Beowulf, Sir Gawain, And The Knight In The Wife Of Bath's Tale

1780 words - 7 pages

British literature is an interesting and integral part of all literature in the world. Beginning with an epic as old as Beowulf, British literature has had a rich and ever-changing history. I have found that The Longman Anthology of World Literature is a comprehensive book filled with the world's prominent authoritative literary works from the time when stories were oral traditions to the present, including many pivotal works in the history of British literature. The authors of The Longman Anthology made an interesting choice when editing the order that the stories were placed in this book: though Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales were written in the latter half of the 14th century, Sir Gawain was placed before Chaucer's writings in this anthology. In fact, Sir Gawain was possibly written a bit before The Canterbury Tales. I believe the editors of The Longman Anthology chose to do this because Sir Gawain was originally an oral story whereas The Canterbury Tales were always written, and Sir Gawain has a deeper connection with older language and themes of the area than The Canterbury Tales due to the spread of Christianity and Christian ideals.
Although it may have been physically written down after The Canterbury Tales, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was created long before the former. I know Sir Gawain was an oral tradition before being inscribed because of the rhyme scheme and rhythm of the Original Middle English compilation. A precursor to Shakespeare, although it originated long before, Sir Gawain has the similar structure that an actor or poet would use to help them remember the lines of the poem and perform the piece. There is a certain number of stresses in each line and a particular alliterative structure to which the poem adheres. These distinct characteristics of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight help define the poem's original oral form. While both the Sir Gawain poet and Geoffrey Chaucer wrote in Middle English, the common language of the people of that time, Chaucer's Canterbury Tales were never an oral poem. Because Sir Gawain appears to have a more recent time of origin than The Canterbury Tales, it is only logical that the editors of The Longman Anthology would put Sir Gawain before The Canterbury Tales. However, simple chronology is not the only reason I believe the editors put Sir Gawain before The Canterbury Tales; I also think that the use of language and content plays into the ordering of this anthology. Sir Gawain uses vocabulary that has hints of the previously pervasive Scandinavian and also puts daily life into the older frame of Arthurian romance. Both of these characteristics fit into the spread of Christianity from the time this story was created until it was written down. As Christianity spread throughout Northeastern Europe, so did the languages of Old French and Latin; Christian ideals also spread with the religion, including changes in literature content. For example, with...

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