Speech Representation as a Narrative Technique in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
By Sara M. Pons-Sanz
The Review of English Studies, Vol. 70:294 (2019)
Abstract: Speech plays a central role in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a trait that it shares with other Arthurian romances. Accordingly, its dialogues have been scrutinized for their lexical choices and their significance for a number of key elements in the story. However, the stylistic and pragmatic effects of speech representation have not received similar attention.
By presenting a typology of modes of speech representation that takes into account the distinctive features of medieval texts and focusing on their role in (mis)guiding the audience’s reaction towards the events they are presented with, this paper identifies the representation of speech as a key narrative technique in the poem, an element of the poet’s craft comparable to others that have been studied more frequently, such as his lexical choices or the text’s structural patterns. In this respect, the paper is of interest to literary critics of medieval narrative and historical stylisticians.
Introduction: The spoken word plays a central role in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, one of the best-known Middle English texts. We are reminded of the power of language, and speech in particular, at the beginning of the poem, when the Green Knight tells the terrified Arthurian court: ‘Now is Þe reuel and Þe renoun of Þe Rounde Table / Ouerwalt wyth a worde of on wy es speche’ (ll. 313–4; ‘Now is the revelry and renown of the Round Table overthrown by a word of one man’s speech’).