Critical Essay on Medieval Romance 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight'

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Women in the Anglo-Saxon poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, were often seen as lesser than men in a Medieval time setting. In the poem, women like Guinevere were seen as social constructs of what an ideal woman should be in male-dominated society. These social constructs were noted in the beginning of the poem at a Christmas festival in King Arthur’s court. Women in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight offered an allusion to the women who were seen as objects to a man. Even though today’s generation now see women as equals to men, these viewpoints were not always expressed that way. Women’s roles in the poem unfortunately appear as sexualized objects to men as Guinevere seems to be objectified as an ideal woman through her appearance instead of other human qualities. Making women feel marginalized through silence in a male-dominated society during Medieval times.

As the wife of a king, Guinevere is expected to follow certain guidelines of appearance when it comes to social interactions, in a way, it is possible to say that her appearance marginalizes her as a woman and denies her subjectivity. At the beginning of the poem, Guinevere is a socialized woman of class appearing at King Arthur’s Christmas festival. She is described as the ideal woman and queen when the poet states: “Not one stone outshone/ The quartz of the queen’s eyes;/ With hand on heart, no one/ Could argue otherwise” (Sir Gawain 81-84). Her first apparition in the poem signals a way in which women are commonly objectified by men. Guinevere is portrayed as a man’s ideal woman in terms of her physical appearance rather than her own individuality. Instead of focusing on other human qualities that render Guinevere as an ideal queen or woman it reduces her to her appearance. As the poem continues to seemingly objectify her based on her appearance: “With Guinevere in their gathering, gloriously framed/ At her place on the platform/ Pricelessly curtained/ By silk to each side…” (74-76). Guinevere’s silence in this scene also suggests woman’s marginalized state in society. The words gloriously framed at her place, suggest that she was a woman that was aware of her place in society because of her gender. Being the only female present in a male-dominated event, she never seems to be engaged in direct conversation which can point out the marginalization of all women in Medieval times. When the poet chooses to emphasize Guinevere’s appearance, he also chooses to suppresses her voice, this could be seen as an alluded tool for the sexual objectification of women in Medieval literature.

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Appearance based judgements in literary descriptions of female characters, can possibly show women as sexualized objects through silence, making women feel marginalized in a male-dominated society. When writers place an emphasis on a woman’s appearance instead other human qualities, their individuality becomes devalued such as morals or a woman’s mental fortitude. Even in Medieval times, women in society had always seen the same cycles of sexual objectification. Young girls during that time period were raised with the mentality of being the ideal wife for her husband. They were taught to behave with ideal mannerisms, and to present their best appearances in public or social events. Women during that time were also taught they could be used as tools for their lover’s or husband’s purposes, which was culturally seen as the norm. When women are reduced to a sexual object they seem to lose a value of humanity that becomes important to an individual. Despite Guinevere’s position in power, her lack of interaction with the men in the festival, reinforces the notion of how women can be marginalized in society. It offered a sense that her opinions were not valued simply because she is a woman in a time where women depended on a male-dominated society. As Maureen Fries a retired professor, lecturer, and literature expert, similarly argues that women in Medieval literature are “contrapuntal rather than independent,” of male characters (Fries 67). Morgan Fries reinforces the idea that the factors in which woman are seen as an object become morally incorrect because it is allowing women to be seen as less than a man. Despite being a woman in power, Guinevere seems to be silently reminded of her marginalized state as a woman in a male-dominated society.

Even though women during the Medieval time period seemed to have been marginalized by their appearances and expected mannerisms, time has changed since then. Now women are seen as equal and the opposing genders are slowly stepping away from the patriarchal society. Since generations have changed from Medieval times to modern day, society is slowly redefining a woman’s role. When the past displayed a male-dominated society, women were seen as objects by being reduced as the ideal woman one that is equal in both mannerism and appearance, and a tool that men often take pride in. Thanks to a shift in mentality, women are now seen as equals rather than as objects or counterparts to men. They have the power to fully express themselves as individuals rather than reducing themselves to a marginalized state by society’s standards.

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Critical Essay on Medieval Romance ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’. (2023, July 20). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 18, 2024, from
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