A King, A Ghost, Two Wives, and the Triumph of Love: Romance, Confession and Penance in Sir Orfeo and The Gastof Gy
Marginalia, Vol. 7 (2008)
Sin, confession, penance, and love are intertwining themes in Middle English penitential romances, and the poems Sir Orfeo and The Gast of Gy are no exceptions. They fall clearly into the broad category of ‘penitential romance’ which Andrea Hopkins has defined: a romance in which, in place of the hero’s chivalric virtue being tested, ‘his sin is repented of, atoned for, and forgiven;’ that is, after the hero has committed his initial sin, he must demonstrate his true repentance, for which he will be in the end rewarded. But these two poems have more in common than a sinful hero and his quest for forgiveness. The king and the ghost who are the titular heroes of these poems engage directly with the religious practices of confession and penance, but they also complicate such concepts by using them to defend their passionate love of their wives.