, Volume 80, Issue 1, pp 139–147 | Cite as

Sir Gowther: Saintly knight and knightly saint

  • Henry Vandelinde


The two versions of the Middle English Sir Gowther are generally considered only slightly differing forms of the same tale. In fact, they differ significantly. Sir Gowther A takes a much earthier and secular approach to the plot events, while Sir Gowther B focuses on the spiritual and religious elements.

Each version is directed by its specific generic agenda. A concerns itself with the chivalric elements, while B focuses on Gowther's spiritual growth. Each manipulates the context of the plot events to emphasise a particular view, and this difference separates the versions into individual poems.

The differences between the two versions can be determined in three broad and interrelated areas: the sexual, religion, and martial activity. A deals with the sexual issues in a more salacious manner, while B mutes the sexual in favour of chaste propriety. In religious matters, B stresses Gowther transgressions against the clergy, whereas A emphasises the transgressions against secular boundaries. In the battle scenes, A turns the hero into the ideal secular knight, while B has him complete the poem as the ideal Christian knight.

The different treatment of similar plot elements suggests the two versions of Sir Gowther can not be regarded as like expressions of the same poem. They must be considered as individual renderings of the plot material, as different from each other as they are from the Robert the Devil cycle, which shares the same source.


Comparative Literature Historical Linguistic Similar Plot Salacious Manner Plot Event 
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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Henry Vandelinde
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of EnglishQueen's UniversityKingstonCanada

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