Purdue University Graduate School
Bryans Keeping the Girdle Thesis.pdf (745.85 kB)

Keeping The Girdle: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Cross-Dressing, and Gendered Communities

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posted on 2022-07-28, 21:23 authored by Marisa J BryansMarisa J Bryans


Gender, anxiety, identity, and Gawain’s impossible choice have long been identified and examined as worth studying in the fourteenth-century alliterative poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. By focusing on the different states of dress that Gawain finds himself in, the gendered behaviors he engages in, and the fact that he takes on and wears a piece of woman’s clothing as his own before his final encounter, it becomes clear that Gawain begins to utilize and slip into a gender fluid state of identity. His behaviors in Haut Desert cross gendered lines, but also the lines of private and public identity: Gawain’s fault is revealed at the Green Chapel, when the Green Knight reveals himself to be Bertilak as well as his knowledge of Gawain’s girdle. By taking up the green girdle, Gawain cross-dresses and gains access to alternative courses of action and paths towards virtue and survival. Upon returning to his court, his community must take on the girdle as a token of Gawain himself and integrate it in a way that allows for his gender fluidity to become enclosed within the borders of the chivalric community. Gawain’s survival and the benefit which he brings his court are materially represented by the girdle which stands for both the honorable and shameful, the knightly and the monstrous, and the feminine and masculine. 


Degree Type

  • Master of Arts


  • English

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Shaun Hughes

Additional Committee Member 2

Dorsey Armstrong

Additional Committee Member 3

Michael Johnston