Know Your Role – Kinesic communication in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Researching historically has always made texts easier to read and remains one of my favorite aspects of a research process. While reading Bolen’s “Face-Work and Ambiguous Feats in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” it didn’t occur to me how important gestures and knowing one’s role in society during this time was.

To understand his article better, Bolen talks about Gawain not resisting the agreement between Green Knight because of trawthe, the “truth, trustworthiness, and honor” of  Gawain and how important trawthe is in this text. He continues to say that trawthe ” refers to the validity and reliability of a person’s given word, and it pertains to a concept of the truth that cannot be dissociated from social bonds” (Bolen, 123). This idea of trawthe comes a long way from the beginning to the end and is arguably the plot, climax, and resolution of the text.

Bolen breaks down the text into three stages: “First, we are given to witness Gawain’s diplomatic art when he defends King Arthur’s honor at Camelot. An eerie knight bursts into the castle, humiliates the king, and Gawain intervenes to save the day… In the second stage of the narrative, Gawain travels in search of the Green Knight to fulfill his promise and mission… The third stage of the narrative is the conclusive confrontation with the Green Knight, where Gawain proves willing and able to offer his neck to the axe” (125-126). These three stages define Gawain’s capacity of following trawthe. Gawain intervenes to save his King; travels to complete his mission; and proves himself to the Green Knight, passing the game.

Following this term, Bolen goes on to explain the gestures, or kinesic communication, of the characters. The OED deines Kinesic as “Of or pertaining to communication effected non-vocally through movements or gestures (kinesic, adj., OED). He discusses the Green Knight’s “absence of reaction” to King Arthur’s gestures by commenting on his beard stroking and undressing, “the act of stroking one’s beard and straightening or smoothing one’s coat instead of maintaining a state of alertness and preparing to fight constitutes an attack more dire against Arthur’s worthiness and honorability than any other threat…” (127). Bolen is suggesting that the Green Knight’s unpredicted bodily gestures is a bigger threat than being alert and preparing a fight. This made me think o Conor McGregor (the famous Irish UFC fighter) and how he acts in pre and post-fight interviews. Instead of talking about tactics, training, and conditioning, McGregor attacks his opponent by laughing and not physically touching them, but taking items in their vicinity and mocking them. Like the Green Knight, rather than preparing for a battle, he makes himself comfortable by taking his coat off. As far as the beard stroking goes, Bolen believes it to be “complex because of its interactional context” (127). Stroking one’s beard is complex to read. It could either represent thinking, physical irritation, a stimulating pleasure, etc

This reading had me thinking about social gestures we use everyday. One can bob their head back and forth if we see them wearing headphones but if the headphones are absent their called crazy. Flapping hands is a common stimming pleasure for autistics, yet when we see someone shaking their leg constantly while sitting that’s a normal type of stimming. When teaching ESL students teachers depend on kinesic communication to make sure the student comprehends the work easier. Gestures is another type of communication that unfolds various types of meanings. I didn’t expect to take Sir Gawain this far, but reading the text this way had me thinking of other texts and I just got myself tied into this idea.

1 Comment so far

  1.   Zainab Bhatti on November 19th, 2016

    Hey! I find it interesting that you feel that researching historically makes a text easier to read. I feel as if oftentimes that complicates the reading. I enjoy the process of looking deeper into a text though. I believe it helps give more meaning to it and I like that even stroking one’s beard can mean something more. Ha!

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

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