"The taint of a fault" : purgatory, relativism and humanism in "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight"


  • Bill Phillips




Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Purgatorio, Relativismo, Humanismo cristiano, Wycliff, John


Far from being a poem about the chivalric code, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is essentially concerned with religion. The Romance genre is used to reveal the shortcomings of the Church in the late fourteenth century, just as it begins to feel the first effects of early Renaissance humanism, and of religious reformers such as John Wyclif. Early and medieval Church doctrine, like the chivalric code, imposed a set of conditions which were effectively impossible to fulfill, and it must have seemed to many people that however strenuously they strove to comply, they were inevitably doomed to hell. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, possibly influenced by the teachings of John Wyclif, is a religious allegory in which the intractability of the chivalric code stands in for a Church assailed both for its corruption and intransigent absolutism. The doctrine of purgatory, which became orthodox only by the late thirteenth century, symbolizes the kind of relativist development envisioned by the Gawain author in his/her critique of obsolete and unworkable codes.


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How to Cite

Phillips, Bill. 2004. “"The Taint of a Fault" : Purgatory, Relativism and Humanism in ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’”. Alicante Journal of English Studies / Revista Alicantina De Estudios Ingleses, no. 17 (November):227-37. https://doi.org/10.14198/raei.2004.17.15.