What traits of an epic poem does "Sir Gawain" possess?I need an argument.

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literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The following are the characteristics seen in epic poetry (following each is the parallel to "Sir Gawain"):

1. The hero is a figure of great national or even cosmic importance, usually the ideal man of his culture. He often has superhuman or divine traits.

Here, one can state that Gawain is of national importance given he is representative of Arthur's knights.  He must uphold the respect that Arthur and his knights are known for.

2. The setting is vast in scope.

Readers see Gawain travel from Arthur's castle to Bertilak's castle. While the distance is not specifically stated, readers know that Gawain has traveled a great distance.

3. The action consists of deeds of valor or superhuman courage.

Gawain's travels are made because of the promise to receive a blow from the Green Knight in return for the blow he gave to the Green Knight at Arthur's.  This shows that Gawain is a man of his word and that he possesses superhuman courage given the fact that he knows he cannot survive a blow as the Green Knight did.

4. Supernatural forces interest themselves in the action and intervene at times.

Readers cannot deny the showing of supernatural forces: the Green Knight, the Green Knight's ability to survive a blow to the neck with an axe, and the magic of the corset.

5. The style of writing is elevated and ceremonial.

The style of writing in "Sir Gawain" is elevated.  There are points in the poem where the terminology becomes very formal. The language, even in modern translations, maintains ceremonial dictation and flow.

6. Opens in media res.

"Sir Gawain" opens in media res, or in the middle of things.  At the opening of the text, King Arthur and his knights are in the middle of celebrating the Christmas holiday.


Read the study guide:
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

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