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Politics, Patronage, and Piety
In Heroes, Saints, & Lovers
jkbonafede
Dec 13, 2018
I like your points about how a common theme between the female Saints' lives involves external advances of sexual desire, which I think you aptly describe as coming not from within the Saints themselves, but desire that is thrusted upon them from without via male suitors. You state that these women are casted as needing protection from the sexuality of others due to their limited agency and by extension their limited capacity to safeguard their own sexuality. I find this particularly interesting when you consider the connection between internal purity and the external physical manifestation this creates in terms of beauty; given these female Saints' unmovable devotion and piety they are perceived as exceptionally beautiful with external beauty now equated with internal Christian purity. It would appear then that not only does their devotion to Christianity get them into harrowing predicaments with pagan rulers who precipitate their martyrdom, but their devotion as manifested beauty makes them prime targets for these men's sexual desires in the first place. Might the precariousness of their faith as beauty intensify them as martyrs? Given the way in which they are de-feminized through many of these tortures, and some not wishing for this femininity to be restored by God, it would seem that their lack of agency to protect themselves from the harm inflicted on them by men due to their beauty and refusal to marry becomes a passive way in which their saintliness can be established and reified. Their beauty and physical feminine traits become the sacrifice they suffer which increases their holiness. Since female gender norms of the time would advocate and expect women to be wives and mothers, this removal of sexuality becomes an important factor of saintliness in light of the true devotion and commitment through virginity they uphold for Christianity and God.
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Ralph and Ecocritical Gawain
In Heroes, Saints, & Lovers
jkbonafede
Dec 13, 2018
While I think Ralph's extension of the fox to Bertilak's deceit is astute, I found her attempt to focus attention onto the physical animal and it's rights and away from the allegory trope unconvincing. In tripling the fox with both Gawain's and Bertilak's deception and seeming devotion to truth, the fox is still used in an allegorical capacity. Furthermore, Ralph complains about the brutal violence during the hunts as excessive and reasons that they provide a point for questioning the ethics of hunting during the time period, especially the fox who is hunted solely for pleasure and therefore dishonestly. However, this ignores the central importance of violence through a gaming motif that has been operating since the Green Knight's challenge. The actions and advantages displayed during the hunt may not be "fair" but neither was the beheading game to begin with. The knight is an anomaly as is the beheading game itself, and there is dishonestly built within it. While it is presented as a game, the agreement to play becomes a type of rash promise since the knight cannot die but his opponent (Gawain) does not know this. This undermines the assumptions built within the game (there can only be one victor) as well as the integrity of the beheading as a chivalric demonstration of strength. The knight manifests largely to test the court's chivalric reputation that is clearly not a reality--he has to goad them into playing which is striking given the court's hearty participation in games during the holiday feasting. While the beheading becomes a clear test of strength and weaponry skill, this is not enough to "win" the game. Gawain's participation in the game will require more than what was originally inferred. It appears that all the rules are not presented as clearly and perhaps ethically as they could be. Furthermore at the castle, the hunts serve to intensify Gawain's predicament, both in the bedroom and for his upcoming visit with the Green Knight. The game, either played in court or exhibited during hunts, still involves real violence and consequences--and like the fox, Gawain is trying to outmaneuver his violent end. I thought the point about Bertilak's discarding of the foxe's pelt was interesting in consideration of the beheading game itself. What is the value of playing the game initially when the core of the game, which looks like a test of strength and accuracy, is not enough to win? And if the point of the game is to test loyalty and truth, then deceit is the fundamental foundation upon which the test is levied--and this is problematic.
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Why Dame Ragnell Had to Die
In Heroes, Saints, & Lovers
jkbonafede
Dec 13, 2018
The focus on intertextual coherency is an important one. I agree that one of the reasons that Dame Ragnell needs to die is to free the character up for his other courtly loves within the romance genre. That said, I do take pause in stating that neither Arthur nor Gawain are punished. While in Chaucer's "The Wife of Bath's Tale" the offense is overt and the knight exclaims his woe at the loathly lady's request for marriage, shame still operates throughout the court and serves as a part of that punishing factor. Arthur, as you mention, is made to look weak by Gromer Somer Jour which provides a humiliation. Additionally, he does bemoan and at least feign not telling Sir Gawain the hag's request for marriage further implicating the shame attached to such a union. It is true that Arthur's attempts to circumvent the union are frail, as has his character been up until this point, and Gawain remains an unblemished devoted and loyal knight unfazed by the request. But, Guinevere demonstrates horror at the wedding and attempts to hide it by requesting the wedding happen at night at which the loathly lady protests that it must be public in the court in front of all the other courtly ladies. Shame requires the presence and participation of other cultural participants of equal or greater status than the individual experiencing the shaming event. While Gawain's character may not express the type of shame response we see in Chaucer, that is not to say the reactions at the court are not noteworthy nor the hag who inspires them. Courtly love is a part of chivalric values, if perhaps not as important as demonstrations of prowess, so Dame Ragnell's power over Gawain is concerning since it consumes all other duties to the chivalric code. Finally, the text does imply that Arthur has acted inappropriately (not chivalric) by seizing and distributing Gromer Somer Jour's land to Gawain so, while Arthur is directly challenged for his actions, perhaps it is less surprising that it is Gawain who really takes the hit.
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Maid of Ascolot and Knepper's Bad Girl
In Heroes, Saints, & Lovers
jkbonafede
Dec 13, 2018
I agree with you that Knepper does an excellent job at identifying how the structure of the MoA's appearance within the text and her descriptions (or lack there of) create a devaluing of her character. Her disruptions to the courtly sign-system carry consequences, and your point about how this transfers to Gawain is great. In many ways he is "duped" into associating the MoA with Lancelot as his lover. As you ask, why else would she have his armor? Therefore, Gawain who continues to operate according the courtly and chivalric sign-system is left to make nothing but false claims because again, why would he assume anything differently? I think this begins to raise an important question about the integrity of the sign-system if it can become this disruptive, this quickly, and the cultural ideals and customs it defines. Gawain is shamed for assuming something that the culture expects, and this is highly problematic. Similarly, I agree that the MoA is highly disruptive, if still a pitiable character. I really enjoyed Knepper's analysis of how the boat scene itself offers a literal disruption to the critical point in the romance's plot Given that Gaynor and Lancelot are bound to each other as the romance's courtly couple, I find it intriguing that the MoA is overtly inserted into this scene where Gaynor's life is at stake and Lancelot is nowhere to be found. But I think in some ways the MoA stills garners the audience's sympathy. As Knepper points out, in death she is finally able to enter into the courtly sign-system as both the adventure knights seek in romances and as the fair courtly lady worthy of such attention, effictio included. And yet, the fact that she gains this praise and attention as a corpse is troubling and calls attention back to something rotten at the center of this courtly culture. This is even more true considering how her death is only useful as exoneration for Lancelot--nothing more and nothing less.
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jkbonafede
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