DISTINGUISHED LECTURE SERIES
Barbara Newman (Northwestern University)
"Holy Sinners: Revisiting Sir Gawain and Sir Gowther."
Among the most interesting character types in medieval romance is the holy sinner, a figure who inhabits the generic boundary between hagiography and romance. This talk looks at two opposing versions of the type, as found in the English romances of Sir Gowther and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. In the first case, we see a penitential hero who rises from the most abysmal depth of sin and crime to be crowned with chivalric and spiritual success. Sir Gowther provides an exemplum of successful lay penance—a moral “rags to riches” tale. For Sir Gawain, on the other hand, spiritual and chivalric perfection is a point of departure, a pinnacle from which he falls by a felix culpa into humiliating—but humanizing—sin. Reading these disparate tales together affords a way to approach the medieval hermeneutic of both/and, a strategy for reading texts in which the sacred and the secular rub shoulders.
Rutgers British Studies Center
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