Myth and ritual in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

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1974

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In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the Gawain-poet works within the romance tradition by creating a hero who accepts a challenge and embarks on a perilous quest involving combat with natural as well as preternatural forces. In the best romantic tradition, the hero successfully completes his quest and returns to the reassuring warmth of his lord's court to relate his adventures. However, there is more to this romance than a conventional structure and theme; It embodies a meaning with far more serious implications than the account of a knight who accepts a challenge from a curiously green "aghlich mayster." There is far more involved than the somewhat whimsical temptations of an exquisitely tempting woman. These facets of the poem, as well as others recounted in the study, are parts of the substructure of a grander design; it is a design which involves the relating of a story of ritual conflict and self-discovery, where-In Gawain and Bertilak represent opposing forces who reenact the cosmogonic drama of creation, death, and rebirth—the theme of eternal recurrence, which is the focus of the thesis. Within the mythic deep structure of the poem. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is also a highly Christian poem whose dianoi expresses the moral concern with truth and honor and ultimately the soul's archetypal quest for a second birth. It is the pervasive Christian atmosphere of the poem, along with the mythic-ritualistic substructure, which the writer believes is the raison d'etre for this great work of art.

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