Sir Gawain begins, and like unravelling a code the reader makes some immediate assumptions based upon recognition of the genre, medieval epic poem. The author, through intertextuality, places key historical Lexia (Abbott 33), like “Troy” and “Aeneas” to link this story with other more famous stories, like the Iliad. This can provoke an impression within the reader that this is a true, or at the very least, important story. Because it is a poem we seek out keywords, like code breaking cribs to unravel the puzzle, we accept words or terms like “Felix Brutus” or “Royal Romulus” and these names link the characters in this story to pseudo-historical characters in other stories. The author and the informed reader are placing Sir Gawain in a chronologically historical context.
Similarly, to most historical narratives, the events and settings, within Sir Gawain, pertain to the nobility. Out third person omniscient narrator tells us the story of the court of Camelot on New Year’s eve and alliteration abounds in this translation of a fourteenth century epic poem:
“Yes hauberk and helmet had he none,
Nor plastron nor plate-armour proper to combat,
Nor shield for shoving, nor sharp spear for lunging;
But he held a holly cluster in one hand, holly”
It is a fictional story but there has always been this desire among readers to place the events of King Arthur within some real historical time and place. I think that the author’s intentional use of intertextuality is responsible for this.
The poetic form of the text involves the reader in metre and tempo, alliteration and symbolic language; I think that we accept the nature of a poem more unquestioningly than we do prose. It is like a song in that it affects different parts of our brain, we engage our feeling centre more than with dry prose.