Friday, October 1, 2010

Medieval Romance

I. • The hero is a knight, a member of a rare and select company, known for his courage and valor.
• The knight must respond to a challenge, often setting for himself, on behalf of his religion, his liege lord, or a captive lady, a difficult or seemingly impossible task.
• The heroic knight must perform noble deeds in the fulfillment of this challenge.
• The knight has a strong relationship, characterized by great chivalry on his part, often involving love, with a beautiful, sometimes mysterious lady.
• The adventures are set in vague, imaginary, unearthly, or exotic settings.
• The mystery and suspense of the adventure often derive from the existence of supernatural elements in the tale.
• Concealed or disguised identities often figure prominently in the pursuit of the adventure.
• Mystical numbers such as 3 or 5 are often used and repeated.
• The knight’s courage and faith will be sorely tested during his adventure, and he will experience moments of doubt and weakness.


  • "romance" originally referred to the "vernacular" language in which courtly tales were composed, to distinguish them from "real" literature written in Latin.
  • Eventually, the term referred to the kind of tales popular in Anglo-Norman courts, stories of the chivalric adventures of knights and their ladies, often set in the court of King Arthur.
  • Early audiences were largely women, a queen or duchess and ladies of her court, who wanted to see women in more important roles than in the earlier male-bonding epics of the Anglo-Saxons. So the poets produced tales in which the knight is still a brave warrior but is now motivated by the desire to serve a lady in a chivalric way.
  • Thus the tales developed a relationship later known as "courtly love," in which the knight serves his lady (usually NOT his wife) with obedience and submission (she controls the relationship), and is inspired by her love to do great deeds.
  • Extramarital aspect is not inherently immoral but rather an idealized romantic relationship which can therefore not exist in the "real" context of medieval marriage (typically based on monetary, political, or dynastic goals, NOT love). Therefore the quasi-adulterous quality that bothers modern readers was probably at that time beside the point.
Source: Prof. Debora Schwartz, Cal Poly University (Link)

What form do these characteristics of medieval romance take in the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight?

How have these conventions been adapted, in exciting ways, in contemporary popular culture, such as books, films, graphic novels, or comic books?