Arkin, L., (1995) “The role of women in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”. http://chass.montclair.edu/english/furr/arkin.html. Retrieved July 19, 2008.
The women in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight are the poet’s primary instruments to show the decline of Feudalism and chivalry in the 14th century.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight emphasizes the conflict between spiritual love and courtly love, and the women in the poem are a metaphor for the contrast of these two distinct types of love. The Virgin Mary is the representative of spiritual love, obedience, chastity and life. In contrast, Morgan le Fay and Lady Bertilak are the epitome of courtly love, disobedience, lust and death.
In the poem, women are given great power: the Virgin Mary, when properly worshipped, gives Gawain his prowess; Morgan le Fay instigates the entire plot, wielding enough power and Lady Bertilak takes the role of hunter and aggressor in the scenes of the bedroom. She is a real temptress testing Gawain’s chastity and a real object of courtly love, testing his courtesy. She has the power to tease and coax him into sin.
However, the poet never intends to present a world where women are powerful; rather, they stand for other antisocial forces and dangers outside the control of feudalism and chivalry.
The tests that Gawain undergoes and the moral trials that he has to endure become a metaphor for other problems facing the 14th century aristocracy and women and feminine symbols are the author’s devices in assembling blame for the end of the feudal economy and way of life.
Chivalry: the qualifications of knights as valour, courtesy, loyalty, etc.at the service of the church and the feudal system. Courtly love: the concept of ideal love, chaste but passionate, between a knight and a, usually married, lady.