Category Archives: Middle English

No Sex Please, We’re British

The ‘quest’ isn’t a generic feature which grabs me much when it comes to Middle English literature. But I do love a little coquetry. It leaves so much to the imagination. Fantasy unfulfilled is so very powerful. Take Sir Gawain and the ‘lady’ in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The ‘lady’ describes testosterone-promoting knightly travails and wonders aloud whether they will translate to “great joy (in) a lady’s bedroom” (55), so very obviously her own. She goes on to wonder if Sir Gawain will “be yearning to show a young woman / At least a tiny token of the crafts of love” (55). The Pearl Poet continues:

The lady lured him on, enticing him to sin.
But he held himself back so well no blemish appeared (56).

Since we’re long on euphemisms and short on booty, would anyone care to offer an explanation on what holding back a “blemish” might be alluding to?

Me neither. That would be most un-courtly of me.

The Pearl Poet. 2008. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Oxford: Oxford World Classics.

Image: Guinevere van Seenus by Paolo Roversi for Another magazine. Can’t help thinking of Guinevere whenever I hear ‘King Arthur’.