The Transforming of Women in Medieval Literature

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The Transforming of Women in Medieval Literature as Seen in “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”

Over the countless years of history man and woman have realized that they must come together in order to survive. Whether it was solely for the continuation of our race through procreation, or by uniting one with another in matrimony; the two genders have found it impediment to spend their lives in each other’s midst. Over the span of several millennia we not only see the evolution of these relationships, but we can also witness the transformation of the roles each gender plays in everyday life. One such period where we see many of these roles evolving occur is chronicled in Medieval Literature. Writings such including Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales” and many Arthurian Legends present women and their treatment by their male counterparts in a ways uncommon to earlier writings. One of the best representations of such thinking is found in “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” The text includes women of varying types and gives an excellent paradigm to the changing culture of the Medieval Era.

At the genesis of the tale we are presented with the ideal medieval lady. The narrator describes Queen Guenevere’s immense beauty and states that “fair queen, without a flaw… A seemlier that once he saw, / In truth no man could say” (81-84). Guenevere serves as an example of the prior period’s typical woman. She is quiet, obedient to her husband, and the attractive object of the male gaze. Previously this was the norm for woman, to be confined to a set of restrictions that kept her inferior to all other men. Compared to Chaucer’s Wife of Bath who is loud, assertive, and extremely sexually open, Guenevere knows her roles and offers little complaint of her place in the castle. The lack of her contention exemplifies the base portrayal of a woman’s traditional position.

The next female we come across in the journey of Gawain is Bertilak’s wife. At the first moment of meeting the...
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