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Medieval Studies Program | Speculative Geometry and the Opening Page of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”

November 18, 2022 @ 5:00 pm - 6:30 pm

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 18: Professor Arthur Bahr (Literature, MIT)

5 pm, 7191 Helen C. White: Public lecture, “Speculative Geometry and the Opening Page of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.”

Weapons and wounds feature prominently in the first illustration of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which depicts the Green Knight’s entry, challenge, and beheading in a single tableau. As this talk will show, these weapons are more than thematic; they also help create a complex set of embedded triangles whose angles and sight-lines preview the poem to come.  This is significant because the first page of the poem, which appears opposite this illustration on folio 91/95r, is like none other in the manuscript—especially its large, eleven-line gap at the top of the page. Although not representationally illustrative like its facing page, the anomalous text-block of 91/95r nevertheless illustrates the perceptual challenges posed by Sir Gawain’s literary and numerical structures. The 90/94v+91/95r opening thus previews and enacts, in miniature, the challenges and delights of the poem it introduces. Read closely, and speculatively, it offers additional interpretive tools with which to chase the endless, gordian knot of Sir Gawain.

Co-sponsored by the Anonymous Fund and the Department of English.



November 18, 2022
5:00 pm - 6:30 pm
Event Category:


7191 Helen C. White Hall
600 N. Park St.
Madison, WI 53706 United States
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