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Representing Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

by Michael Eden (2022)



The paper explores the ways in which the medieval alliterative poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (circa 1370) has been represented in other creative media. Discussing the original four images that accompany the manuscript, Cotton Nero A.x. held at the British Library and the illustrations that have accompanied various translations, as well as art practice and film that has taken up the themes of the poem as subject matter. My sources of reference for Sir Gawain and the Green Knight as a written text are Simon Armitage’s (2007) translation which emphasises the alliterative form, and the side by side translation of Malcolm Andrew and Ronald Waldron (2015). Andrew and Waldron's text for the Folio Society publication includes a replica of the original medieval codex reproduced in colour page for page allowing for repeated viewing of the original  images across the whole manuscript.


The paper asserts the intertextual nature of the poem as a direct consequence of its ideation by the Pearl Poet drawing on existing narratives and in the physical manifestation of a multi authored codex. A key aim of the paper is to show that the illustrations produced represent in and of themselves interpretations of the text at least as interesting and complex as the extant and varied academic appreciation that has existed since the first half of the 20th century. Analysis of the illustrations, art and film with reference to said criticism is intended to establish that. With this in mind I examine what can be learned from representations of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight especially when brought together for contemplation and comparison, asserting that horror and the anachronistically modern trope of the haunted house introduced in Armitage’s translation (2007:101) is key in contemporary representation of the poem, allowing for ways to communicate and affect contemporary audiences and as evidence of the poems necessary and continuing evolution through anachronistic means.

When the text is published a link will be made available here.



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