Sir Gawain 2 Essay, Research Paper
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is the most intact of the Middle English Romances, and for this, it is one of the most important pieces that allows the reader to better understand the style and influences of Middle English novelists. While the story of a chivalric quest in search of a mystical being allows the reader to delve into the ideologies and ways of thinking of the medieval people, it is the author’s diction and literary devices that make this work able to be fully appreciated by the reader. However, since the Middle English text is inaccessible to most people, the translation of the piece must be done such that the same emotions and descriptions prevail. J.R.R. Tolkien does a marvelous job of this in his translation; with the result being a piece that carries the aura of the medieval times in its entire chivalric and romantic splendor. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is the epitome of a Middle English Romance because of the vivid descriptions, literary devices, and medieval diction brought from the original piece to the translation.
The fluidity of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight created by the author’s use of alliteration greatly enhances the readability and allows the reader to better appreciate the medieval language and descriptions. The abounding alliteration adds to the already masterful use of the English language that Tolkien employs in his translation. Passages filled with alliteration like “upon festival so fair, ere he first were apprised || of some strange story or stirring adventure, || or some moving marvel that he might believe in,” and “the mightiest on middle-earth in measure of height, || from his gorge to his girdle so great and so square, || and his loins and his limbs so long and so huge,” are the normal rather than the exception, making this piece very unique in that the alliteration is used to create flow and harmony throughout the entire piece rather than as emphasis as most authors use alliteration. This distinction separates Sir Gawain and the Green Knight from other works, making it a true achievement and a prime example of a Middle English Romance.
J.R.R. Tolkien’s diction is essential in conveying the work as an extraordinary piece of chivalry and romance. His use of fantastic words of antiquity distinguishes the piece from many others and greatly augments the setting and mood. The passage “when there passed through the portals a perilous horseman,” convey much more than simply the entrance of the Green Knight. The use of the word portal instead of a more direct word for door gives the Green Knight a near demonic aspect since the idea of passing through a portal is almost of Hell. This idea of the Green Knight being of Hell shows the Christian influence of the medieval society, and hence is integral to making this a feat of medieval writing. Another example of Tolkien’s diction that conveys the religious aspect as well as the normal meaning is when the Green Knight refers to Gawain’s punishment for his misdeeds and wrongs as “penance plain,” rather than as a simple punishment. This conveys the idea that Gawain did not simply commit a wrong, but he was sinful in his infidelity, and for such he would pay for his sins, rather than just his actions. The Christian aspect of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight created by Tolkien’s diction is essential to the greatness of this work because it stresses the importance that Christianity had on medieval life.
The elaborate descriptions in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight are the focal points of the piece. Vivid descriptions of battlements and landscapes are what set the piece apart from any other. In the entrance of the Green Knight, it is his physical appearance rather than his actions that convey the most about the character. The vivid images created by “And trim hose tight-drawn of tincture alike || that clung to his calves; and clear spurs below || of bright gold on silk broideries banded most richly, || … vesture was a verdure clear,” are the focal point of the piece, and are an essential aspect because of the aura that they create. The descriptions of the Green Knight create him as a truly ominous figure, making his fantastical aspect of being able to live decapitated all the more awe inspiring. Moreover, the battlements that Sir Gawain dons before his quest exemplify not only the medieval ideologies, but it also adds to the description that is the central force of the work. “Then they brought him his blazon that was of brilliant gules || with the pentangle depicted in pure hue of gold. || By the baldric hung …” This description augments the writing by creating the imagery that makes the characters seem lifelike even when they are so abstract to the reader of today.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’s language is the driving element in why it is considered the greatest of the Middle English Romances. The vivid descriptions, literary devices, and diction create the effect that makes this piece unlike any other. The chivalric and fantastical atmosphere created in Tolkien’s translation is accomplished through his masterful use of the English language with his superior medieval diction and ability to use alliteration as a way of writing rather than just as an emphasis.