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My conclusion examines the Middle English romance most popular with modern scholars: the masterful Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Long noted for its acute understanding and subversion of literary convention, this romance displays a thorough understanding of the integral role that identifiably English landscapes play in constructing and defining the genre. Intriguingly, such awareness manifests especially in passages that relate topographical features “echoing” the sounds of human hunters, their canine companions, and the activities of more ambiguous characters (such as the Green Knight himself). SGGK thus anchors its fantastical narrative within recognizably English environments while calling attention to how human perception and communication produce such literary landscapes. Examining this romance alongside The Greene Knight (c.1500), a popularized ballad-romance of the same narrative, reaffirms that English and Border landscapes remained integral to the “voice” and character of late medieval and early modern verse romance.
This chapter assesses the linguistic evidence of politeness in medieval Britain. The written sources are scarce, especially for the Anglo-Saxon period. An analysis of relevant lexical items suggests that in Old English, politeness in the modern sense did not play a significant role. Discernment politeness (i.e. the appropriateness of behaviour in given situations) was more important in a strictly hierarchical society, and in religious contexts there is evidence of a politeness of humility and gentleness. The influence of French on Middle English brought new concepts, in particular the concept of courtesy. Detailed case studies of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and of the anonymous poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight show how this concept reflects a new type of courtly politeness.
This chapter investigates the use of nominal and pronominal terms of address in Middle English. Under the influence of French, Middle English adopted the distinction between two different pronouns of address for a single addressee: ye and thou. The chapter presents detailed case studies of selected tales of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (the Wife of Bath’s Tale, the Miller’s Tale and the Friar’s Tale) and of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The characters in these sources are shown to use a complex system that is highly responsive to their interactional status, including not only their social relationships but also temporary shifts of conversational power within an interaction. Nominal terms of address are shown to be equally sensitive interpersonal devices that reflect the interactive behaviour between the characters and their social class distinctions.
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