Monday, March 2, 2015

Place in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

This is another post that’s primarily descriptive in character and is in response to a paper by Per Aage Brandt, Forces and Spaces – Maupassant, Borges, Hemingway. Toward a Semio-Cognitive Narratology, in which he outlines (to quote from his abstract) “a model of the constitutive architecture of narrative meaning as manifested by ‘good stories’, stories that make sense by conveying a vie& of the human condition.” In this model he proposes that actions move back and forth between “a canonical set of narrative spaces, each encompassing and contributing a significant part of the meaning of a story” and that these narrative spaces are typically “staged as distinct locations” in the physical space depicted in the narrative. He labeled these four spaces: Condition, Catastrophe, Consequence, and Conclusion.

I want to look at one text, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The story takes the form of a quest and so is rather explicitly about a journey. Setting aside a frame story, we can lay out the places as follows:
King Arthur’s Court: The story begins here and ends here.
Bercilak’s court at Hautedesert: This is something of an anti-court (e.g. where a woman sits at the head of the table) and has some specific sub-spaces we’ll get to in a moment.
The Green Chapel: This is the terminus of the quest.
The hinterlands between the first three.
Here’s how the story goes:
1) Frame material (about Troy and Britain).
2) A challenge, the beheading game, is proposed to Arthur’s knights in Arthur’s court at Camelot and Gawain accepts. Gawain prepares himself.
3) Gawain travels the hinterlands between Camelot and Hautedesert.
4) While at Hautedesert Gawain engages in an elaborate exchange with his host, Sir Bercilak. (we’ll look at this later.)
5) Gawain travels the hinterlands from Hautedesert to the Green Chapel.
6) Gawain completes the quest at the Green Chapel, and, as it turns out, the exchanges as well.
7) Gawain travels the hinterlands back to Camelot.
8) Return to Camelot.
9) Frame material.
On each of three days at Hautedesert Gawain engages in an exchange with his host, Sir Bercilak. Bercilak goes hunting in the woods and Gawain is pursued by Bercilak’s wife in her bedroom. They exchange their “winnings” at the end of the end. So this involves the spaces: the woods, the bedroom, and a neutral place of exchange within the palace.

The narrative is very stylized and has a ritual feel to it. I’ve got quite a bit to say about these elements on the text and, in particular, about the exchanges, in this essay:
Also see the following blog posts:


  1. Soon to be a "children's book": Augie and the Green Knight

    The Green Knight's side of the story as told through the lens of a young nerdy girl named Augie who serves as an adviser to the Green Knight.

    As a kickstarter supporter I have already received my copy of the eBook and am awaiting the hardcover version, with illustrations by Boulet. Great fun.

    I can't promise it is completely faithful to the semiotics of the original.

  2. If you go over to YouTube I think you'll find an interesting selection of SGGK material. Here's some I collected a few years ago.

  3. Thanks. I had not paid much attention to this story in many years. It's fascinating stuff.

  4. I read it as an undergraduate and then again in my first year of graduate school. My article on it is one of my first (two) academic publications. Fascinating text. And it still interests me.