How Green is 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight'? An Ecocritical Consideration.

Strangfeld, Nancy
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The Southern African Society for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (SASMARS)
Ecocriticism, or green reading, is a new direction in literary criticism currently enjoying considerable exposure overseas. Despite a growing interest in green readings, ecocritical engagements with medieval texts have thus far been limited. In an attempt to shed some new light on medieval environmental perspectives, this paper introduces some of the central concepts of ecocritical theory and offers a fresh approach to the fourteenth century Middle English romance Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. In medieval literature, nature is generally an abstraction, as many medieval texts favour the undemanding conventionality of an idealised two-dimensional natural world and the corresponding conceptual control. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight seems to eschew such anonymous abstraction. Using the notion of the Gawain-poet`s dialogic imagination and the poem`s celebrated descriptions of the natural world as a fundamental premise, I suggest that the poem lends itself favourably to an ecocritical interpretation. The poem, I argue, demonstrates an awareness of nature on its own terms: through the observation and extension of descriptive convention, the poet opens dialogic spaces in the text that allow for the articulation of various responses to the presence and demands of the natural world on humankind, inviting the audience to interrogate established notions of (medieval) man`s place in the world. The text is revealed as a site of cultural contest, in which conventional dualistic medieval assumptions regarding the status of nature and culture are critically interrogated.
How Green is 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight'? An Ecocritical Consideration,1017-3455,The Southern African Society for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.