The article by Ina Rae Hark (1974) provides the comprehensive analysis of the epic poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The major argument presented by Hark (1974) concerns the mentioned poems being an atypical example of the heroic literature of the early medieval period. The leading points that the author uses to support this argument focus mainly on the comparative analysis of the poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight with other works of the same period and epoch like for example Fled Bricend, Caradoc, and Perlesvaus (Hark, 1974, pp. 1 – 2). The essence of Hark’s (1974) argument is that the very way in which the knight’s adventures are depicted, the goal of the adventures, and the glory that the knight Gawain obtains as a result are not typical for epic literature as usually the heroes gloriously win their rivals and obtain rewards for this, while Sir Gawain’s goal in the poem was to pursue his own death.
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Hark’s Article Analysis
In more detail, Hark (1974) argues in her article that the very purpose for which Sir Gawain set off to the Green Chappel can not be observed in any other epic poem of the period (p. 1). According to Hark (1974), the traditional goal for which a hero of a medieval epic poem would set off and pursue the meeting with his rival is the victory that would grant this knight some material of spiritual reward, a princess to marry or a country to rule (p. 2). In the poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight the main hero pursues his own death that would inevitably meet him on seeing his rival, the Green Knight, and this point is not understandable for Hark (1974), who does not see any heroic features in this “heroic” poem.
Moreover, Hark (1974) sees nothing heroic in the poem outcome as Gawain receives social judgment and a sort of scorn for breaking his promise to the host of the castle he rested in while waiting for meeting the Green Knight, i. e. Bercilack (Hark, 1974, p. 7). Further on, the author of the article wonders while analyzing Sir Gawain and the Green Knight what were the driving factors for Gawain to resist Bercilack’s wife’s seduction attempts and then still hide her gift from Bercilack. All these points catch the reader’s attention at once when he or she read the article, but the assessment given to Hark’s (1974) ideas can be different, and might not always agree with the author.
Thus, the main idea that caught my mind after reading the article is that the argument by Hark (1974) is too single-sided, meaning that Hark (1974) is focused on the traditional epic poems’ features and this is the factor that prevents the author from observing other heroic traits and aspects in Gawain’s conduct as described in the poem. I am firm in sticking to the point of view that the argument by Hark (1974), although being a well-documented and perfectly grounded idea, lacks comprehensiveness, i. e. fails to observe the features of the heroic poem in the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
In more detail, I do not agree with the point made by Hark (1974) that Gawain’s traits and activities are not heroic and not typical of the knights depicted in the traditional epic poems of the Middle Ages. I am strongly convinced that the features of the heroic poem that can be observed in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight include the readiness of Gawain to sacrifice his life for keeping his word given to the Green Knight. Having promised to meet the latter in a year and a day, Gawain readily sets off and finds the Green Knight (Greenblatt et al., 2006, p. 119). To me, such a step illustrates the chivalrous romance, lack of which is discussed by Hark (1974), better than killing a dragon or wining a knight tournament. As well, being able to resist the seduction and remain honest to Bercilack, the man who allowed him to spend a night in his castle (Greenblatt et al., 2006, p. 121), weighs more than a military victory in the sense of human relations and chivalrous principles in these relations.
Therefore, concluding this paper I should state once again that the article by Hark (1974) is a well-documented and perfectly grounded analysis of the poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in the context of the scholarly research and other poems of the same kind. However, I am strongly convinced that the article lacks variety of opinions, meaning that it considers the poem from one point of view ignoring the hidden, implicit, chivalrous and heroic features that the actions by Sir Gawain reveal in the course of the poem. Therefore, respecting the scholarly opinion by Ina Rae Hark (1974), I still have specific opinion on the quality of the analysis of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight that this article provides.
Greenblatt, Stepher et al. (Eds.). The Norton Anthology of English Literature. W.W. Norton & Co.; 8th edition, 2006. Print.
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Hark, Ina Rae. “Gawain’s Passive Quest.” Comitatus: A Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 5.1 (1974): 1 – 13.