It Started Out With a Kiss, How Did it End Up as a 24-Page Analysis, It Was Only a Kiss.

Disclaimer: I misunderstood the prompt and chose a supplementary reading from our course website rather than the Norton Anthology because I didn’t realize our editions were Norton Anthologies until after I wrote my post despite the fact that it says on the cover “A Norton Critical Edition.”

After reading Dinshaw’s “A Kiss is Just a Kiss”, I was honestly a little more confused with my reading of the Sir Gawain and the Green Knight than I had previously been. The essay seemed to fluctuate a lot as to the sexuality of Gawain. The essay’s main focus was supposed to be on kisses but then spent the bulk of the essay speaking about almost every other instance in the book, and then seemingly remembered it was supposed to speaking about kisses, which the author would then sporadically bring up in conjunction with the other events.

One point that this essay did raise, and I questioned this point as well while I was reading, was the seduction in the poem. The women always did the seduction and the men seemed helpless. This is an unusual depiction of a strong patriarchy. Allowing the lady a kiss is an interesting assertion of power in a reversed gender and identity situation. The hunting scene was a keen reminder of the males’ need to demonstrate order over the world around them. It is obvious that the men adhered to strict chivalric and honorable rules. This was further clarified by Dinshaw’s reading. The kisses symbolize both power and chivalry. Their obsession with honoring their word was so strong that Gawain allowed a man to try chop off his head because he had agreed to it a year ago. And then the Green Knight doesn’t actually knock Gawain’s head off because of other promises, but still keeps to his word and slices Gawain slightly because Gawain didn’t return all the material he was supposed to. So clearly there is a strong idea of power relations, specifically patriarchal ones, which define honor and chivalry in the men’s lives. Is that heterosexual? I don’t really think that defines homosexuality or heterosexuality. Sexuality doesn’t really define people’s actions outside of their sexual preferences. So, based on the information we are given I don’t think it’s really possible or necessary to label our characters’ sexuality.

I definitely do hear what Dinshaw is saying though. There are some curious moments that could be analyzed, for example, when Gawain and Bertilak kiss but as Dinshaw notes, “we read the text from a new perspective and contribute to a more accurate history…” (21). While homosexuality was very pertinent (and dangerous) in the 12th century, I think we might be reading into the text a little too much in that aspect based on our own reading of modern day texts. I think that even if homosexuality were present in the text, it wouldn’t have been the main focus of the text because it doesn’t really change the value of the text. Until we get a sequel in which The Green Knight and Gawain are in a happy and stable marriage, I think most of our reading of the text from that angle would be based heavily on unnecessary speculation.

(Also, it was really frustrated that Dinshaw ended the essay titled “A Kiss is Just a Kiss” with “after all, when is a kiss ever just a kiss” (21). I’ll tell you when: WHEN YOU DECLARATIVELY STATE IN YOUR TITLE THAT IT IS.)

3 thoughts on “It Started Out With a Kiss, How Did it End Up as a 24-Page Analysis, It Was Only a Kiss.”

  1. This really made me laugh: “Until we get a sequel in which The Green Knight and Gawain are in a happy and stable marriage, I think most of our reading of the text from that angle would be based heavily on unnecessary speculation.” As did you parenthetical ending. Thanks.

  2. I also found Dinshaw’s essay very dense and complicated, but I don’t think Dinshaw is trying to label characters sexuality. In fact she even states that somewhere in the beginning of the essay. The way I understood her essay was then in the bedroom scenes, Gawain’s sexual identity is not compromised but is quite fluid (for lack of a better word). The whole normative gender norms are reversed, and Gawain is the passive one in the act. But I agree. The reading was complicated.

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