A Re-Hearing of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”

A Re-Hearing of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”

Hoffman, Elizabeth A.

Essays in Medieval Studies, vol. 2 (1985)


As J.A. Burrow has recently reminded us, Middle English literature “requires the silent reader to resist, if he can, the tyranny of the eye and to hear. Certain of the writings … make a further requirement. They treat the reader, not just as a hearer, but as an audience or group of hearers”. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is such a poem, a literate composition designed for oral performance, bearing the imprint of a poet skilled at once in manipulating a text and using it to affect his audience in ways outside the scope of the oral poet. It is with this dynamic between text and audience in mind that I approach the process of “re-hearing” Sir Gawain. In doing so I hope to achieve some clarification of what Tolkien referred to as one of the “structural failures” of the poem the failure of Mary, Gawain’s protectress, to receive any further acknowledgment after Gawain twice asks her help, during his journey and in the final temptation scene.

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