AbstractsLanguage, Literature & Linguistics

Gawain and Marriage: A Comparative Study of Middle English and Old French Literature

by Éloïse Ruby

Institution: Leiden University
Year: 2017
Keywords: Gawain; Middle English; Arthurian romance; English literature; Marriage; Medieval marriage
Posted: 02/05/2017
Record ID: 2111517
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/1887/41789


Gawain was one of the most popular Arthurian figures in medieval literature, featuring in numerous texts both as a protagonist and as a supporting character. Scholars have studied Gawain’s reputation and representation in literature in detail, yet the significance of marriage or of the absence of marriage in Gawain romances has been overlooked. This thesis examines Gawain’s relationships with women and his attitude towards women and matrimony in medieval romances, studying his portrayal both as a lover and as a husband in a selection of thirteenth to sixteenth century French and English Arthurian romances. I use a new, interdisciplinary approach by applying the framework of New Historicism to the romances I examine, and by discussing the themes of marriage and love in light of the texts’ cultural and political backgrounds and literary sources. My claim that the English Gawain’s motives and behaviour are portrayed as more virtuous and courteous than the French Gawain’s, both in pre-marital and marital relationships, is supported by a careful close reading and analysis of The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle, Sir Gawain and the Carle of Carlisle, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Ywain and Gawain, De Coniuge Non Ducenda; and Le Chevaliers as Deus Espees, Le Chevalier à l'Épée, and La Mule Sans Frein. Gawain marries more often in the English romances in this corpus, for the purpose of preserving his courtesy, that of others, or to stabilise a conflict; while he is more frivolous and rarely marries in the French romances. The married state contradicts elements of Gawain’s traditional French and English characterisation and is therefore almost always an imbalance and a temporary state which authors must right in the romances’ denouements. Based on my findings and discussion, I conclude that the various uses of marriage in the romances’ plots and Gawain’s different portrayals as a husband reflect regional and national traditions, as the romances were tailored to ruling elites with different concerns and backgrounds. The use of the culturally charged theme of marriage in Arthurian romances allowed authors to infuse romances with symbolical meaning. Advisors/Committee Members: Pelt, N.T. van (advisor).