The Peculiarities Of Language In Sir Gawain And The Green Knight

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Throughout the poem of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the poet uses similar language to describe the two challenges Sir Gawain must face. The poet uses “covenaunt,” “fayth,” and 'grene” to showcase the connection between these two challenges. Sir Gawain deals with challenges of character and psychological strength while dealing with the Green Knight and the lord, and the poet makes use of their precise language choice to illuminate the correlation.

The word “covenaunt” can have many different meanings in Middle English, but most of them include a bond, agreement, or promise that connects two or more individuals. The Gawain Poet uses the word “couvenaunt” when explaining the two challenges to show one of the true meanings behind said challenges: to test Gawain’s character and his loyalty to the lord and Arthur. Gawain’s character is called into question during his two challenges with the Green Knight and the lord. The quotes “[c]lanly al the covenaunt that I the kynge asked / [s]af that thou schal siker me, segge, bi thi trawthe / [t]hat thou schal seche me thiself, where-so thou hopes / I may be funde upon folde, and foch the such wages / [a]s thou deles me to-day bifore this douthe ryche,” (393-397) and “[and] thou knowez the covenauntez kest uus bytwene / [a]t this tyme twelmonyth thou toke that the falled / [a]nd I schulde at this Nwe Yere yeply the quyte,” (2242-2244) are a perfect starting point to explain how and why The Gawain Poet uses symmetrical diction to emphasize the interrelation between Gawain’s challenges. The Green Knight is very focused on Gawain’s character and, ultimately, sets up the tests to challenge the “covenaunt” of Arthur, Sir Gawain, and the Knights of the Round Table, thus making it clear to connect them with the multiple uses of the word “covenaunt” throughout the Fitts.

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The poet helps show the similarities by connecting them with their uses of the word “fayth.” “Fayth,” in Middle English, means “confidence in a person with reference to truthfulness,” according to the Middle English Compendium. This helps show how Gawain’s psychological strength is tested when the lord brings him presents from his hunting expeditions; he must refrain from telling the lord that his own wife is giving him the kisses, while still graciously accepting the game the lord brings to him. “‘Madame,’ quoth the myry mon, ‘Mary yow yelde / [f]or I haf founden, in god fayth, yowre fraunchis nobele / [a]nd other ful much of other folk fongen bi hor dedez,’” (1263-1265). His psychological strength is also tested when he steps up and recognizes himself as the one who must accept the Green Knight’s challenges, instead of King Arthur. This challenges Gawain’s psychological strength because he believes he is unfit to fight but chooses to in order to protect his King. “‘In goud faythe,’ quoth Gawayn, ‘God yow foryelde! / Gret is the gode gle, and gomen to me huge / [t]hat so worthy as ye wolde wynne hidere / [a]nd pyne yow with so pouer a man, as play wyth your knyght,’” (1535-1539). The poet uses the word “fayth” in these two instances to marry the importance of the challenges and show the connectivity.

The reoccurrence of green, or “grene” in Middle English, throughout this poem emphasizes the connection between Gawain’s challenges by showing the audience that there is an obvious connection between the Green Knight and the lord. Gawain chooses to keep the token of the green girdle that the lord’s wife gave him, in order to save himself from being killed by the Green Knight. “Ho lacht a lace lyghtly that leke umbe hir sydez / [k]nit upon hir kyrtel under the clere mantyle / [g]ered hit watz with grene sylke and with golde schaped / [n]oght bot arounde brayden, beten with fyngrez,” (1830-1833). The poet’s use of “grene” here proves to be an unmistakable call to the “grene” of the Green Knight. “And al grathed in grene this gome and his wedes / [a] strayte cote ful streght, that stek on his sides / [a] meré mantile abof, mensked withinne” (151-153). This is so significant to the poem because the girdle is Gawain’s last test from the lord – a test in which he fails. When Gawain goes to the Green Chapel, the Green Knight notices the girdle and speaks on Gawain’s mistrust; however, he notes that Sir Gawain values his life and his honor, and that is why he chose to wear it for the Green Knight to see. Ultimately, Sir Gawain’s life is spared, but his dignity is not.

The Gawain poet’s diction and precise language throughout the poem allude to connections of the challenges. The uses of “covenaunt” show that the bond and honor of Sir Gawain and Arthur are tested in the first challenge, and the honor and bond of Sir Gawain and the lord are tested in the second. The repetition of “fayth” helps the author convey that the trustfulness of Sir Gawain, both to the lord and to Arthur and the kingdom, are matters to be approached in both challenges. Lastly, the reoccurrence of “grene” throughout the poem, and throughout the two challenges, helps show the readers and audience the similarities between the Green Knight, the lord, and the challenges Sir Gawain must face.

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