Discourse Analysis and Sir Gawain

In reading “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” in relation to the “Discourse Analysis” chapter in Research Methods for English Studies, two discourses stood out as pervasive in the poem: Christianity and knighthood/chivalry.

There are references to the Christian religion throughout the poem. The characters wish for God’s favor on each other, there is a setting in a chapel, and there are specific references to both Christ and other figures in the Bible. In the poem’s last fitt, after Gawain is pardoned, he references several men who have also been “beguiled” by women (2415-2428). The poet provides enough context around the fact that these are important figures that fell victim to feminine wiles. But a deeper look at the specific individuals mentioned and their role in Christian discourse provides insight into the seriousness that Gawain attributes to his error. Adam is the first man, Solomon was considered the wisest of all kings, Samson the strongest and greatest warrior, and David a favorite of God’s. The ramifications of their failings are the plight of the human condition for all mankind, death, and loss of significant wealth and honor. When reading these lines with an understanding of Christian discourse, we understand better what Gawain means when he says “these were the noblest of old” and if they can be tricked, he’s okay with being forgiven (2422).

An understanding of knighthood and chivalry provides context around Gawain’s reasoning. As discussed in the BBC documentary, chivalry was everything to a knight and if Gawain hadn’t honored his promise, he would have been an outcast. This context helps to understand the character of Gawain better. This helps to understand Gawain’s motives for going through with his promise but also to understand the shame and guilt he feels about not disclosing the lace garment.

Griffin’s chapter on discourse analysis helped to distill, for me, the methodology. Without being fully educated on discourse analysis and its varieties, I was not aware of how much I leverage this method in my analysis. Having read this chapter, I now realize that my level of analysis has been superficial. This is both exciting and intimidating. It is exciting to start thinking about how to more thoroughly analyze. It’s intimidating to think of how much research can and should be done to be thorough.

Works Cited

“Sir Gawain and The Green Knight.” The Broadview Anthology of British Literature: The Medieval Period. Volume 1. Third Edition. PDF. 2014. https://cpb-us-w2.wpmucdn.com/blogs.cofc.edu/dist/0/550/files/2014/09/09-04-readings-1789szr.pdf.

“Sir Gawain and The Green Knight.” Translated by W.A. Neilson. In parentheses Publications Middle English Series Cambridge, Ontario 1999.

Griffin, Gabriele. “Discourse Analysis.” Research Methods for English Studies, Second ed., Edinburgh University Press, 2013, pp. 93-112.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (BBC Documentary). Performance and narration by Simon Armitage, The Norman Season, BBC. YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=74glI1lg1CQ.


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