My essay follows the same symettrical pattern as the poem itself.

1. Establish a social context.

2. Establish the ideal hero.

3. Test the ideal hero.

4. Reveal his weaknesses and return to relate him once again to his social context.

Yes, I am that awesome. Well, I would’ve been if I realised I was doing it. If I’d realised I was doing it, I would’ve broken the essay into four sections, and headed each with a decorated capital. (And possibly put four smaller capitals in there as well, which may or may not constitute further sub-divisions.) Unfortunately, I didn’t think of this until I was just about to hand it in, and I decided it wasn’t worth going and changing it now.

It is far too long (ahem. I mean… it’s just right, Lolo!), and my ideas are sprawling and there’s so much more I want to say. On the other hand, it’s certainly the most dense thing I’ve ever written. And it has a Theoretical Basis, even if it’s not a very well researched one.

However, in I’m-not-going-to-say-how-much-more-than-three-thousand words, I had all of fourteen or fifteen footnotes. This happened in the last essay I wrote too, although here it’s exacerbated by my decision, according to the rules of the MHRA Style Guide, to cite line-numbers in text rather than in footnote.  The beginning and end of the essay are resonably well represented with secondary source footnoting, but the middle is just me blathering on about the poem.

Is this supposed to happen? Until now, the better I’ve gotten at writing essays, the more footnotes I made. Last year I prided myself on a ratio of footnote/words that was greater than 1/50 at all times. Now I’m writing things which feel harder, and I suppose that’s the collorary of having a big slab of original idea: no one to cite for it. It feels a bit like having my training wheels taken off. (When I learnt to ride a bike, training wheels had to be taken off one by one when I wasn’t looking, or I’d cry and refuse to get on it again.)

While I go off to find a desperately needed coffee, have yourselves an interesting modern poem about Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

Posted in Uncategorized. Tags: , . 12 Comments »

12 Responses to “My essay follows the same symettrical pattern as the poem itself.”

  1. Hannah Kilpatrick Says:

    I just realised last week that my honours thesis, which is also on SGGK, is shaped like the poem is. Not in the way you describe, but in the circular/parallel way – Troy, Brutus, Britain, Camelot, journey, Hautdesert with three days of testing, journey, Camelot, Britain, Brutus, Troy and all that. Mine isn’t QUITE that elaborate, but I analyse its relationship to ‘Pearl’ in the intro and conclusion, I have four sections in the middle chapter and two in the chapter on either side, and I return to concepts of fourteenth-century devotional literature at the end to mirror what I mentioned early on. My first sentence even begins wit a “Since…” clause, like the poem does!

    Now, all I need to do is find some reason to refer to Frederick Madden in the conclusion, and we’re all set. Or maybe I should arbitrarily scrap one of the four sections of the middle chapter so as to mimic the three days’ hunting…

    Oh, and hi, by the way! I wandered over here from (she’s my supervisor), when she posted about your prize. Congrats for that!

  2. highlyeccentric Says:

    Hi! How’s your thesis going? (Due soon? Mine’s due in three weeks and it is DRIVING ME MAD. Word of advice: steer clear of Wulfstan studies for the sake of your sanity.)

    What’s your thesis *on*, in terms of SGGK? I’m a nosy person, and I do very much love Gawain…

  3. Hannah Kilpatrick Says:

    Ooh, someone whose eyes don’t glaze over when I start to talk about the poem!

    It’s due October 17, but it’s finished, really – just minor editing and tidying and writing of abstract to go. So you have a little more time than me – but I think October 17 is nicely timed. It means I got to use the mid semester break (this is our first week back) to really do the hard slog of rewriting and reshaping, and now can start to focus creatively on the last two coursework essays for the year without neglecting my thesis, which doesn’t need creativity anymore! Very neat.

    It’s (probably) called “Duality and Ambiguity in SGGK”. The heart of it is an analysis of the poet’s use of ambiguities in four fairly arbitrary areas (verbal, factual/narrative, symbolic, moral), framed by a contention that he presents all these ambiguities by giving two distinct and opposing options as to how to interpret everything – the Green Knight’s holly as life/resurrection and its associations with death, for example. Around that, I discuss the poem as a product of two distinct strands of literature – the romantic and the devotional – and that the poet is deliberately trying to engage his audience’s growing ability to read texts closely and use them to instruct and define the self. Ambiguity is important to that, because it removes authorial judgement and makes the answer less important than the question, the search.

    It’s good fun! And I picked the right poem to spend a year obsessing about – I love it more now than when I started.

    What’s your thesis about? And what’s driving you mad at the moment – final stages of thrashing out shaping, or scarily still writing parts of it?

  4. highlyeccentric Says:

    Argh. I didn’t get much done in mid-semester break, thanks to a) writer’s block and b) going to a conference in Brisbane. I need every last day I can get…

    Your thesis sounds most interesting- if you knock it into an article or several, please do let me know 🙂
    I did my big Gawain presentation on the most dull aspect of the poem possible- the poet’s deployment of different verbs of cognition and perception, and the way that expresses the power balance between Gawain and Bertilak. WEIRD. But I have an obsession with the verb thyncan, so it’s perhaps only to be expected.

    One day, I will write my Bondage Jokes In Sir Gawain paper. And/or my “Either the Gawain poet or his/her patroness was a medieval slash fan” rant…

    My thesis is about the role of books in the ideal social order articulated by Archbishop Wulfstan of York. I just finished my final chapter, but they all need drastic revision and I still haven’t decided how to interpret the key sermon in political context…

  5. Hannah Kilpatrick Says:

    Oh argh, that sounds scary. That’s just post-Conquest, isn’t it? I’ve been so focussed on the fourteenth century this semester I’ve almost forgotten anything existed before it!

    Sounds like you need to just invoke Ambiguity. ‘He said this! But he also said this! At the same time! He was challenging his audience, see?’ It’s a very useful tool, enabling one to almost entirely avoid choosing a critical stance. I intend to exploit it shamelessly in future.

    There’s certainly a LOT of interesting verbage you can play around with to explore things in SGGK. And the power balance between those two is good fun – definitely does lend itself to slashfic, or would if poor Gawain wasn’t so entirely oblivious. Almost too much so – surely the poet himself coudlnt’ have been unaware of the possibilities he was invoking. I mean, they had one king at the start of the century who was at this very time being luridly rewritten by the chroniclers in a ZOMG GAY SEX AND HOT POKERS way, and the power balance between Richard II and his male favourites was rather unsettling. Although that latter probably postdates the poem so we can’t REALLY make a convincing theory about anxiety about homosexual influences subverting power structures on the basis of that one. Except on blogs, where we can make any theories we like.

    Perhaps that’s the answer! Write two complementary blog posts, writing a wildly extravagant theory on each side of the possible political interpretations of Wulfstan’s sermon. You may or may not manage to convince yourself of at least a few points, but either way you’ll have fun?

  6. highlyeccentric Says:

    Although that latter probably postdates the poem so we can’t REALLY make a convincing theory about anxiety about homosexual influences subverting power structures on the basis of that one.

    Oh, but we CAN, if we argue that it is a pervasive cultural fear in the fourteenth. Which it *is*. Consider the Templar trials- a homosocial order considered to have ‘gone bad’, and apparently the immediate assumption was that they were having it off in very inventive and sinful ways. Consider Edward the However-many-it-was and Piers Gaveston: a situation in which a homosexual bond was seen to upturn the rightful homosocial order.

    This goes hand in hand with the fear of women and female sexuality. It also- or so I argued- ties in with the contemporary social and economic changes which, in the wake of the 12th century warm period, were undermining the economic basis of the feudal order. Thus the feudal elite increasingly, from the 12th onward, need to define themselves ideologically, and as the merchant classes become more powerful; as infantry might begins to rival the mounted knight; as the monarchies start flexing their muscles, high medieval literature starts to betray these anxieties. You can see it in Chretien, too- his Yvain is, as I read it, all about the conflict between identity as part of the homosocial group; identity as part of a heterosexual pairing; and a nascent sense of individualism.

    Also, SGGK does lend itself nicely to slash. There are a couple of decent pieces out there- some written by people who know the poem inside out, and who play around with the language, cultural references, and so on. I even read one which referenced Pearl! But you’re right, at the end of the day I do think Gawain is either oblivious or refusing to process the implications. Thus my fixation with cognitive/perceptive process: Bertilak knows and thinks, but Gawain only *percieves* (sees, hears, has things seem to him).

    I’m interested in the Lady’s apparent sexual power. Most of the feminist theory readings I read talked about *Morgan*, and talked about the Lady’s dis-empowerment in light of the fact that Bertilak is controlling her actions, but we don’t actually KNOW that until the end. Her active/masculine role is, on the one hand, meant to be a clue as to her husband’s directing presence behind her; but on the other, it presents us with an apparently sexually dominant and voracious woman. She walks in and announces her intention to tie Gawain to the bed and fuck him! And that he will enjoy it!

    The queer theorist (I did only find one, David L Boyd) I read talked about the use of hetsex as a substitute for homosexual interactions: a woman as exchange between two men, thereby cleaning up the situation. Like Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot in that horrible Mists of Avalon book. Which is at one level definitely what’s going on here: by having sex with the Lady he would be implicitly having sex with Bertliak. But, as Boyd points out, he would then be required by the terms of the agreement to have EXPLICIT sex with Bertilak.
    So far so good. But everyone reads it with the denouement in mind, and forgets that until the end we don’t KNOW Bertilak has set the whole thing up. We might have an inkling, but at first reading, what appears to be happening is that Bertilak and Gawain make an odd sort of deal, and then Lady B marches in a) to seek her sexual satisfaction from Gawain, and thereby b) initiates a homosexual exchange. She’s not, until the denouement, passive at all!
    I want to think about what it might mean to have a woman initiating a homosexual exchange- in the context of the aforementioned Fourteenth Century Angst thing, it ties very closely together the Fear of Teh Buttsex and Fear of Female Sexuality. But… *scratches nose* I need to bone up on my gender theory and attack this…

    Or write Gawain/Bertilak(Lady/Morgan) voyeur-fic. That’s also a possibility…

  7. highlyeccentric Says:

    Oh, and my thesis is pre-Conquest. Around 1016, the period of the Other Conquest, that of Cnut 😀

  8. Hannah Kilpatrick Says:

    Ah, so I’m not silly if I start mentioning Havelok the Dane. 🙂 Hoorah for after-the-fact nationalistic endorsements!

    Have you read Mother Angela Carson’s article on “Morgan le Fay as the principle of unity in SGGK” (Modern Language Review. 23 (1962): 3-16, Endnote informs me)? She argues that the Lady IS Morgan, her Sexy-Self, the Hot Young Bod who therefore has a strong role in the poem because she is working with Bertilak to that extent. It also lets Carson work in the theory of Bertilak as Lord of the Hunt, as apparently Morgan’s lover was that at some point. Actually, now you mention ‘Mists of Avalon’ – doesn’t Arthur come fresh from a ritual stag-hunt to sleep with Morgaine in that?

    I definitely agree there was a fear of the inversion of normal sexual roles in the fourteenth century, but I think more of it was focussed around the increased social mobility of women post-plague (and consequent potential emasculation of the men) than about homosexuality itself pervading homosocial bonds. With the usual caveat on using homosexuality to discuss the middle ages, of course.

    And yes, I argue (or possibly imply, I forget) that Gawain’s passivity in failing to interpret what he sees/experiences is one of the tricks the poet uses to make his audience do the interpreting. 🙂

  9. highlyeccentric Says:

    No, I haven’t read the Carson article. *Adds to list*

    I don’t know, I have cleansed my brain of as much of Mists as I can.

    Hmm, I don’t mean that there’s a reasoned feat of homosexuality… I think I mean that fear of other things MANIFESTS itself in a fear of homosexuality, as with the Templar trials. Although Piers Gaveston can’t have helped. There are all these things threatening the homosocial order (women were more socially mobile after the plague? this I did not know?) and the position of the landed nobility- so their self-identity becomes very important, and it becomes super-important not to let anything CORRUPT THE NOBLE BONDS BETWEEN MEN. I think.

    Oooh, yes. That too!

  10. Hannah Kilpatrick Says:

    Definitely, to the other things manifesting itself as fear of homosexuality. I pretty much argued that in the essay I wrote a few weeks ago on Edward II – that, despite attempts of modern critics and 14thC chroniclers-after-the-fact to depict his life as sodomitical, it actually only because relevant when Isabella and Mortimer invaded and a) needed to stir up public opinion against him so thye could get an army and depose him and b) needed to KEEP public opinion by deflecting attention to their adultery so directed it to his GAY adultery. And then all the business about “you buggered up our coutnry!” came to be symbolised in those terms in the sermons of people like Orleton, because everyone loves allegory.

    And also, who can blame Edward for Piers? Hot Gascon knight! With a name like Piers Gaveston! Who wouldn’t go for him?

    Um. Women. Social mobility post-plague… similar to the way the lower classes were more mobile due to diminished work force, women were taking on more physical and not-in-the-house work and also able to marry higher or even (horror!) not at all due to the fact that more men died than women, particularly in the second wave of plague. What book was I reading recently that detailed this…

    Ah. Endnote comes through again: French, Katherine L. ‘The good women of the parish: gender and religion after the Black Death.’ Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007.

  11. highlyeccentric Says:

    Well, it’s true, you can’t exactly blame Edward II for his taste in men… 😉

    HUH. You’d think my twithead lecturer would’ve covered that in the twithead second-year course, but then the entire course was so idiotic I shouldn’t be surprised she missed things like tangible economic and social processes. Grumble. But thanks, I shall a) hunt up the book sometime and b) add it to my List of Reasons the Knighthood Had Angst In The Fourteenth Century!

  12. Hannah Kilpatrick Says:

    I am accumulating so many books to read between finishing this year and starting my phd. These are all either books with really fun-sounding titles, or books about theory, which I am now realising was woefully lacking from my undergraduate course at Adelaide. My supervisor had to explain post-structuralism today – apparently I use post-structuralist -sounding arguments kind of a lot in my thesis, but it’s too late in the day to really ground my essay in that or any other theoretical field.

    I can totally blame Ed for the choice of his second man, though. 😛 Hugh was no fun. In fact, he reminds me of Richard III.

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