Dress and Textiles II: Metaphor and Materiality
Sponsor: DISTAFF (Discussion, Interpretation, and Study of Textile Arts, Fabrics, and Fashion); Pearl-Poet Society<?p>
Organizer: Robin Netherton, DISTAFF<?p>
Presider: Monica L. Wright, Univ. of Louisiana–Lafayette
Seeing Beyond the Color: The Green Knight’s Attire Kimberly Jack, Athens State Univ.
Scholarship on the Green Knight’s appearance tends to focus solely on the color itself. This paper looks at other descriptions of the knight’s appearance, clothing, and horse. (This paper and the following one work together to look at this topic.) There is a conventional head-to-toe description when the knight enters the hall, focusing on physique, clothing, hair, horse, and then a “negative’ description or armor, focusing on what he doesn’t wear. At first the description focuses on the knight’s immensity, but then backs off an clearly identifies him as a man. Not disfigured but well-formed. The only “monstrous” aspect is the green color. Then we get the clothing description: a tailored cote, well-fitted hose (all of green). This is high fashion, tight and fitted tot he body and revealing the legs. A fur-lined mantle and hood, Gold spurs on silk, richly barred (unclear if striped or with metal bars), and “shoeless” not meaning with no shoes at all, but not wearing boots, indicating peaceful intention. A barred belt with rich stones. His array on himself and his saddle was worked and embroidered with birds and (butter)flies of green and gold. Butterflies are a symbol of distraction, aimless wandering, and unimportance. The horse’s equipment include pendants, green enamel work on his bridle and stirrups. The horse is green and is enormous like his rider, perfectly suited to him. Now we move to hair, both of the rider and horse. Their hair match: fair, fanned locks over his shoulders, his beard like a bush, both trimmed to just above his elbows. But this is not the description of a wild man: there is an emphasis on how it is well-trimmed and luxurious, falling like a royal “capados” (hood/mail coif). The horse’s mane is then compared back to the knight’s hair, curled, combed and adorned with green bands with precious stones, his docked tail is similarly adorned. Then we have a description of absent armor: no helm, hauberk, plate, spear, nor shield. This is used to emphasize his peaceful intention. All he carries is a holly branch and an ax adorned with ornaments. We now move on to Part 2.
Greening the Knight: Costumes and Defying Social Context in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Kara Larson Maloney, Canisius College
She refers to a previous paper in which she looked at how Gawain’s disrobing depicted the removal of his virtues. Now she looks at the humanity of the Green Knight, while the green color frees him from ordinary limits of humanity. The Knight is also Sir Bertilak who is the tool of Morgaine in a ruse against Guinevere. The Green Knight is not himself a transformer, but has been chosen by Morgaine for her purpose. Green symbolized a variety of perilous concepts. We get a catalog of various supernatural green characters such as the greenman, the holly king, etc. etc. But again the Green Knight does not have the features of a “wild man”, diverging from the usual greenman representation. In this bridging function, he defies the usual rules of representation and exists in a liminal space between the court and the wild. This ties in with the use of the embroidered birds and butterflies. The extended elaborate description scenes overwhelm the senses with contradictory input., not only for the reader, but for Gawain within the narrative, who also represents a dual world of court and wild. We now get a catalog of various theories of what the Green Knight may be intended to symbolize in this context. Much of it contradictory. But overall the knight is meant to be a rebuke to Arthur’s court. There is a digression into the relationship between silk work and prostitutes, that may have some connection with the featured embroidery on the Knight’s garb? Or more neutrally, embroidery as women’s work and women’s authorship (relating tack to Morgaine’s authorship of the Green Knight’s adventure). Many pop culture digressions on green figures.
The Clothing of the Uncorruptible: Examining the Wardrobe of the Pearl-Poet Jessica Troy, Univ. of New Mexico
The various purposes and symbolism of clothing (vs nakedness). Example from Bisclavret wehre clothing is the essence of humanity for the werewolf. In the Pearl, Green Knight, and Erkenwald clothing is used strategically to communicate a variety of characteristics about the characters. Color had symbolic, economic, and personal meaning. Clothing situates the wearer within society. The most outstanding property of the Green Knight is his ability to stay alive after being decapitated, tying in with the symbolism of green for rebirth, life, etc. The green girdle given to Gawain is meant to be a symbol of the same property, except for Gawain’s behavioral failure. Clothing is supposed to match inner reality. St. Erkenwald involves the incorruptible corpse of a pagan judge discovered during building. The corpse animates and tells his tale. Before St. Erkenwald gets involved, we get a description of the corpse: beautiful rich gold, with pearls and gold, a mantle trimmed with miniver, a crown and scepter, his clothes were clean and spotless with no mold or moth holes, the colors are bright as if just dyed and his flesh is still fine and ruddy. St. Erkenwald elicits from him his life showing a just and pure (incorruptible) life, despite being a pagan. This is reflected in the incorruptible state of his body and clothing. But he is in limbo as he died without knowing Christ. St. Erkenwald baptizes him and hi turns to dust, along with his clothing. The clothing would now “hinder him” from moving on to life everlasting. The figure of the pearl maiden in The Pearl is another example of clothing instantiating inner truth, with all the pearls reflecting her purity. But here we have a conflict between earthly rich clothing representing purity of the soul also representing worldliness.
The Spinner in the Macclesfield Psalter Paula Mae Carns, Univ. of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign
The key image is a female spinner with a spindle in a foliated initial in the border of the Macclesfield Psalter. This paper looks at why she is there and what she represents. She might simply represent a common craft. Even after weaving shifted to a male-dominated craft, women still dominated spinning. Other stages in textile production are also represented. Saints are among those depicted producing thread, including the Virgin and St. Margaret. This suggests a possible interpretation of a lone female spinner as a symbol of virtue. Eve is also commonly shown spinning. And spinning can also have negative resonances (as with Eve). But Eve’s spinning is interpreted in multiple ways. Spinning also shows up in images representing sloth, when the spindle is idle. The larger context of the Macclesfield spinner involves the text of the “gradual psalms”. In this MS the psalms often have an elaborate pictorial presentation. Many of the images in this sequence involve musicians including King David, dancers, but also an image of a naked man backward on a donkey, which was used as a punishment for certain crimes or offences including adultery or cuckoldry. We get another example of an ivory writing tablet with courtly images showing a seduction and then a cuckolded man riding backwards while his wife and her lover watch. Going back to the Macclesfield images, there is a woman dressed in red (like the spinner) in several other images, possibly illustrating a narrative of the attempted seduction of the woman, in a musical and dancing scene, but she is turning away from the seducer and toward a well-dressed woman. So perhaps the spinner represents a virtuous woman, the rejects the seducer, but her husband is the one who strays and is punished for adultery with the backwards ride. In later psalms, the illustrations are more generic courtly scenes, but often show women rejecting the temptations of lust. Overall, these women may be intended to speak to a female owner/viewer to encourage her in virtue. Speculation on the commissioning of the book by Isabel Despenser for her son Edmund Fitzalan. Isabel had personal reasons for warning against the dangers of lust and seduction. The spinner may have been intended as a representation of Isabel herself as symbol of the virtuous woman.