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Unstable Kinship: Trojanness, Treason, and Community in Sir Gawain and The Green Knight

From: College Literature
Volume 40, Number 2, Spring 2013
pp. 81-102 | 10.1353/lit.2013.0014



The essay ethno-symbolically analyzes Trojan identity as illuminating ethnic instability and blood-based elitism in the Britain of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Classical and medieval sources reveal the fluid nature of the Trojan identity co-opted by various cultures. Presenting British community as a neo-Trojan ethnie, the Gawain-poet produces an ethno-historical frame that grounds Arthurian culture in violence and division. Gawain’s expertise in the essentially deceptive discourse of courtly love links him with the originary treason of the Trojan frame, while his inadvertent founding of a sartorial sign discloses the degeneration of epic Trojan warriors into the sophisticated courtiers of romance. The Gawain-poet presents British community as cursed both by the fractiousness and the elitism of its Trojan roots, as the story of purely ethical bonds being forged between Gawain and Bertilak is shown to be a ruse masking the primacy of a blood-based hierarchy dominated by sovereign siblings.

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