The epic poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, written by an adept, anonymous author in the mid to late fourteenth century, is a classic amongst the literary world. It is a story that resides in a medieval setting and procures the classic subject matter of good and evil. The poem contains several themes and motifs, such as man and the natural world, principles, rule and order, tradition and customs, as well as respect and reputation, which are key to making the epic poem a literary work of art.
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In this essay, the topics of the origins of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight will be discussed, along with how the themes were utilized throughout the story.
The author of the epic poem remains unknown, but translator, Burton Raffel, believes that he or she was either an aristocrat or someone who was intimately familiar with the way of aristocracy and knew about the French and French customs. The poem was originally written in Middle English, which was prevalent between 1150 and 1475 a.d., it is estimated from evidence of events and lifestyle that the poem was composed between 1350 and 1400 a.d. Many literary intellects believes that the author of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight composed a poem that truly captured a clear vision of the realm of knights for modern generations.
As discussed in the introduction to this essay, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is comprised of different themes and motifs. Each of these themes play a vital role in the complexity of the epic poem. For example, good vs. evil is displayed very early within the poem when the Green Knight first appears (Part 1, lines 237- 249) because once he appears upon the scene the atmosphere drastically changes, moving from one of exultation to one of apprehension.
Another example of the themes used within the poem is when the theme of traditions and customs is made palpable at the end of the poem. “The King comforted his nephew and claimed that henceforth all knights and ladies of the Round Table would wear silk girdles of green for the sake of Sir Gawain. So it was declared by Arthur, and so it was done forevermore.” (Part IV. Lines 2475- 2476). This is an example of traditions and customs because wearing the silk girdles is now something that the people of the Round Table would do in order to honor Sir Gawain for centuries to come.
In final thought, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a classic literary work that is credited with possessing several forms of lessons, motifs, and themes that could still be learned from today just as it was 500 years ago.
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