, in each episode he becomes secondary, the recognisable hero against which the social ‘other’ is determined. The ‘other’ is instead placed at the centre of the action and determined morally superior to Gawain, the emblem of Arthurian chivalry. This paper will therefore consider the importance of the Gawain-character to carry forward a recognisable plot to unexpected ends, whereby the hero is first of all silenced before being condemned. It will further consider how this adaptation of the popular Gawain romance may have increased its appeal to diverse audiences, resulting in its remarkable survival in household miscellanies and London commercial books alike, and how this may open up new interpretations of its use and function by varied members of society beyond the conventional gentry household with which such romances are typically associated.