<%BANNER%>

And He Honoured at Hit Hade Euermore After


PAGE 1

AND HE HONOURED AT HIT HADE EUERMORE AFTER: THE INFLUENCE OF RICHARD IIS LIVERY SYSTEM ON SIR GAWAIN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT By THERESA OSTROM A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLOR IDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF ARTS UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2003

PAGE 2

TABLE OF CONTENTS page ABSTRACT..iii CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION.....1 2 SIGNS AND KINGSHIP IN RICHARDS EARLY YEARS........14 The Loss of a Slipper and the Finding of the Holy Oil............................14 Signs, Seals, and Livery...23 3 THE WHITE HART BADGE AND THE CONTROL OF SIGNS...27 Early Attempts at Livery.32 The Badge of the White Hart and the Wilton Diptych....36 4 THE LIVERY SYSTEM AND THE CONCEPT OF TRAWE................49 The Concept of Trawe in Chaucers and Gowers Works........50 The Green Knight as Arbitrary Sign...59 5 THE PENTANGLE AND THE GREEN GIRDLE...............65 6 CONCLUSION......88 REFERENCES....................97 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.104 ii

PAGE 3

Abstract of Masters Thesis Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts AND HE HONOURED AT HIT HADE EUERMORE AFTER: THE INFLUENCE OF RICHARD IIS LIVERY SYSTEM ON SIR GAWAIN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT By Theresa Ostrom May 2003 Chair: R. Allen Shoaf Major Department: English This study investigated the relationship between King Richard IIs manipulations of semiotics and the appearance of signs in the fourteenth-century text, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Many critics have noted that the Gawain-poet presents conflicting responses to signs in the poem; I argue that these contradictory messages may be directly linked to the program of kingship under Richard II. The kings use of livery (a signifying system which used icons, badges or emblems to denote feudal ties) encouraged allegiance among some subjects, but also excited fears about duplicitous, arbitrary signs and the corruption of their bearers. I used the evidence offered by chronicles of British history to propose that Richard possessed an awareness of the power of icons and that he used them repeatedly to gain support or to assert his preeminence. Nevertheless, despite many successes at iii

PAGE 4

currying public favor through icons, when Richard IIs popularity decreased, the certainty of his rule was less and less assured; as the chroniclers explain, the kings badges, once clear indicators of his authority, degenerated into ambiguous, or meaningless objects. The theoretical framework for my analysis of Richard IIs use of iconic signs was largely drawn from the works of Charles Peirce, Umberto Eco, and the studies of the iconography of kingship by Louis Marin. My own interpretation of the language and semiotics of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was augmented by R.A. Shoafs book The Poem as Green Girdle and his essay The Syngne of Surfet and the Surfeit of Signs. As Shoaf points out, for the Gawain-poet, the basic meaning of a sign, especially one which would signify association, is altered considerablyas it was in Richard IIs political campaign. My reading of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, in light of the livery debate, has yielded unique insight into its philosophical and political complexity. As a royalist, he may have been loyal to Richards White Hart badge; and yet, aware of the deep divisions Richards badges created throughout the kingdom, the poet likewise betrays a mistrust of signs. However, the Gawain-poet ultimately reminds readers of the unpredictability of all signspolitical or otherwise. Through Gawains ordeal, the poet reveals that the meaning of any sign is constantly in flux, dissolving and forming new meanings; as readers, we must negotiate the signs capriciousness and give it significance. iv

PAGE 5

CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION at lordes, and ladis, at longed to e Table Vche burne of e Boetherhede a bauderyk schulde haue, A bende abelef hym aboute of a bryzt grene And at, for sake of at segge, in swete to were. (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight 2515-2519) Critics have often commented on the strangeness of Camelots sudden adoption of the green girdle in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. 1 For while the joyous acceptance of Gawains badge of shame seems to re-establish equality and solidarity at Camelot, the green girdle still remains indefinablesaturated with all the meanings that it gains throughout the poem. As a result, the poem ends with two conflicting positions; the first is the compulsion to harness the power of the girdle and distribute it as a liveried sign of Camelots unity, while the second seems to be a deep-seated fear of the inherently 1 So many critics have commented on this problem that it would be nearly impossible to produce a full list. However, it is possible to break down some of the commentary into general threads of criticism about the poem. Robert Margeson tried to solve the problem of the ambiguous ending by claiming that the failure of Gawain is more crucial to interpreting the meaning of the poem than Camelots (or Bertilaks) declarations of Gawains success. Critics like R.J Blanch and Richard Trask see the adoption of the girdle as a symbol of Christian values and human weakness. L. Besserman sees the girdle as a symbol which operates with the same logic as the cross in Christianity. According to Besserman, Like the Cross, the central icon of Christianity, the green girdle is transformed from a sign of degradation and defeat into a banner of victory. Gawain, however, does not join in celebrating this reversal. And we are left wondering whether or not his is the deeper vision (100). Gregory Wilkin sees the courts adoption of the girdle as a wrongful attempt to participate in Gawains partial honor (120-21). Marietta Patrick, H. Bergner and Martin Shichtman also blame the members of the court at Camelot for failing to grasp the full impact of the meaning of the girdle. More recently, critics like C.S. Finley and Elizabeth Kirk claim that a lack of closure was the poets intention, and that a case might be made for three or more interpretations of the girdles significance. Blanch and Wasserman go against earlier, religious interpretations of the girdle made by critics, to claim that, at Camelot misunderstood signs [. .] are substituted uneasily for true leadership and the communication of Christian values (24). 1

PAGE 6

2 uncontrollable nature of such signs and their ability to upset the balance of power within a kingdom. An origin for the poets ambivalence toward signs can be illuminated if we accept the growing evidence that Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was written in the era of Richard II. 1 In this period, the extravagant use of liveried badges reached an almost unthinkable height; Richard II celebrated and exploited liveree de signes as an extension of his power to favorite subjects and proof of his glory, while Commons and other complainants argued that the proliferation of signs rendered livery an insignificant and expensive practice. Bitter quarrels about the proper use of these signs circulated throughout the kingdom, and could not fail to influence the Gawain-poet, even if he was steadfastly royalist as John Bowers claims. 2 Thus, the purpose of this study is to examine the prevailing sense of anxiety about Richards use and abuse of livery, and, in light of this information, to investigate the complex image of the green girdlea positive badge whose dangerous nature lurks quietly beneath the surface of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The word livery 3 originally possessed a number of different connotations. However, the earliest and most common meaning refers to a specific military uniform, 1 Although no scholar has pinpointed a definitive date for the poems composition, most scholars generally agree that it was during the reign of Richard II. 2 Traces of royalist sentiments and Ricardian images have already been discussed by John Bowers and other recent critics of the poem, and it is clear that the poet found, in Richards court, his primary source for inspiration. Bowers writes: No courtly poet in a hazy generic sense, the Pearl Poet is steadily and specifically royalist, revealing a concern for the precise practice of kingship by his obsessive recourse to regalian images (15-16). 3 The word, livery, is derived from the Middle English word, liveri, from Old French livree, delivery, or from Latin lberre, to free, from lber, free (Livery).

PAGE 7

3 and badge, issued by feudal superiors to their retainers. The term could also represent a manner of dress adopted by noblemen or gentlemen, or a special manner of dress signifying priesthood or another vocation. 4 Abuses of this system were endemic almost from its inception; wrongdoers soon discovered that a great lords livery protected them from punishment; lords abused their obligations to vouch for their retainers in court; liveried men used their badges to intimidate others. Kings and Commons routinely produced legislation designed to control or curtail such abuses. B. Wilkinson explains that Already, in the Statute of Westminster I, Edward I forbade maintenance by his own officials, and Edward II condemned it in 1327. The first parliamentary complaint against peacetime retinues was in 1331 during the reign of Edward III. According to Wilkinson, this case was dealt with effectively, and Edward III never allowed the lords to get out of hand with their retinues (203-204). In fact, in addition to controlling livery among his lords, Edward III effectively used liveried signs inspired by Arthurs Round Table to strengthen his own rule over Englands military class. 5 However, from the time of Edward IIIs death to the coronation and reign of Richard II, already existing problems with the livery system rapidly increased. The kingdom was already awash with insignias, some of which were not bestowed by nobles, but adopted by peasants of their own accord. One of the most 4 Adopting livery to signify ones vocation or association was routine; livery retainers have been recorded as early as the twelfth century in 1154 and 1162. According to Hicks the practice was apparently commonplace by 1218, when a northern bandit was reported to be buying cloth in bulk for his 15 accomplices as if he had been a baron or an earl (Hicks 62). 5 Scholars tend to think that Edwards goal in implementing the Round Table was to control the military class and to present himself as a warrior and knight of Arthurs caliber. Paul Johnson writes Edward could afford to have himself regarded, in the context of chivalry, as a first among equals, the equality being symbolized by the Round table, in the shape of a hollow circle, around which he and his knights sat (Johnson 121-122).

PAGE 8

4 striking accounts of liveried signs among the peasant class occurs in Froissarts description of the Peasants Revolt of 1381. Froissart tells us that at least sixty of the rebels, including Wat Tyler, wore jupons (of a presumably matching livery); jurors at Scarborough also describe the livery of hoods the rebels wore in order to further their conspiracy against kings and nobles. The peasant classs adoption of a symbol of their own solidarity, specifically for polemical purposes, suggests that the significance of livery had shifted; instead of referring to a badge or uniform given from a superior lord to his retainer, livery could now refer to a more general badge signifying ones association with a group, not simply a king or lord. Under Richard II, livery came to represent both the traditional manner of dress that signified the rank and honor of the bearer as well as the less romantic use of livery or badges to designate short-term alliances among enterprising commoners. The system exceeded governmental control, used extensively by unscrupulous lords and commoners who sought to exploit the system for economic gain. 6 As Paul Strohm notes, Commons was powerless to stop the situationparalyzed by continual debate about these new and illicit forms of association, in which stable and hierarchically ordered ties of vassalage were challenged by short-term and lateral arrangements for personal advantage. 7 In this 6 In Hochons Arrow, Paul Strohm explains that: A new syntax of personal relations that became available for use and possible abuse between the late thirteenth and mid-fifteenth centuries. Newly permissible forms of association were offering unscrupulous lords and enterprising upstarts the opportunity to thrive by colluding for economic advantage in ways that diluted or abused [the] traditional social practices [of livery] (57). 7 Strohm further explains: The ties of vassalage were sworn and sanctified and irreversible; those of congregation or covinage or affinity were sustained by improvised oaths of a sort entered into lightly, or by contract, or by the simple acceptance of a badge or other emblem of livery. These practices were brought into textual consideration under a variety of headings, such as covinage, or conspiracy to oppress neighbors by force; maintenance, or connivance in joint legal pleading; champerty, or by the instigation of legal pleas; improper searing and oath-taking to bind the fortunes of a single

PAGE 9

5 petition, the effectiveness of livery was questioned; any honors that might have been bestowed along with a badge were weakened by the simple fact that most social enterprises used this system; it seemed as though anyone wishing it could adopt some form of livery badge. David Wallace explains that this process of adopting badges or signs of alliance was an important creation of associational forms in the social world of the Middle Ages. Moreover, he claims that allegiance to a specific felaweshipe or universitas could often outweigh loyalty to civic or state authorities and that adherence to badges helped to preserve a feeling of group loyalty in spite of the political, social, and theological upheaval of that time period (Wallace 73). Even though Wallace may be correct in suggesting the psychological importance of the sense of sworn obligation that the badge seems to uphold, he nevertheless admits that there are two contradictory outcomes to this type of society. The first is an extrapolation of Aristotles concept of koinonia, which, following William of Moerbeke, he views as communitas. 8 This more idealistic society group; and nontraditional retaining, especially through the use of livery or emblematic apparel to secure and advertise short-term alliances for mutual profit (Hochons Arrow 57). 8 William of Moerbeke only provides one sense of the meaning of communitas, or communitya concept which may have been debated. Walsingham, in thinking of the desire of the St. Albins rebels to be called communes or the commons, writes Ita enim tunc temporis gloriabantur eo nominee, ut nullum censerent nomen honorabilius nominee communitatis, nec quemquam de caetero reputaturi fuerunt dominum, juxta aestimationem suam stolidam, nisi Regem solummodo et communes (Hist. Angl. 472). [For at that time they gloried in the name, and considered that no name was more honorable than that of community, nor, according to their stupid estimation, were there to be any lords in the future, but only King and commons.] Strohm argues that Walsinghams attribution of the idea of community to the rebels has two sides. It may be read as absurdity, a notion held only during a brief period of tumult by a group of befuddled people. It also might be read sympathetically, as a rationale for revolutionary conduct (41) based on deep-seated moral principles, such as truth and loyalty.

PAGE 10

6 is created by a bond of friendship and involves a plurality of participants, with a common aim pursued by common action, with full differentiation between its members but without any relations of subjection or domination on the basis of it (qtd. in Wallace 74). This bond is only maintained, however, through a natural impulse for self-government and a genuine regard for principles of trawe or truth. Once mans dishonesty manifests itself, we might, like Augustine, begin to believe that the reason for governing images, like livery, is rooted in the essential corruption of mans eternal soul. Following Augustine, it seems that the badge would be simply act as remedium peccati: "[government] controls the wicked within the bounds of a certain earthly peace (qtd. in Wallace 74). Although these are two possible readings of the necessity of livery, in reality, the social practice of livery did not provide the kind of positive corporate structure Wallace describes. Badges, as associational forms also did not succeed as agents of governmental control in the Augustinian sense. Rather than preventing wickedness, they seemed instead to excite or perpetuate it. A familiar complaintthat livery gives its bearers license to perform all kinds of wickednessappears in the 1388 petition at the Cambridge Parliament. The Westminster chronicler observes that those wearing badges or signa issued by lords were performing various misdeeds: At this parliament the commons complained bitterly about the badges issued by the lords, since those who wear them are, by reason of the power of their masters, flown with such insolent arrogance that they do not shrink from practicing with reckless effrontery various forms of extortion in the surrounding countryside; fleecing and discomfiting the poor in every court, including those of the greatest, and indiscriminately robbing the middle and other classes of their rights and reducing them to helplessness (West. 355).

PAGE 11

7 As the chronicler explains, those wearing badges of the lords possess such insolent arrogance that they practice extortion, taking advantage of the poor and rich, with little care for justice. It is not merely the natural character of these men, but it is the boldness of their badges that makes them unafraid to do these things and more besides (West. 355). Badges, although originally meant to function as positive symbols of the good character or reliability of a lords retainers, now clearly become the sign of their bearers superciliousness. Historically, whenever such a problem arose with livery, the lords came forward to assure the public that they would keep their retainers under control. However, at this point, when the lords promised that they would punish the perpetrators of such acts, Commons demanded more decisive action. In a surprising move, Richard II himself stepped in, offering to discard his own badges as an example for the lords. The Westminster Chronicler offers the following details of Commons ruling: First, that all the liveries called badges. As well of our lord the king as of other lords, of which the use has begun since the first year of the noble king Edward the Third (whom God assoil) and all other lesser liveries, such as hoods, shall henceforward not be given or worn but shall be abolished upon the pain specified in this present parliament[. .] But it is the kings will, with the assent of the lords in parliament, that the matter touching this article shall be continued in its present state until the next parliament in the hope that in the meantime amendment will be effected by him and the lords of his council, without prejudice to the dignity of the king and of the lords and of all other estates of the parliament (West. 357). These rulings were later incorporated into a statute and proclaimed in London and many other places. However, Richard did not keep his promise, or abide by the statute, as we know from the Vita Ricardi Secundi. Richard introduced his badge of the White Hart at the Smithfield tournament two years after the Cambridge Parliament in 1390.

PAGE 12

8 Although Richard voiced a desire to give up badges in the hope of restoring tranquility to the realm, he ultimately could not abide by his word. Moreover, Richard went much further than standard practice, patronizing scores of people and one entire region with his badgein terms of peacetime retinue, this number was unprecedented. 9 When he was obviously aware of the dangerous results of the distribution of badges, one guesses that it was his overconfidence in his power, coupled with his longstanding faith in the power of signs that led to his obvious violation of the statute. However, the source of the problems with livery after the Cambridge Parliaments decision in 1388 may not have solely been in the body politic. Wilkinson asserts that the real trouble was not the impossibility of handling the problems created by the new pattern of feudalism but the personal inadequacies of some English kings (204). This is undoubtedly the case; Richard IIs own inauspicious dealings in livery seem, in part, to have stemmed from his desire to find the perfect symbol to express his divine supremacy as king. For this reason, it seems, the comparatively short list of regal emblems under Edward III 10 mushroomed during Richards reign. Although Richard IIs primary symbol and livery badge would later become a white hart, gorged with an open crown of gold, he also used a white falcon (after Edward IIs symbol); or two white harts; or two angels. 11 Sometimes Richard would incorporate traditional symbols of the Plantagenet family, such as a branch of broom, to demonstrate his illustrious ancestry, or the baldric of the 9 In the reigns of previous kings, the number of liveried men was extended in wartime. In such cases, the men were only tied to their lords on a temporary basis, usually through badges. For example, in 1454 Humphrey Duke of Buckingham was reported to have made 2,000 Stafford knots for what end your wit will construe (Hicks 65). 10 Edward III had only used a golden lion and a silver falcon as his individual emblems, distributing the livery for the Order of the Garter to only a select group of knights. 11 See Rothery 249.

PAGE 13

9 Order of the Garter, presumably to demonstrate his membership. Richard II, it may be argued, was constantly searching for a symbol that expressed his kingship; he infringed on the livery system most grievously and most often, even from the earliest moments of his coronation. To show the tremendous sway signs had over Richard II, I expand on these issues in Chapter 2 of my study. My specific objective in this study is to investigate Richards manipulation of semiotics, through livery, and to explain how the political climate impacted the concept of the sign in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. R.A. Shoafs book The Poem as Green Girdle and his essay The Syngne of Surfet and the Surfeit of Signs each provide crucial foundations for my reading of the Gawain-poets concerns with language and semiotics. Shoaf points out a key element in the fabric of Sir Gawainits signs are multiple, enigmatic, and potentially dangerous in their ambiguity. For the Gawain-poet, the basic meaning of a sign, especially one which would signify association is altered considerably, as it was in Richard IIs political campaign. Instead of merely envisioning the icon of a livery badge as a sign of a feudal tie, he championed the badge as evidence of his own royal authority. From all available evidence, it seems he took steps to mask the iconicity of his own badges, so that his own signs would not be seen as representations of power, but the reality of power itself. However, as Richard IIs popularity decreased, the certainty of his power was less and less clear, and his badges, like the green girdle of Sir Gawain, seem to have no fixed meaning. The link between the Gawain-poet and Richard II goes beyond a shared theoretical or semiotic matrix; the Gawain-poet would probably have been affected in a direct way by Richards use of livery. Historically, Richard II consistently turned to the

PAGE 14

10 use of livery in order to influence his subjects or solidify his bond with noblemen or court advisors. His chosen emblem, the White Hart, was vastly dispersed among his supporters, with the intent of extending the kings image, and by implication, his power. One depiction of Richard II, the Wilton Diptych, emphasizes the eternal power of Richard IIs livery by making the icon of the White Hart the seemingly natural badge of the angels. Amid this concentration of liveried signs, one might glimpse other competing signs from his Plantagenet ancestors embedded in the scenery, which are curiously juxtaposed against the badges and banners of his own patron saints. 12 The White Hart badge was widely dispersed in Richard IIs beloved region of Cheshire and from that region alone he retained over 700 Cheshiremen to serve as knights, esquires and archers. From this number he selected 312 to serve as personal bodyguards, lavishing seemingly endless affections and monies on his Cheshire coterie. This was the place where he had hoped to rebuild his power base after his humiliating defeat by the Lords Appellant. To demonstrate his love of the region, he flew the banner of Saint George (also the banner of the Order of the Garter), over Cheshire. By this action, Richard had symbolically linked Cheshire to him with two of his most powerful liveries: his own personal emblem, the White Hart badge, and the Order of the Garter, 12 John Bowers writes: The central obsession of the Wilton Diptych is the same as Richard IIs political and personal obsession throughout the 1390s: the sacred status of kingshipThe eleven angels surrounding Christ wear the White Hart badges of Richard IIs royal livery, which the king himself is also wearing in the left panelBesides granting holy sanction to the practice of bestowing liveried signs, this use of the White Hart badges suggests a mystical identification between Richards households and Christs. The angels belong to the kings familia, and yet Richard is being welcomed as the missing twelfth spirit in their heavenly company (Bowers 29).

PAGE 15

11 which carried with it all the Arthurian symbolism of the Round Table that it had gained under Edward III. In the last years of Richard IIs reign, such insignias certainly did not enjoy a reputation as spiritual peace-tokens of the sort described by the poet (in Pearl) (Bowers 96). Once associated with regal grace and the solidarity of the kingdom, such liveried signs merely became a symbol of Richards growing unpopularity. His enemies criticized the badge openly, and after his death, badges were pointed to as an important factor in his downfall. For example, Adam Usk draws readily on a prophecy of Merlin 13 to explain Richard IIs exile, through the use of The White Hart badges: Iste dux Henricus, secundam propheciam Merlyny iuxta propheciam, pullus aquile, quia filius Iohannes; set secundam Bridlintoun meriot canis, propter libetatuam callariorum leporariis conueniencium, et quia diebus canicularis uenit, et quia infinitos ceruos, liberatam scillicet regis Ricard in ceruis existentem, penitus a regno affugauit. [According to the prophecy of Merlin, this duke Henry is the eaglet, for he was the son of John; following Bridlington, however, he should rather be the dog, because of his livery of linked collars of greyhounds, and because he came in the dog days, and because he drove utterly from the kingdom countless numbers of hartsthe hart being the symbol of King Richard] (52, trans. C. Given-Wilson). Livery, as iconic sign, is always uncontrollable, no matter who attempts to use it; for while Richard II had hoped to control his symbol, ultimately it controlled him, even to the point of becoming a portent of his own destiny. In this context, livery behaves more like the green girdle in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, as it becomes duplicitous and uncontrollable. Paul Strohm explains in Hochons Arrow: a brief survey of the literature of livery demonstrates that it does not serve a single master (179). 13 This reference to Merlins prophecy, according to Given-Wilson, was probably derived form the Prophecy of the Eagle which was frequently found beside the prophecies of Merlin in contemporary manuscripts (Given-Wilson 52).

PAGE 16

12 Fears of the dangers of livery, as well as the kings celebration of it could not fail to influence the Gawain-poet. He was most likely a Cheshireman himself; the dialect of the only copy of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is that of the North-West Midlands, and scholars have pinned down its origin in Cheshire. In the center of this political strife, the poet must have had feelings of loyalty toward the king that so favored his own province, but may have also experienced feelings of uncertainty toward the future of Richard II s reign, especially when the livery formed the unsteady foundation for his control of the realm. The question of livery and maintenance during Richard IIs rule alone reflects the unsettled moment in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight when the court adopts the badge of Gawains shame as their symbol of honor. Richard IIs abuses of livery and other iconic signs of kingship and the probable influence on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is the focus of the remaining chapters of this project. Sir Gawain reflects the growing sense of apprehension about the proliferation of signa and the problems of liveried association. As a livery badge, the function of the girdle might reflect the twofold outcome that Wallace sees existing within all forms of association; it may become either a symbol of trawe and communitas or reflect a sense of wickedness that exists within every individual as a result of original sin. At first glance, it seems that the poet chooses the former option; the poem ends happilythe green girdle, at first a symbol of deceit, finds its place as the sign of unification for a kingdom. And yet, its meaning is scarcely innocuous. At best, this symbol seems simply another ambiguous emblem of Arthurs reign; at worst, the residue of its original association, as a sign of deception and shame, will never be fully expunged. The negative

PAGE 17

13 meaning of the badge could continue to hold sway over its bearers, threatening the honor and the unity that the members of this court should have euermore after. Thus, the poet, perhaps influenced by Richards own flightiness with iconic images, conceptualizes one of the most powerful signs in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the girdle, as a sign without predetermined significancean indeterminate image with a host of meanings.

PAGE 18

CHAPTER 2 SIGNS AND KINGSHIP IN RICHARDS EARLY YEARS Richard II nursed a growing sense of the power of signs and symbols at an early point in his reign. Even before he took power, chroniclers and literary figures constantly interpreted or reinterpreted signs and symbols so that they would come to signify some crucial element of Richard IIs kingship. Therefore, the purpose of this chapter will be to trace the strange history of those signs in the early years of Richard IIs reign. Such an investigation must necessarily include the kings coronation, his subsequent obsession with the so-called pageantry of kingship and his own appearance and behavior. In every case, the same events were used over and over again for dramatically different ends: Richard II attempted to prove his fitness as a king and his divinely ordained office, while anti-Ricardian dissidents pointed to the same moments in his reign to demonstrate his rash, wasteful nature and even to explain or predict his eventual downfall. The Loss of a Slipper and the Finding of the Holy Oil One of the first significant moments for the future king Richard II occurred when he was ten years old. At this tender age, he was inducted into his fathers esteemed Order of the Garter on Saint Georges day, April 23 rd 1377. Although the festival seemed auspicious, there was clearly an air of pessimism, which prompted the chronicler to add and unfortunate thynges and unprofytable harmes, with many evle, began for to 14

PAGE 19

15 sprynge, and, the more harm is, conteyned longe tyme after. 1 Such ominous portents would continue to follow Richard II throughout his reign, and as he became increasingly unpopular, these initial concerns would emerge as full-blown signs of his failure as a king. Two months later, Edward the Black Prince was dead, and Richard II had his first real encounter with the awesome power of signs and royal spectaclehis coronation. Crowned when he was ten, this elaborate ceremonial must have influenced him all his life, and the religious and traditional symbolism of the affair could only have confirmed his belief in the sacred dimension of his kingship. As Harold Hutchison notes, the early coronation of Richard II might have been a political warning by Commons, intending to convey their disapproval of his uncle John of Gaunt, but For the youthful heir to the throne it was an impressive scenehis hereditary claims were now reinforced by the bold voice of the Commons of England, he was soon to be mightier than his mighty uncle, and to rule the great realm of England as undisputed monarch. It was heady wine for one so young (15). The chroniclers have reported the splendor of the coronation scene with astounding, meticulous detail. The coronation more or less followed the Liber Regalis, 2 consisting of 1 Quoted in Hutchison, 20. 2 The fourth and most important of all English coronation services is that of the Liber Regalis, a manuscript still in the keeping of the dean of Westminster. It was introduced in 1307, and was used until the Reformation. The following is a bare outline of its main features: the ceremonies began the day before the coronation, the king being ceremonially conducted in a procession from the Tower of London to Westminster. There he reposed for the night, and was instructed by the abbot as to the solemn obligations of the kingly office. Early next morning he went to Westminster Hall-and there, among other ceremonies, as rex regnaturus was elevated into a richly adorned seat on the kings bench, called the Marble Chair. Then a procession with the regalia was marshalled, and led into the abbey church, the king wearing a cap of estate on his head, and supported by the bishops of Bath and Durham. A platform with thrones, &c., having been previously prepared under the crossing, the king ascended it, and all being in order, the archbishop of Canterbury called for the Recognition, after which the king, approaching the high altar, offered a pall to cover it, and a pound of gold. Then a sermon appropriate to the occasion

PAGE 20

16 the richly symbolic, but undoubtedly arduous process for a boy so young; the ceremony in Westminster Abbey began with mass, a sermon, the taking of the royal oath, the presentation to and acceptance by the people, the blessing, and the anointing. Next, several symbolic adornments were given to Richard II by the Archbishop following the religious ceremony, including a sword, bracelets, the pall, the crown, the ring, the scepter, and the verge. All of these elements in Richard IIs coronation were infused with religious symbolism. As Walsingham recounts in the Historia Anglicana, the divine sanctity of kingship was assured when the Archbishop implored blessing of the new king: Omnipotens et sempiterne Deus, benedic, Domine, hunc Regem nostrum; qui regna omnium moderaris in saeculu, tali eum benedictione glorifica, ut Daviticae teneat sublimitatis sceptrum, et glorificatus in ejus propitius reperiatur merito (Hist. Angl. 333). The religious importance of kingship is affirmed throughout the rest of the ceremony as well; when the Archbishop anointed Richard II with the holy oil, a choir sang the Antiphon between the Archbishops speeches. After this, those present gladly was preached by one of the bishops, the oath was administered by the archbishop, and the Veni Creator and a litany were sung. Then the king was anointed with oil on his hands, breast, between the shoulders, on the shoulders, on the elbows, and on the head; finally he was anointed with the chrism on his head. Thus blessed and anointed, the king was vested, first with a silk dalmatic, called the colobiuni sindonis, and then a long tunic, reaching to the ankles and woven with great golden images before and behind, was put upon him. He then received the buskins (caligac), the sandals (sandalia), and spurs (calcaria), then the sword and its girdle; after this the stole, and finally the royal mantle, four-square in shape and woven throughout with golden eagles. Thus vested, the crown of St Edward was set on his head, the ring placed on his wedding finger, the gloves drawn over his hands, and the golden sceptre, in form of an orb and cross, delivered to him. Lastly, the golden rod with the dove at the top was placed in the kings left hand. Thus consecrated, vested and crowned, the king kissed the bishops who, assisted by the nobles, enthroned him, while the Te Deum was sung. When a queen consort was also crowned, that ceremony immediately followed, and the mass with special collect, epistle, gospel and preface was said, and during it both king and queen received the sacrament in one kind. At the conclusion the king retired to a convenient place, surrounded with curtains, where the great chamberlain took off certain of the robes, and substituted others for them, and the archbishop, still wearing his mass vestments, set other crowns on the heads of the king and queen, and with these they left the church (Coronation).

PAGE 21

17 cried Vivat Rex. Alle luia ([sic] Hist. Angl. 334). The benediction, the enthronement, and the celebration of another mass where Richard II confessed and was absolved, merely served to make the religious dimension of kingship all that more apparent. Although it was saturated with religious symbolism, the coronation ceremony concluded with a strange event that could have come straight from the pages of Arthurian romance: the dramatic appearance of the Kings champion, Sir John Dymmock, in full armor at the Abbey doors to offer mortal combat to any opposition (Hutchison 22). At the end of this long day, an exhausted Richard II was carried out on the shoulders of Sir Simon Burley, to rest at the palace. Before the banquet that evening, Richard II got his first taste of royal power when he created four new earls and nine knights. His youngest uncle, Thomas of Woodstock, was created earl of Buckingham; Sir Thomas Mowbray, a companion of his own age, he made Earl of Nottingham; Sir Henry Percy became Earl of Northumberland; and his tutor, Sir Guichard dAngle, he made Earl of Huntingdon (Hist. Angl. 333). Hutchison claims that this early grant of titles was a well-tempered use of the young kings power and, on this occasion, he seemed a promising king. Oddly, this triumphant display of power in the young kings reign did not capture the imagination of chroniclers, and it did not seem to obsess Richard II himself. Instead, it was the image of young Richard II, so weary that he had to be carried out of Westminster that became the indelible tableau for his supporters and his harshest critics. Hutchison tells us that Richard lost a slipper as he went, but we have the word of an eye witness that even amid so much splendor and magnificence he played his part nobly in all the beauty of his youth (22). Although Hutchisons source, the Chronicon Angliae, supports this reading, not all chroniclers agree on the serenity of the moment. The

PAGE 22

18 Westminster Chronicler, for example, recounts that moment because of its dreadful deviance from accepted custom: It is generally accepted that immediately after his coronation the king should go into the vestry, where he should take off the regalia and put on the other garments laid out ready for him by his chamberlains before returning by the shortest route to his palace, but at the coronation of the present king the contrary was done, with deplorable results; for when the coronation was over, a certain knight, Sir Simon Burley, took up the king in his arms, attired as he was, in his regalia, and went into the palace by the royal gate with crowds milling all round him and pressing upon him, so that on the way he lost one of the consecrated shoes through his thoughtlessness (415-417). Obviously, this account is not equivalent to the serene and gracious moment that Hutchison describes; instead, it presents the scene as it must have been, partly blaming the crowds and the chaos of the moment for the negligent loss of the slipper. The Westminster Chronicler does not lament the loss of the slipper any further, but he takes the opportunity to suggest that future kings not be allowed to leave the church after a coronation unless the king has gone to the vestry and decently put off his royal insignia as custom dictates (417). However, L.C. Hector and Barbara Harvey provide an important gloss on this moment; since the shoes were part of the regalia Alfred wore during his coronation in Rome by Leo IV, and later by Edward the Confessor at his coronation and entrusted by Edward to Westminster Abbey, the loss of the slipper was significant. Many chroniclers bypass the incident entirely, and as a result it is difficult to know how seriously this incident impacted popular opinion of Richard II. For the most part, his coronation seems to have continued normally; he went to the banquet without incident, and was successfully presented to the public the following day. Although the unpleasant incident of the lost slipper seems to have faded away from public memory at this point in Richards career, it was far from being completely forgotten. After Richard

PAGE 23

19 IIs death and the ascension of Henry IV to the throne, Adam Usk does not hesitate to reiterate this moment, with several significant changes: At this lords coronation, three symbols of royalty foretold three misfortunes which would befall him: firstly, during the procession he lost one of his coronation shoes, so that to begin with the common people rose up against him, and for the rest of his life hated him; secondly, one of his golden spurs fell off, so that next the knights rose up and rebelled against him; thirdly, during the banquet, a sudden gust of wind blew the crown from his head, so that thirdly and finally he was deposed from his kingdom and replaced by King Henry. 3 As Paul Strohm affirms, no other account of the coronation mentions any other misfortune beyond the loss of the slipper. Even Adams first account of the coronation does not include the detail of the slipper, claiming instead that bad council and numerous liberties of the magnates would lead to Richard IIs misfortune. This, coupled with the commonsense fact that crowns seem unlikely to be blown by gusts of wind from royal heads 4 suggests that Adams retelling of the incident was constructed to illustrate Richard IIs inability to control the symbols of his kingship from very early on in his reign. This moment in the Chronicles encapsulates a larger problem of Richard IIs kingshipretrospectively viewed, it becomes the sign of the hatred of generations. In the hands of a less subtle chronicler, the same unlucky event was reworked to foretell of Richards apparent death by starvation. In this version, a number of other elements in Richards coronation were brought together to explain yet another prophecy of another certain knightan eyewitness who: saw the kings slipper falling to the ground and saw the king at the banquet vomiting his food [ubi vidit Regis sotulare ad terram cadentem et regem ad prandium cibum suum evomentem]. He explained it thus: This king will be 3 Adam Usk 91. 4 England's Empty Throne, 21.

PAGE 24

20 glorious and extremely abundant in food, but he will lose the dignitas of the realm and in the end will die on account of hunger. Stohm asserts that the invention of a prophetic knight of France, serves a recursive function. Prophecies such as these, no doubt created after Richards coronation (and sometimes after his death) attempted to show the consequence of signs throughout his reign. This created the illusion that the present moment is the consequence of an inevitable and unalterable pattern (Empty Throne 21-22). Whether Adam Usks coronation prophecy was fanciful on Adams part, or reflected actual sentiment at the time cannot be determined. However, it is clear that Richard II was deeply troubled by the loss of the slipper, as he took great pains to replace the absent shoe with a new pair of comparable value, as the Westminster chronicler explains. In March 1390, Richard had sent Westminster a pair of red velvet shoes, with fleur-de-lis worked on them in pearls, which had been blessed by Pope Urban VI shortly before his death; they were to be deposited with the rest of the royal insignia associated with the kings coronation (West. 415). Paul Strohm tells us that an inventory of the regalia taken in 1356 includes deux chaunceons de samyt rouge (two slippers of red silk) as well as deux pairs desporons so presumably, this gift to Westminster was intended as a replacement for the one that he had lost more than a decade ago. Richards attempt to rectify the loss, especially after so many years, suggests that he felt, at the very least, responsible for its loss. Or, perhaps, like Adam Usk, Richard thought of the moment as an inauspicious one, and yearned to replace the missing slipper in order to reaffirm his power as king. The latter suggestionthat Richard considered the loss of a slipper inauspiciousis more likely the case. Richard II undoubtedly believed that coronation

PAGE 25

21 conferred an indelible sign upon him, and that the shift of the sacredness of royal power, as compared with all other constituted authority, was strengthened through the religious and traditional elements of this ancient ceremony. Thus, the scandal that resulted from the loss of a valuable royal insignia seems to have sparked what Nigel Saul calls Richards abiding fascination with coronation regalia, 5 and his keen interest in the trappings of kingship continued throughout his reign. Around 1390, Richard became increasingly obsessed with externalizing the mark of his legitimacy to the throne; first he replaced the missing slipper with a new pair, and then, he is envisioned as a boy in the coronation scene of the Wilton Diptych. 6 During the crucial period of 1390-99, he seems to have become fixated on the scene of the coronation, representing it over and over, in an attempt to affirm the legitimacy of his reign, and to assert his power as a king. Later, he was elated in his discovery of the holy oil of St Thomas in the Tower in 1399. Nigel Saul recounts: For the first time, use was made of the miraculous phial of oil said to have been presented to Becket by the Virgin Mary, and afterwards hidden at Poitiers, until discovered there by Henrys grandfather, Henry of Grosmont. According to Walsingham, Richard had come across the phial wile searching in the Tower a year or two previously and had asked Archbishop Arundel to anoint him with it. (423-424). By this time, Richards throne was in grave danger, and, if replacing the slipper at Westminster served a symbolic reaffirmation of his authority as king, being re-anointed with this holy oil, would once again establish Richard as unquestioned sovereign. Traditionally, some kings used holier oil than the bishops chrism, but the papacy would 5 Saul cites the same incident of the lost slipper and uses the same evidence as Hector and Harvey: William Sudburys treatise on the regalia, incorporated in the Speculum Historale. Saul claims that Richards motivation for giving Westminster the red shoes was to replace a missing slipper of St Edmund which had fallen off at his coronation (448). Saul most likely means Edward the Confessor here, not St Edmund. 6 A fuller explanation of the Wilton Diptych, and its symbolism, will be provided in the next chapter.

PAGE 26

22 permit only an inferior grade to the emperor. However, this chrism had descended directly from the Virgin Marys heavenly hands to Thomas Becket, and had been used to anoint Edward II. 7 This oil undoubtedly conferred upon the anointed a place in the illustrious line of British kings, 8 but, more importantly, it provided a divinity that superseded all other mortal accouterments of kingship. Unfortunately for Richard, his request to be anointed by this oil was flatly refused, and, after confiscating the oil, the archbishop bestowed the privilege on his usurper Henry. Signs, Seals, and Livery In addition to his focus on coronation regalia, Richard also attempted to change the significance of some of that regalia. During the kings minority in 1383-6, the use of the major seals was altered so that he might play a stronger role in government. He expedited administrative procedures, or simply bypassed them, by elevating the power of 7 In France, a legend about this celestial oil gained credence. Supposedly, as a special sign of divine favor, the Holy Dove had miraculously descended from heaven, bearing a vessel (afterwards called the Sainte Ampoule), containing holy oil, and had placed it on the altar. Since the oil used in his coronation had come direct from heaven, the king of France was rex Christianissimus, the Most Christian king. The first recipient was the Merovingian Clovis, but a drop of oil from the Sainte Ampoule mixed with chrism was afterwards used for anointing the kings of France. The chrism was introduced into English coronations, for the first time probably at the coronation of Edward II. To rival the French story another miracle was related that the Virgin Mary had appeared to Thomas Becket, and had given him a vessel with holy oil, which at some future period was to be used for the anointing of the English king. A full account of this miracle, and the subsequent finding of the vessel, is contained in a letter written in 1318 by Pope John XXII to Edward II. The chrism was used in addition to the holy oil. The king was anointed with the oil, and next signed on the head with the chrism. As a result of the legendary origin of the oil, comparisons with Christ could be freely made. (Figgis xviii). 8 The oil may have linked Richard II with Arthur, at least in the literary sense. Clovis, the French recipient of the oil, was often confused with Arthur, sometimes with comic results. Fife writes: Sigisbert VI, a Merovingian king-in-waiting, a century after Charlemagne had robbed the family of power, pathetically declared himself King Ursus (Bear) and tried to win back the crown from Louis II. His failure led to exile in Brittany. Thence to England where, out of the blue, it seems, he founded an English branch of the lost dynasty called Plantahence the Plantagenets. Which may be nothing more than pure romance, to give it the polite name (29). Hence, in the legends surrounding the holy oil, Richard, if anointed, could have been given a place alongside his ancestor.

PAGE 27

23 the royal seal. No formal means existed to sidestep the kings authority in this matter, but after 1383 a pattern began to develop which witnessed a decline in the use of the privy seal to authenticate chancery warrants. It seems that the signet seal was repeatedly used to move the great seal, and Richard expressed his power through the use of a personal signet ring. In spite of his youth and the existence of a kings secretary, Richard seems to have blatantly taken advantage of a loophole in the system (Wiswall 11). Richard apparently used the signet seal to arrange financial matters until 1386, when Bishop Arundel of Ely refused to recognize the authority of the signet over the great seal. Roughly during this time, Richard was also seeking other personal symbols of his kingship, and of his illustrious heritage. Apart from his unusual obsession with coronation regalia and his unique use of a personal signet ring, he wanted a symbol that could represent him alone. His first choice seems to have been his uncle John of Gaunts livery, the collar of Esses. Apart from being a family emblem, Richard may have been attracted to the collar because it was an old and unusual type of livery symbol. It had been used by Gaunt and his retainers at a time when collars were unknown as liveries, even as far back as 1371. Richards adoption of the badge was a haughty display of his own power: when Gaunt returned from Spain in 1389, he was met by his nephew, Richard II. During the meeting, Gaunt was wearing a collar of Esses but Richard took it from his uncles neck at once and placed it on his own. Apparently, this became one of Richards many livery badges, since In 1394 Richard, fourth earl of Arundel, complained in Parliament that the king was in the habit of wearing the livery collar of the duke of Lancaster and that persons of the kings retinue did the same. The king answered that he wore the livery of his uncle Gaunt as a sign of love, as he did the liveries of his other uncles. In 1392 Richard ordered and paid for a gold collar of seventeen esses and

PAGE 28

24 had another made with esses and the flowers of souvenez vous de moi (Fletcher 191-2) However, despite the criticism this badge elicited in 1394, it was initially associated with nobility. John Gowers metrical chronicle, appended to his poem Vox Clamantis, speaks of the collar of Esses as a gift from heaven: a mark of faithfulness and true nobility (Fletcher 202). Richard II possessed a genuine love of heraldic symbols as well, making use of these symbols as well as badges when it was advantageous for him to do so. For example, when the king prepared to lead his first army on an expedition to Ireland in 1385, he secured the highly revered banner of St Cuthbert for his journey; added to this banner were 38 standards of the kings arms and no less than 92 of the arms of St George delivered from the privy wardrobe. He would also assume the arms of St Edward the Confessor, a move which had multi-layered significance. 9 It was designed to impress not only the wild Irish who held the Confessor in high regard, but also the none too docile English, with the special sanctity of the kings position as the Confessors heir (Gillespie 122). The adoption of St Edwards heraldic arms seems to have occurred before 1394, a time in which Richard was already experimenting with other types of livery. Richard also made extensive use of the livery of the Order of the Garter, distributing robes to the 9 Gillespie writes Richards use of St Edwards arms on his first Irish expedition is well known, but there is evidence to indicate that the king already had begun to impale his arms with the Confessors before the death of Queen Anne in 1394, since her arms appear (in at least two surviving examples) impaled with those of Richard and the Confessor. The symbolic conjunction of Richard and St Edward is again emphasized by the impaled arms on the reverse of the heavenly panel of the Wilton Diptych, and it was, of course, immortalized in Richards selection of his final resting place adjacent to the Confessors shrine. It is not necessary to mistake Richard II for either Sir Lancelot or Giles of Rome to recognize that the heir of Edward III both appreciated and manipulated chivalric ideas and ideals (122).

PAGE 29

25 noble ladies of the courta chivalrous, but unorthodox gesture. James L. Gillespie points out that the statutes of the Order did not limit the distribution of the badge to ladies, and Richard exercised his freedom in this matter to the fullest extent. Of course, Edward III had given his court ladies some emblems of the Order of the Garter, but Richard was the first monarch to bestow such marks of honor upon women on appreciable scale, and he remained the most prodigal monarch in his distribution of these robes until the practice was discontinued by Henry VIII (Gillespie 132). At least 36 court ladies received the robes of the Garter, and, as Gillespie points out, Richard seems to have used this custom to win the support of these ladies husbands. However, the badge of the Order of the Garter was more closely associated with Edward III, and, despite the political import of the Garter, Richard remained unsatisfied by the effects of this livery. In spite of apparent loyalty between John of Gaunt and his young nephew Richard II, John of Gaunts use of the collar of Esses as his household badge may have impelled Richard to the distribution of his new livery, the badge of the white hart. The decision to adopt the badge came on the heels of Parliaments attempt to abolish livery, part of Richards new rule that no magnate should provide so great a livery and maintenance as the King (Mathew 147). In addition to being a brand new livery symbol, the badge of the white hart did not have the same significance as the collar of Esses or the badge of the Garter. It did not imply the same chivalric bonds as knighthood, and yet it was not a temporary sign of allegiance, as livery badges had been in the past. Instead, it served primarily political ends, even finding its way to Richards allies in Spain. Gillespie claims A privy seal writ dated 2 July but without regnal year declares that the king has granted twelve ladies, twelve knights, and ten squires license to wear and use our

PAGE 30

26 livery of the stag, each according to his/her estate, in the manner and style as it is used within our realm of England. The king also ordered harts fabricated of gold. One of these was given to the archbishop of Cologne in 1398; a second was sent to the Byzantine emperor in the following year (133). Richard gave his badge of the white hart to ladies, gentlemen, and regularly depicted it in works of art, or included it in the architecture of churches and other buildings. His intentions here were again political. Between 1394 and 1397, he embraced the idea of himself as emperor, rather than king, styling himself entier emperour de son roiaume. He sent the badge of the white hart to Cologne in an attempt to establish close relations with the king of that region, and sending the badge of the white hart to the Byzantine emperor was likewise an attempt to further his aspiration to become King of the Romans or Holy Roman Emperor. This distribution of livery was unlike anything that had occurred previously, and thus, Richard seems to have redefined the significance of livery alongside his imperialist ambitions. Gillespie sums up this phenomenon: The kings artistic tastes have led historians to search for an intellectualized theory of kingship behind such a programmeRichard seems to have exploited the visual impact of conventional symbols to win what support he could (122). Although some of these livery traditions were derived from the court of Edward III, Richard clearly manipulated the system for his own ends. Primarily, it seems that the use of his livery badges and collars were deliberate efforts to reaffirm the sanctity of his coronation, and to expand his regnal power. However, just as the symbolism of Richards coronation would later be used against him, so too would the proliferation of new signs and badgesespecially that of the white hart.

PAGE 31

CHAPTER 3 THE WHITE HART BADGE AND THE CONTROL OF SIGNS As I described in the previous chapter, Richard II must have felt the power of signs, and, in hoping to control the objects of his coronation, he often relied on images and livery to prove his legitimacy and supremacy as king. However, it was the badge of the White Hart which afforded Richard this opportunity; it became his representational image, in which all of his power and his grandeur were invested. At the peak of his popularity, the badge reflected Richard IIs sophisticated, deft use of signs; and yet, his unbalanced policies, political favoritism, and his grievous mistreatment of the livery system would later besmirch the glory of the badge. When Richards power waxed, the White Hart badge was celebrated; added to the decoration of Westminster Hall, Westminster Abbey and all-pervasive in the Wilton Diptych. 1 However, unfortunately for Richard, when his power waned, and after his deposition, it also became emblematic of all of his regnal indiscretions. 2 1 The Hall remains a monument to Richards court architecture: it was decorated with carvings of white harts, and was intended to be used for court feasts and court ceremonials. In all Richard spent 2,304 on Westminster during his last years (Mathew 36). It was also depicted on plates, banners, manuscripts, textiles, seals, and many other household items (Gordon 50). 2 His indiscretions and injustices were manifold. He tampered with the Rolls of Parliament; he altered and nullified statutes agreed upon by both houses of Parliament. He exercised a dispensing power that was liberal beyond the custom of such a king as Edward III; in various ways he showed that he regarded neither law nor custom as binding his action (Figgis 75-76). There can be no question that by these measures Richard was attempting to create a written constitution, a lex regia which should save the rights of the English Crown forever. It is made high treason to attempt the repeal of the statutes; all solemnly swear to keep them (Figgis 76). The poet of Richard the Redeless touches on most, if not all of these unjust acts. 27

PAGE 32

28 John Bowers may be right in suggesting that Richard II anticipated by nearly three centuries the insights of Pascal (80). For the elegance of the monarch, and overt displays of supremacy through spectacle, will inevitably contribute to the effectiveness of the kings badges and other signs. His power can become invested in signs, only through outward displays of authority. Pascal writes The custom of seeing kings accompanied by guards, drums, officers and all those things that bend the machine toward respect and terror, cause their face to imprint on their subjects respect and terror even when they appear by themselves, because one does not separate in thought their persons from the retinues with which they are ordinarily seen. And the world, which does not know that the effect comes from this custom, thinks that it comes from a natural force; and from that comes these words: The character of Divinity is imprinted on his face, etc (qtd. in Marin 14). According to Pascal, the grandeur that one attributes to the king comes from the consistent association of the king with a certain vision of power. Through this act, the kings physical body seems to become an iconic sign, as the connection between the signifierthe kings physical body, and the signifierunusual divinity or grace, become habitual. As Kent Grayson observes, when we are able to see the object in the sign, we begin to feel that the icon has brought us closer to the truth of that object; this effect is usually more powerful than anything an index or a symbol might create. Grayson points out the obvious problem of this representational framework: instead of drawing our attention to the gaps that always exist in representation, iconic experiences encourage us subconsciously to fill in these gaps and then to believe that there were no gaps in the first placeThis is the paradox of representation: it may deceive most when we think it works best (41 ). As long as the king maintains a consistent self-image, and continues to impress the public with his own grandeur, the duplicity of such iconic signs will remain unbroken. The

PAGE 33

29 signs of the kinghis portraits, his badges, his liverieswill also carry the same paradox. They correspond to the kings physical person, and, justified by their relationship to his image as an iconic sign, operate metonymically as signs in their own right. In the words of William of Ockham, the sign does not make us know something for the first time, as has been shown elsewhere; it only makes us know something actually which we already know habitually (49). Consequently, a badge can represent what is already believed about the sovereigns character, eliciting the same type response of awe and reverence as the kings actual presence. As Louis Marin tells us, the kings image really is different from the image or insignia of a feudal lord or guild; the kings world is set free in the infinity of each of his subjects representations (xii). Subjects, once dazzled by the spectacle of the king, and swayed by the discourse of the court, will see the kings fragmentary presence embodied in his signs. It is not my intention to suggest that Richard II reasoned his own use of the White Hart badge in with the precise theoretical knowledge described by Marin. However, his almost obsessive attention to spectacle, as well as his belief in the uncontestable authority of his own livery suggests that his own thought process must have been along similar lines. He seems to have truly believed that his signs directly signified his royal person, and that his livery could further his imperialist goals to become the sign of his unquestioned majesty. Like Pascal, Richard clearly understood that elegance as a means of showing ones power (54) also applied to the selection of a badge. Originally a favorite piece of Richards jewelry, Richard seems to have chosen the White Hart as his livery badge

PAGE 34

30 partly because he appreciated its ornamental and traditional quality. 1 When worn, the badge would have been sewn or fixed to the left breast. Even the less expensive variety were extravagant; if worked in cloth, it was of white silk with the crown and chain patterned in gold thread. If wrought in metal, it was often gold or pewtermore expensive badges for magnates could be a jewel, or set with rubies and sapphires. 2 Some of the more delicate badges were made of mail en ronde bosse (opaque white enamel fused over gold), a technique practiced on the Continent and perfected in France. In addition to the badges obvious physical beauty, it was introduced during one of Richards most elaborate displays of regal authority. The chronicler of the Vita Ricardi Secundi provides us with the only existing account of the White Hart badges first appearance: at the Smithfield Tournament in 1390, he flaunted the principal image of a white hart with a crown and a gold chain among his typical arms. 3 Besides his heraldic and livery symbols, he wore his crown and full regalia, resplendently enthroned before at least two hundred visitors from France, Germany, and other regions. Richard clearly used the Smithfield tournament as an opportunity to become the focus of royal spectacle, as well as foster his ambition for imperial promotion by displaying his new symbol to foreign dignitaries (Bowers 97). By appearing in full regal dress, and by impressing 1 Richard, exceedingly fond of jewelry, routinely added a number of different gilded or bejeweled emblems to his wardrobe. An elabor ate pair of broomscod collars, symbolizing his Plantagenet ancestr y, were even more exquisiteone was decorated with four rubies, three sapphires and twenty-seven pearls and the other with twenty-three pearls and a ruby (Mathew 28). Richard also owned several golden brooches of White Harts, pledging five of them as security for a loan from the City of London in 1379. 2 Mathew, 27-28. 3 The monk of Evesham writes: Decimon, undecimo, et duodecimo die mensis Octobris rex tenuit suam magnam curiam in episcopate London, et apud Smythfeld hastilidia grandia. Ad quam curiam uenerunt extranei de Francia, de Selandia, de Alemannia, et de aliis partibus, ducentes secum equos optimos, et arma pertinencia, ubi datum erat primo signum uel stigma illud egregium in ceruo albo, cum corona et catena aurea (Historia Vita 132).

PAGE 35

31 onlookers with his magnificence, that glory could then be transferred, at least in the public mind, to the badge itself. The demonstration of Richards power at the Smithfield tournament only augmented the badges already layered significance. Firstly, it verified his link to his royal ancestors; Edward the Black Prince owned a bedspread that depicted a White Hart encircled with the arms of Kent, suggesting that the white hart, or, more precisely, the white hind, was the emblem of Richards mother. 4 However, the white hart also provided an important link to the Continent, which appealed to Richards fascination with European culture and his imperialist aspirations. Bowers explains that Charles VI of France wore a similar badge from as early as 1380, because he was reported to have captured a white hart wearing a crown-collar with the inscription Caesar hoc mihi donavit (97). Richard must have intended to draw on the connection; a crown collar was clearly added to his mothers emblem, creating the familiar symbol of the cervus reservatus pictured on the exterior cover of the Wilton Diptych. Whatever his intentions were, the actual reason why Richard chose to reintroduce livery at this moment is still unclear. John Bowers, Paul Strohm, and many other critics see the adoption of the White Hart badge as a necessary step in the progression toward his absolutist goal. Nigel Saul proposes a number of solutions, suggesting, among other things, that Richard was ingrained with a love of badges and liveries from an early age, and that the display at Smithfield marks a point when Richard was deliberately fostering a more elaborate and ceremonial style of monarchy (340). This new style stressed: 4 His mother, Joan of Kent, had as badge a white hind. This white hind was also borne by Thomas Holland, Earl of Kent, her son by her first husband. There is also a theory that suggests Richard II adopted the emblem because it was a pun on his own name, evident in the French spelling Richart (Rothery 225).

PAGE 36

32 The glossy impressions which official means of simulation leave upon spectatorswhether by direct address or through modes appealing to collective distractiontear attention asunder; they force the viewer or consumer into a glazed state of astonishment. Subjects are produced when they lose critical or historical conscience; when they succumb to dazzlement or charm of any origin (Conley, xii). According to Saul, by this act, Richard II refashioned the image of the king, elevating himself to a higher level of mystique and supremacy. However, although the badge of the White Hart might have been the closest Richard II came to reinventing the image of the king, he had been refining his use of symbols for quite some time. Early Attempts at Livery The events at Smithfield were not the first example of Richard IIs deftness at the manipulation of signs and symbols, and it seems that he seized upon any moment that could create a tableau of his supremacy as king. In an unforgettable moment, he took the collar of Esses off the shoulders of his uncle John of Gaunt, and placed it around his own neck, a gesture that symbolically asserted his claim to the throne, not only by usurping a symbolic link to the Lancastrians, but also by publicly demonstrating his command over his uncle. This spectacle of signification, like so many others throughout the kings career, was undoubtedly designed to impress the onlookers with the incontestability of his reign. Many of his personal symbols, like the collar of Esses, were chosen deliberately, meant to externalize his claim to the throne and affirm his place among the long line of illustrious kings. 5 5 The collar of Esses allowed for a Lancastrian family connection, and the badge of the Order of the Garter demonstrated his link to Edward III. He also used the sun in splendor or a sun burst, a branch of broomscod symbolizing his Plantagenet ancestry, and a white falcon, derived from Edward II. These symbols, although overshadowed by the badge of the white hart, were not only important in Richards lifetime, but in his death as well; the effigies of Richard II and Anne of Bohemia are heavily decorated with all of these badges, including, not only the white hart, the sun-burst, and the broom sprigs on that of the king, but the

PAGE 37

33 He also delighted in banners, heraldic emblems, 6 and liveries of every type, experimenting with badges even before he filched the collar from John of Gaunts neck in 1389. Richards first attempt at livery was the unlikely choice of Gilt Crownsa universal, and somewhat generic symbol of kingship. The Westminster Chronicler explains that, after visiting a number of councils around the country, the king visited Cheshire, Wales, and Shrewsbury in 1387, taking a great many men into his personal service. He also sent a serjeant at mace into Essex, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk who was commissioned to cause the more substantial and influential inhabitants of those counties to swear that to the exclusion of all other lords whatsoever they would hold with him as their true king, and they were to be given badges, consisting of silver and gilt crowns, with the intention that whenever they were called upon to do so they should join the king, armed and ready. This serjeant was eventually arrested in those parts, not far from Cambridge, and committed to prison (West. 187). Eleanor Schifele suggests that the failure of the Gilt crown badge may have encouraged the adoption of a replacement badge. However, one wonders why Richard II would have bothered to replace the badge at all; the dismal failure of the Gilt Crown badge and other political disputes surrounding the kings rights to liveried maintenance should have discouraged Richard from continuing the practice. 7 ostrich and a peculiar knot on that of the queen. For a fuller discussion of the golden funeral effigies of the king and queen see St. John Hope, 173. 6 In 1382 Richard II, who used the same arms as his grandfather, a quarterly shield of Old France and England, married Anne of Bohemia, daughter of the Emperor Charles IV. Her shield was also a quartered one, so the combined arms of the king and his queen, as shown upon her seal, formed a shield of eight quarters. This was further complicated through the later assumptions by King Richard of the arms assigned to St. Edward, a cross between five birds; and the eight quartered shield with this clumsy addition at one side is immortalized in the Felbrigge brass. For a picture of the shield, see St. John Hope, 89. 7 During the Merciless Parliament, Robert de Vere was charged with abusing the privilege of the livery system, having caused the king to have a great retinue of sundry people and to give them sundry badges

PAGE 38

34 As I have already mentioned, signs at this point in Richards reign were already mistrusted, as evidence by The Cambridge Parliament in 1388. This attack on livery and maintenance highlighted its dangerous side, claiming that the unregulated and somewhat haphazard distribution of badges and other symbols allowed for a breakdown in the social hierarchy. The demand for restrictions on livery was in response to the lawlessness of men retained by lesser lords, as well as the irresponsibility of the magnates; however, the Westminster Chronicler hints at an even more important problem with badges: At this parliament the commons complained bitterly about the badges issued by the lords, since those who wear them are, by reason of the power of their masters, flown with such insolent arrogance that they do not shrink from practicing [various extortions in the countryside] it is certainly the boldness inspired by their badges that makes them unafraid to do these things and more besides (354). Although the chronicler often expresses dislike for the abuse of badges or symbols of livery, it is significant that he includes a direct quotation from the petition read to Commons. This suggests that the general population at that time was aware of the deception that badges seem to possess. In this instance, the sign seems uncontrollable and duplicitous because the relationship between the signifier (the physical badge) and the original signified (the liveried relationship) has suffered an aperture. Once the signified fissure becomes replaced by the arrogance of the bearers, the sign itself becomes suspect, and the badges would be vilified. Although the lords offered, as they had traditionally, to discover those responsible for unlawful activity and punish them, this answer could not satisfy Commons. The origin for the unrest resided in the badges, not the men, and commons argued that peace and quiet in the kingdom could only be achieved if badges were abolished altogether. In otherwise than was wont to be done of ancient time by any kings his progenitors (West. 90). John Bowers also points out that the Duke of Ireland, when exiled, was forced to forfeit his livery (96).

PAGE 39

35 a characteristically ostentatious gesture, Richard II intervened with an unexpected offer, pledging, for the sake of tranquility, and in order to set an example to others, to discard his own badges. He supported Parliaments decision to forestall bestowing or bearing liveryan act which pleased commons and sent the lords into an uproar. In a deft political move, he ensured harmony by allowing the lords to continue the distribution of livery until the next parliament in the hope that in the meantime amendment will be effected by him and the lords of his council (West. 357). Richards theatrical suggestion that he set his own signa was an attempt to use his subjects apprehension about short-term affiliation for his own ends. His temporary success in securing public favor by this gesture was unsurprising; the decision did nothing to impede the distribution of liveryit was merely a brief, probably insincere expression of anti-livery sentiment, and a promise to take the matter under consideration at a later time. However, this gesture, just like his previous experiments with livery, was also a moment in which he flaunted his own poweras a king, he performs a particular role for the crowd. Strohm notes that At this moment, he does not simply express an opinion but makes himself into an exemplum, an example of correct behavior (64). The skillful handling of the badges issue 8 suggests that Richard had reached a new level of self-assurance and sophistication in his kingship; he was rapidly learning to control symbols, both by distributing them, and by taking them away. However, Strohm may be right in claiming that so large, varied, and influential a body of discourse as that directed against liveries may be briefly turned to one account or another, it cannot be securely possessedor not, at any rate, by anyone so deficient as Richard in the art of consistent self-portrayal (Hochons Arrow 182-183) 8 For Further information on this issue, see Saul, 200.

PAGE 40

36 In January 1390, the parliamentary Commons asked Richard II to keep his promise and discard his badges, and, as many critics have noted, a compromise ordinance was reached. 9 Richard however, continued to hold the belief that no livery could surpass that of the king, and amended the ordinance to reflect his powers in the matter. 10 Despite his promise to abolish his own livery signs, Richard would outdo the lavish circulation of Gilt Crown badges in 1387 with the adoption of the White Hart badge in 1390. Instead of keeping his promise to abolish his own badges, he introduced a livery that he yaf lordes & ladies, knightis and skquiers, for to know his housholde from other peple (Brut 343). However, Richards primary use for this livery was not merely to distinguish his own household from others, but to expand his own power. Badges, as Bowers explains, could only be worn by members of a lords familia, so Richard simply added scores of men to his household and bestowed livery on them, thus assuring himself a large retinue. The Badge of the White Hart and the Wilton Diptych One wonders why Richard II would have chosen to fall-back on livery to win political support, especially after his humiliating failure at livery in 1387 and the debacle at Parliament in 1388. In both cases, he had attempted to exercise control over liveried signs and failed. However, it seems that Richard began to feel the full power of his office during this period, and that he toyed with an entirely new rhetoric of kingship. This new rhetoric was designed to establish himself utterly as king, and in these years he reasserted the rights of his Crown above the control of the appellants. First, he redefined the 9 In this ordinance, liveries were restricted to household servants, as well as knights and esquires retained under written indenture by bannerets and above. (Bowers 97). 10 See the Historia Anglicana, 196, for a full account of this meeting of Parliament. Mathew 147 provides a summary of this and other policy changes effected during 1390.

PAGE 41

37 rhetoric of respect at court, introducing a new and lavish vocabulary with which he would reaffirm, and even increase his royal majesty. Saul explains that the king was referred to as a prince and addressed as your majesty and your highnessThe lofty language complemented such other expressions of deference as bowing or averting the gaze (340). The Ricardian concept of regality, especially his insistence of court etiquette and ostentation, was, as always, designed to impress spectators with the splendor and sanctity of his royal office. 11 His restructuring of all facets of courtly life, especially his relationship with his subjects, was based on the new semantic system and intended to highlight his increasing authority. By stressing the power of respect within the representative framework of kingship, Richard II may have been doing more than massaging his royal ego. For, as Marin tells us: Unlike the production of goods for the masters use, in which the slave inconveniences himself because the master needs them, this production of the use-value includes a plus-value [with signs this] plus value [always reflects the] discourse [of] power. In effect, these goodsare less of use than of significance. They indicate, furthermore and all the more so, the mastery of the master (29). In other words, the words of respect used to address ones master or sovereign prove no usefulness, apart from their ability to further the image of the masters greatness. Perhaps Richard II was thinking of William of Ockham, when he suggests: Words are not connected primarily to concepts and then, through mental mediation, to things; they are directly imposed upon things and states of affairs (qtd in On the Medieval 64). Or, perhaps he recognized the importance of what Boethius suggests voces significare 11 See R.H. Jones, 97.

PAGE 42

38 conceptus; to speak the name of the king is to bring his person into being, and to invoke the power relationship within the state. 12 Whatever his influence, the effect of adopting this new lexis would not be trivial; beyond simply impressing his courtiers, it was also a deliberate attempt to claim on his supremacy. Princeps or prince outranks cyning or king in terms of the type of sovereignty it represents, and your highness suggests a deliberate attempt to insist on the untouchable sanctity of his Crown. It seems that Richard II, influenced by the symbolism of his coronation, regarded himself king by virtue of unction and the bestowal of the royal insignia. As Neville Figgis explains, Richard was the last person to ignore the significance of the preamble to the great Statute of Praemunire, which asserts that this crown of England hath been so free at all times that it hath been in no earthly subjection in all things touching the regality of the said Crown. 13 As a result, Richard II did not distinguish between what Ernst Kantorowicz calls, The Kings Two Bodies, 14 believing that the kings physical person and the Crown were one and the same. 15 Richard II therefore became the origin of law and king by Gods grace and birthright; he can be bound by no earthly custom. The signs of kingship in the 12 See William of Ockham, voce instituta ad significandum aliquid significatum per conceptum mentis, si conceptus ille mutaret significatum suum eo ipso ipsa vox, sine nova institutione, suum significatum permutaretSic etiam intendit Boethius quando dicit voces significare conceptus (Summa 1.8). Ockhams source is Boethius, the second book of In librum De Interpretatione. 13 16 Ric. II c.5, Statutes of the Realm, qtd in Figgis 73. 14 Kantorowicz explains that the difference between the Crown as a symbolic, incorporeal body and the kings actual body was one of the most crucial distinctions made in the theory of the Kings Two Bodies. The incarnation of the body politic in a king of flesh not only does away with the human imperfections of the body natural, but conveys immortality to the individual king as King (13). In essence, this affords the king a kind of super body, while simultaneously creating the need for the king to project the image of manhood. 15 Richard was always guarding the privileges of the Crown. These attempts culminated in 1398, the year before his fall, when he proclaimed in his extension of the Law of Treason that every attempt against the kings physical person was a crime of high treason against the Crown (Figgis 79).

PAGE 43

39 coronation ceremony conferred this ineffaceable mark of sacramental grace upon him. 16 Thus, he was absolute monarch, and his physical presence of the king should elicit awe and respect from his subjects. A consequence of this heightened sense of respect toward the king himself would be elevated respect for his badges. Under an absolutist monarch, badges and signs of kingship reflect his power, and in effect, [attract] respect toward themselves (Marin 30). The signs and badges of the king become the delegates of the king, and represent the dignity and force of his rule. As anointed sovereign, Richard II could have easily, albeit foolishly, believed that all signs and badges both signified and denoted 17 his own personal glory. As the epicenter of power in the realm, all signs connected to him would radiate his own authority back to him. Through signs, Richard could hope to project the power of the king into the masses and assert his own rights of kingship. The Wilton Diptych provides the most tantalizing evidence of the way in which Richard II was viewed, or wished to be viewed. 18 The Diptych is doubtless another example of Richards interest in coronation regalia as a method of externalizing the sacred status of his kingshipa desire that preoccupied him for much of the early 1390s. Richard could not restage his coronation, but the Diptych evidences his desire to return to it; the eleven angels around him and his youthful appearance suggest that he is being envisioned during his eleventh year, at the time of his coronation. Moreover, despite the religious function of the Diptych, the item is intended, not to portray Richard II 16 Even after his despotism, he still believed in the sacred vow of kingship. As Figgis tells us, he directed in his will, that he should receive a royal funeral (79). 17 As Eco claims, for denotatio one must remember that nota was a sign, a token, a symbol, something sending back to something else (On the Medieval 49). 18 The commissioner of the diptych is not known, but many scholars, such as Gervase Mathew and John Bowers suggests that Richard himself may have been directly responsible for the painting.

PAGE 44

40 worshipping Mary and Christ, but to align him more closely with them. The king is unquestionably the focus of this painting: Every figure, with the exception of one angel, either gestures or looks toward him: the three saints behind him introduce him with their hands, while looking purposefully towards the Virgin and Child and the circle of eleven angels, who are all turned towards the king. Even the pointing finger of the angel at the extreme right was altered from its position in the initial design to point not upwards at the Virgin and Child but unequivocally towards Richard: every detail ensures that the viewer looks first, not at the Virgin and Child, but at the kneeling king (Gordon 22). As the focus of the scene, Richard dominates, even the Virgin and the Childa strange anomaly in an altarpiece. However, his influence in the painting is magnified even further by the omnipresence of the badge of the White Hart, which appears prominently on the exterior cover of the Diptych. In the interior scene, Richard II and all eleven angels wear the badge of the white hart, probably as a show of support for his reign, since, as Dillian Gordon points out, they are English angels. In this context, the initially mundane livery symbol gains a heavenly power. Bowers posits that the use of the badge of the white hart suggests a familial relationship between Richard and the angels, beyond his already obvious relationship to the divine family. From the diptych, it seems as if the eleven angels are about to welcome their twelfth member into their heavenly company. Bowers also reminds us that the purpose of livery badges was to impose a group identity upon a lords affinity and to link its members together horizontally while focusing their joint affinities upon the lord who retained them (95). Since the angels become the members of Richards household, he can, consequently, elevate himself to a similar plane as the Christ-child, who, traditionally, is king of the angels.

PAGE 45

41 In the left panel of the Diptych, the royal saints of St. Edmund of East Anglia, Saint Edward the Confessor, and Saint John the Baptist, patron of Richard stand behind him in what appears to be a gesture of support. John the Baptist, Richards patron saint carries an iconographic lamb that recalls how he had hailed ChristEcce Agnes Deias the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (qtd. in Bowers 29). However, from the spatial composition of the Diptych, and the fact that John the Baptists hand rests on Richards shoulder in what could be a presentational gesture, the lamb could refer to both Christ and Richard at once. The fact that Richard and the Christ-Child wear the same shade of gold makes the connection between them even more explicit. Concealed in the halo of the Christ child are the thorns and nails of the Crucifixion, and Bowers interprets the juxtaposition of the Christ child and Richard to mean a kingship characterized by glory and triumph, but [also] suffering and sacrifice (29). Additionally, Christ child blesses a red-cross banner, which reflects the banner of St. George as patron of the Order of the Garter. Livery (both Richards own and that of the Order) is here given a kind of heavenly significancealthough Christ child does not wear the White Hart badge, he gives his blessing to the banner, demonstrating his own loyalty to it. The overt use of such a symbol connects Richard to them in the way that he is connected through clothing and the iconography of the lamb to Christ. Through this display of heavenly, saintly, and familial support, Richard demands his subjects complete loyalty. All of the iconography within the Diptych confirms Richard IIs reign, and a plethora of other symbols of Richards kingship are hidden throughout the diptych. 19 If 19 The white hart on the external cover is lying on a bed of rosemary, a symbol of his wife, Anne of Bohemia. There are also a number of heraldic emblems personal to Richard, including the lion guardant,

PAGE 46

42 the heavens are not enough to legitimize him, he includes links to familial emblemsespecially the Plantagenent symbol of the broom cod, with signifies his ancestry. This portrayal of the king seem to further his own goals of mystifying his own reign and presenting himself as a kind of God incarnate. His kingdom becomes a heavenly kingdom, and he exists as iconon a semiotic plane unattainable by his mortal subjects, alongside Mary and Christ. By linking Richard II openly with Christ, the painter of the Diptych presents an unambiguous image of the sacred status of his kinship. In fact, in this and other representations of his public persona, Richard seems to hearken back to an earlier concept of kingship, which is described in the Norman Anonymous. This view held that the king was the impersonator of Christ, who, on the terrestrial stage presented the living image of the two-natured God (Kantorowicz 47). In the system of kingship, the consecrated and anointed king could claim deification, since the act of anointing caused him to become a more excellent manby divine grace, he became both mortal and eternal, a Christus, a God-man. All of these methods of legitimizing his reign seem, for a time, to have reaped benefits for Richard. In September 1397, he was more powerful than ever; his majesty was unchallenged and his livery was, without question, the most potent livery sign in England. With this symbol, he redefined the relationship between a lord and his retainers, turning household affiliation into a near-religious alliance. Richard II began distributing the badge to a select group of 34 courtiers as early as 1398, and in 1399 he sent the badge off to a number of foreign powers in an attempt to solidify their loyalty to the red cap of maintenance and silver helmet and the royal arms of England and France ancient (lions and lilies). Around 1395, Richard impaled the latter emblems with the mythical arms of Edward the Confessor (Gordon 21).

PAGE 47

43 him; in fact, Richards international position had never been so strong. By this time he could boast of a close family alliance with the Valois; the Archbishop of Cologne and the Elector Palatine, and, as Mathew claims, he was being wooed by Pope Boniface IX. 20 Richard, convinced of the sanctity of his office, devoted a great deal of energy to guarding, saving, and expanding his Crown and dignity. In the shrill tones of the doctrinaire politician, he repeatedly declares that nothing he does shall threaten his prerogative (Figgis 75). Even when he was threatened with deposition by the nobles, he held steadfastly to his belief in the rights of the Crown and the divinity of his office, believing that he, as anointed sovereign, could not be un-kinged so easily. 21 Despite his skilled manipulation of signs and symbols, Richard made a number of key misjudgments. He seems to have depended on signs and symbols to support and represent his greatness even after his ostentatious court displays and his other attempts to gain public support waned. This was a major mistake, given that the power of such devices is directly dependent on their ability to elicit fascination within the public mind. For we know that The fabrication of presence yields only a gloss of omnipotencean aurabut not an insurmountable power (Conley xii). A sense of power emerges, not from the appearance of badges and icons, but from the lustrous image of the king, and the subjects imagined relationship with that image. This is a system where: Power can see itself as absolute, for the simple reason that the absolute always supposes a relative with which it must be compared in order to be greater than all greatness, but that the forgetting or the dissimulation of this relative alone 20 Mathew 151. 21 In Shakespeares Richard II, Richard II reiterates the indelible character of the kings body politic, god-like or angel-like (Kantorowicz 27). However, throughout the play, these ideas seem to disintegrate, turning to a state of half-reality, where kingship is merely a nothing, or a nomen. Eventually Richard II has to un-king himself, resigning his office to God alone, perhaps because the immaterial stuff of kingship can no longer be passed to a worthy incarnation.

PAGE 48

44 permits it to pose itself as absolutely absolutebut [this edifice] also sets the lure where he recognizes himself in his absoluteness and, at the same time, the trap for his own desire for omnipotence (Marin 56). In this phantasmagoric system of kingly representation, the continued control of the king is based on his ability to present himself within a signifying system. To perform this task necessitates the continuation of the spectacle, so that signs and symbols will reflect the glory of the Crown. The image of a king, as a figure of absolute authority, must provide a point of interaction with his relative inferiors. Subjects then imagine their relationships to that image, and, will be more likely to accept their subjugation to their majestic king because they have compared the figure of their king to others, and judged him greater than all greatness. This often unconscious judgment on the part of the subject allows badges and other icons to maintain their own power and ensures the integrity of the chain of power overall. It seems that, in spite of his love of icons, Richard did not understand the theoretical implications of his actions. Instead of concentrating on the image of perfection and regal majesty that he had earlier cultivated for himself, he deferred to the rights of his ancestral lineage. Even though he claimed that his supremacy was the only real guarantee of the customary lawful rights of his subjects, his actions and his public image often contradicted this declaration (Jones 99). Moreover, Richard played favorites, drawing most of his retainers from the western regions, especially Cheshire, which had supported his father Edward the Black Prince and supported him in 1387. At this early moment, he did not yet openly contradict the Ordinance of 1390 but he established a connection with Cheshire, bestowing a few badges on its citizens, thereby allowing them into his household. However, his bond with his other subjects, especially the citizens

PAGE 49

45 of London, was already slipping. Discontent with Richard, his political tactics, his treatment of his subjects, and his use of livery was brewing. This dissatisfaction with Richard was plain by 1397. In this year, parliamentary Commons heard Thomas Haxeys petition against the distribution of badges, 22 a complaint which was directed at the king. Richards response to allegations of misconduct was of strict defiance. Richard II contentiously replied that it was contrary to his regality for subjects to interfere with the governance of his household and, furthermore, such complaints offended the majesty which he had inherited from his ancestors (Bowers 98). In this instance, he flagrantly went against the wishes of commons, recruiting a vast retinue of lesser servants, most notably the Cheshire archers, so that a total of 750 were retained by July 1398 at the annual rate of (Bowers 98). By this act, he clearly alienated most of his subjects, renewing afresh the old images of badges as the symbol of arrogance, both Richards own, and that of his subjects. His dishonesty towards the vast majority of his subjects was enough to make much of his grandeur vanish, and cause his badges and livery to lose their original meaning and take on a different, usually unpleasant significance. Perhaps as a result of the political problems with livery, and Richards policies in general, literary works such as Richard the Redeless and Piers Plowman seem to reflect a heightened sensitivity to the behavior of such signs. These poets, according to Helen Barr, long for a sense of linguistic decorum when it comes to signs; signs, if they are to be used properly, must proceed both from honorable intention and also be in 22 There was more at stake than livery itself. The petition presented to parliament by Thomas Haxey was indeed a broad critique of Richard IIs governmental policies; livery was simply the most visible symbol of a greater problem of Richards kingship (McHardy 108).

PAGE 50

46 accordance with true action (66-67). When the signs are used improperly, the entire signifying system is called into question and corruption results. For, as Barr explains, While they ought to enable the system to work in a mutually valuable fashion, they fail to bring value to the system by concentrating solely on their empty significance (72). As a consequence of Richards political choices and his concept of kingship, the badge of the White Hart always had binary significanceit was simultaneously the most beloved and the most despised image of his entire reign. The poet of Richard the Redeless (c. 1399) recognized this when he cites Richards livery practices as responsible for breaking up the kingdom and turning his subjects against him: Omne regnum in se diuisum desolabitur (luce eleven) 23 Yit am I lewde and litill good schewe To coveyte knowliche of kyngis wittis, Or wilne to witte how was the mevynge That ladde you to lykynge youre liegis to merke, That loved you full lelly or lyverez {livery} begynne (Redeless Prologue 53-58) Throughout Richard the Redeless, the poet often repeats a complaint that should be familiar to us. Those that lyverez usithlike the bearers of badges the Westminster Chronicler describesgive the appearance of goodness, but their overly gaudy display only masks the immoral ways in which they comport themselves. In fact, the poet stresses the arrogance that the badges gave the bearers, like those liveried men described in the proceedings of the Cambridge Parliament of 1388. The poet explains that those that had hertes brestesbare hem the bolder ffor her gay broches. In this environment, the king would find himself in a sea of symbols, a world of signes/that swarmed so thikke (Redeless 1. 21). The actual effect of such signs, the poet believes, is the destruction of allegiance, and the creation of mistrust. The king would therefore be 23 Every kingdom divided against itself shall be brought to desolation (Luke 11).

PAGE 51

47 condemned to suffer the fate of his metonymical signs, since they begin to symbolize anything but Richards supremacy and regnal control. 24 Moreover, Richards over-confidence in the capacity of signs to act in a representational senseas denotations of his own powerwould have only remained intact had he continued to fulfill the image of his sovereignty that he worked so hard to cultivate in the early years of his reign. Once he deviated from that image, he was unable to regain it, and any course of action he took might inspire the suspicion of his subjects. Once a kings power is questioned, usurped, or redefined, in this way, his symbols also gain a new, unanticipated significance, or lose it entirely. As Umberto Eco explains: If the real sign for individual things is the concept, and the physical expression (be it word or image) is only a symptom of the inner image, then without a previous notitia intuitiva of an object, physical expressions cannot mean anything. Words or images neither create nor arouse something in the mind of the addressee (as it could happen in the Augustinian semiotics) if in the mind there is not, previously, the only possible sign of the experienced reality, namely, the mental one. Without such an inner sign, the external expression results in being the symptom of an empty thought (On the Medieval 65). In other words, without the consistent belief in the inner image, or concept of Richard II as king, the physical symbols associated with him could not be animated by his power, or even represent his power. Once the dream of Richards divinity and dignity had dissipated, all that was left were signs, and these are empty signifiers. In the words of the poet of Richard the Redeless: Thane was it foly/ in faith, as my thynketh, To sette siluer in signes/ that of nought serued. But moche now me merueilith/ and well may I in soothe, Of youre large leuerey [livery]/ to leodis aboute, 24 In fact, as Nick Ronan has pointed out (311-14) the signs themselves become the actors in this farce. The harts and hinds acombrede the contre (1. 29). Ultimately, rather than imagining the behavior of harts to reflect that of the men who bear them, the poet finds the men to exhibit hart-like behavior.

PAGE 52

48 That ye so goodliche gaf/ but if gile letted, As hertis y-heedyd/ and hornyd of kynde No lede of youre lond but as a liege aughte (Redeless 2.48-49).

PAGE 53

CHAPTER 4 THE LIVERY SYSTEM AND THE CONCEPT OF TRAWE Richard II was inept at maintaining the signifying system of livery; his imbalanced distribution of signs, and his inconsistent self-portrayal led the badge of the White Hart to lose its respectability and become, simply, an empty signifier. Consequently, his subjects became keenly aware of the arbitrary nature of all signs, and especially suspicious of those signs which represent their bearers. Like the poet of Richard the Redeless, the Gawain-poet seems especially sensitive to the problems created when a signs signified undergoes unforeseen changes. The purpose of this chapter is to demonstrate the way in which the livery system and Richard IIs manipulation of signs were likely to have influenced the concepts of signification that appear in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The identity of the poet responsible for Sir Gawain and the Green Knight has yet to be discovered, but, as a result of linguistic research, critics have pinpointed his dialectical area in Cheshire. 1 Ad Putter claims that the latest possible date of the manuscript, based on its illuminations and handwriting, would be 1400. However, in the same breath, he also suggests that the poem must have been written some time before 1400, as Cotton Nero A.x. is some stages removed from the authors original (Putter 3). 1 Ad Putter claims that a surprising number of contemporary poems in alliterative metre from this region survive, many of them in the same dialect as the works by the Gawain-poet (Putter 29). 49

PAGE 54

50 This evidence is especially tantalizing; it establishes a closer connection between the Cheshire-born poet of Sir Gawain and the political designs of Richard II, which contoured late fourteenth-century England. Moreover, intrinsic evidence from the poem, such as the architectural details of Castle Hautdesert, further substantiates the evidence for a late fourteenth-century composition date. This means, as Putter argues, that the Gawain-poet was writing his Arthurian Romance around the same time that Geoffrey Chaucer was working on his Canterbury Tales, that John Gower was completing his first version of the Confessio Amantis, and that William Langland was rewriting Piers Plowman (3). Interestingly, two of these authors composed verses to give Richard advice; Gowers first version of the Confessio was intended as wisdom to the wise (8.1.3059), and Chaucers Lak of Stedfastnesse would likewise offer Richard an indication of behavior befitting a proper monarch. However, in their works, Gower and Chaucer more often flatter Richard than criticize him; it seems that neither poet will risk an open critique of their patron and sovereign. 1 The Concept of Trawe in Chaucers and Gowers Works Although Chaucers relationship to Richard II may have been that of poet to patron in a traditional sense, the larger ideological context of Richards politics does impact on several of Chaucers works in interesting ways. 2 For example, an obvious similarity exists between the personage of the God of Love, as described in the Prologue 1 John Gower also advises Richard II in the Vox Clamantis, a letter of some 600 lines, written in Latin elegiac verse. As Patricia Eberle argues, although he altered the text at a later date, in this version Gower refers to criticisms of Richards government only to defend the young king against his detractors (Eberle 235). However, since Gower feels compelled to scold the king about his apparent boyish attitude, we can surmise that this attribute was noted, and exploited by those who would defame Richard II. 2 See Strohm, Hochons Arrow, 72.

PAGE 55

51 to the Legend of Good Women, and Richard II. Chaucer describes the god of love as a figure clothed in silk, with green embroidery, and red rose leaves, an outfit strikingly similar to one of Richards most expensive dresses. 3 Likewise, the physical characteristics of this god match Richards own almost exactlyhe is described with gilte heer [corouned] with a sonne and a face which shoon so brighte/That wel unnethes mighte I him beholde (Legend, Prologue 220-233). 4 This portrayal, if it is indeed a reflection of Richard II, is basically a positive one, despite a subtle hint of the luminous god of loves possible crueltyhis stern gaze makes the poets herte colde (Legend, Prologue 240). Chaucer may have continued to think of the image of Richard II when developing The Canterbury Tales. David Wallace sees a parallel between the young, godlike protagonist of the "Manciple's Tale" and that ''flour of bachilrie" (9.125), Richard II. According to Wallace, images of youthful Richard as Phoebus personified (jousting in armor embellished with his grandfather's celebrated sun badge) seem almost too apposite (257). Beyond evoking this particular tableau of the king, Chaucer brings in an iconic sign for his readersPhoebus bow. This bow is a clear iconic sign, with obvious implications in meaning; for this reason, it can be a better indication of the qualities of 3 Richard is stated to have owned a dress such as this valued at more than a 00; it was perhaps not too dissimilar from that worn by Youth in the Parlement of Thre Ages, or this dress from the Legend of Good Womengreen patterned in gold thread (Mathew 14). Another possible inspiration for this outfit might not have been Richard himself but Sir Simon Burley, Richards tutor and close advisor, who owned a tabard of cloth-of-gold embroidered with roses and lined with green tartarine (Mathew 26). 4 Richard was undeniably attractive; Nigel Saul remarks that, in the 1370s, Richard was probably Europes most eligible bachelor. He was young, personable and handsome (Saul 83). Even the chronicler of the Vita Ricardi Secundi, who disapproved of Richard in general, remarks on his beauty. He describes a man whose shining hair flowed; his face was white and round and feminine, often flushed with phlegmatic blood" (Vita Ricardi 11).

PAGE 56

52 this figure than the cloudy reference to the fyry dartes which are held by the god of love in the Legend of Good Women. The inclusion of the bow is an interesting element within Chaucers retelling of the familiar fable. In the Confessio Amantis, Gower gives Phoebus a nobler weapon, the sword, but other versions, such as those in Ovid, and the Ovide Moralis, adhere to the traditional bow and arrow as the image of Phoebus. 5 Perhaps Chaucer had a specific reason for selecting the traditional weapon; in the Manciples Tale the bow is not merely a weapon, but a thing of great powerit is introduced, notably, as a signea description which does not exist in any other version. Chaucer writes: This Phebus, that was flour of bachilrie, As wel in fredom as in chivalrie, For his desport, in signe eek of victorie Of Phitoun, so as telleth us the storie, Was wont to beren in his hand a bowe (125-129). In this context, the bow becomes an important part of the iconic sign; Phoebus, the flower of knighthood and chivalry, could easily be recognized by the bow he carries with him. David Wallace argues that the bow performs a semiotic function equivalent to that of a livery badge. 6 By conceptualizing Phoebus Apollo as an archer-god, Chaucer recalls the icon of Cupid and is able to empower him with the force of that image. The result is two icons which seem nearly inseparable from one another; Wallace claims that there is, in fact, little to distinguish this figure from the Legend's God of Love (257). Thus, since 5 See Gower, Confessio Amantis, ed. Macaulay, 3.800: ''And he for wraththe his swerd outbreide,/With which Cornide anon he slowh." Ovid, the Ovide moralis, and Machaut (in the Voir Dit) all supply Phoebus with a bow and arrow. 6 Not just any livery badge. Wallace is here referring to a specific moment in the Ricardian program, when Richard relied heavily upon the liveried Cheshire archers to act as his personal bodyguards The bow itself [proved] to be the most potent and terrifying symbol of Richard's personal authority. Wallace then points to the incident in 1397 in which the archers had terrified an open air parliament with the prospect of imminent death (Wallace 257).

PAGE 57

53 Pheobus takes and assimilates the known icon of Cupid into his own iconography, the sign of the bow may come to summon mental images of Phoebus and not Cupid only (Wallace 257). The fate of the sign in the "Maniciple's tale" is not markedly different from the signs are viewed in Piers Plowman and Richard the Redeless. The initial correspondence between the signifier and signified contributes to the vision of Phoebus as iconic sign. His nobility and integrity are conceptualized within a single image; Chaucer tells us And many another noble worthy dede/He with his bowe wroghte, as men may rede (9, 112). However, this tale is concerned with exposing the truth behind the representational sign, and the attractive icon is eventually shattered. The revelation of the stable and also so true wifes untrewe behavior begins to unmask the deception behind the image. In turn, the adulterous vileyne of Pheobus wife causes his dishonor, and, in his ire he kills her with his bow and arrow. The bow, now associated with an act of murder, can no longer carry the meaning of nobility that it once held. As a result, the previous iconic sign becomes defunct and indeterminateit becomes a thing lost in ambiguity and confusion. After slaying his wife, Chaucer tells us that Phoebus brak his arwes and his bowe (9. 269), destroying his former image. This gesture causes a new sign to arise from the body of the hapless crow: his loss of song, white feathers, and absence from court will henceforth be read as "tokenynge" (9.302) of his guilt as an accessory to wife-slaying (Wallace 257). Ultimately, the original iconic image of Phoebus, the bow, is evacuated of its power and presence, and replaced with an empty song, an absence, a loss.

PAGE 58

54 In all probability, the Gawain-poet did not read Chaucers Canterbury Tales. However, the treatment of the sign in Sir Gawain follows a remarkably similar pattern overall; first, there is the representation of Gawain as the knight of trawe realized in the iconic sign of the pentangle, a sign that is later metaphorically broken by his disgrace. The previous iconic sign, the pentangle, is replaced by a green girdle, which is initially the symbol of ire and outrage, and then becomes a token of guilt and shame. As Gawain explains: 'is is e bende of is blame I bere in my nek, is is e lae and e losse at I la3t haue Of couardise and couetyse at I haf ca3t are; is is e token of vntrawe at I am tan inne, And I mot nedez hit were wyle I may last; For mon may hyden his harme, bot vnhap ne may hit, For er hit onez is tachched twynne wil hit neuer' (Gawain lines 2506-2512). In this context, the defeat of Gawain, as Chaucer demonstrates with Phoebus, causes the iconic sign to be broken. When this occurs, the leftover signifiersliveries and badges especiallymust be discarded or granted some new significance. Accordingly, the token of Phoebus guilt is reflected by the crow, and, likewise, Gawain sees his own shame in e token of vntrawe the green girdle. The obvious parallel between Gawains situation and Phoebus is that both characters wind up committing acts of vntrawe in the hopes of preserving their honor, and their reputations. However, the "Maniciple's tale" offers its readers some words of advice in order to avoid the problems encountered by Phoebus. The author warns against using wikked words and lies, since they lead to betrayal, and claims that [he] that hath mysseyd, I dar wel sayn, He may by no wey clepe his word agayn. Thyng that is seyd is seyd, and forth it gooth, Though hym repente, or be hym nevere so looth.

PAGE 59

55 He is his thral to whom that he hath sayd A tale of which he is now yvele apayd. My sone, be war, and be noon auctour newe Of tidynges, wheither they been false or trewe. Whereso thou come, amonges hye or lowe, Kepe wel thy tonge and thenk upon the crowe (9. 353-362). In this instance, the moral of the tale is to remain truthful, and restrain your tongue, lest you suffer the fate of the crow, which was rendered speechless and thrown out of the house. Ultimately, this tale serves as a warning, urging that its readers remain mindful of honesty and mindful of that which is trewe. Such a deep moral concern with trawe is not in itself exceptional; according to Ad Putter, it occupied many of the Gawain-poets contemporaries (44). In addition to Chaucer, Gower, in the Confessio, refers to the exact problem of kingship and truth: And the vertus whiche are assissed Unto a kinges Regiment, To take in his entendement: Wherof to tellen, as thei stonde, Hierafterward nou woll I fonde. Among the vertus on is chief, And that is trouthe, which is lief To god and ek to man also (Confessio VII, 1719-1725). It seems that the Ricardian poets had put trawe high on their agendas, since Gower and Chaucer both refer to the necessity of true and plain words, devoid of double speche. 7 This focus was probably a result of the tumultuous political situation of Richards later years; his own double-talk, compounded by the misuse of livery and maintenance, and myriad social upheavals had forced these poets to come to terms with a complex and fluid system of relationships. In short, their society seems to exalt trawe as the highest 7 Gower ultimately offers the same advice as is found in Chaucers Manciples Tale. Gower writes: The word is tokne of that withinne,/Ther schal a worthi king beginner/To kepe his tunge and to be trewe/So schal his pris ben evere newe (Confessio 1737-1740)

PAGE 60

56 virtue because keeping promises and honoring contracts is vital in a society that has lost confidence in its immutability (Putter 45). However, the puzzle of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is that, despite similar ideological concerns with contemporary works, the poem does not end with an outright condemnation of Gawains lack of trawe or a moral rejoinder. Instead, as Barron observes we have been invited to laugh at Gawain (144). The sign of dishonor, the green girdle, is given a new meaning under the auspices of Camelot; rather than simply signifying the emptiness of Gawains former image, it becomes a symbol of honor, and seemingly becomes an iconic sign in its own right. For the Gawain-poet explains: at lordes and ladis at longed to e Table, Vche burne of e broerhede, a bauderyk schulde haue, A bende abelef hym aboute of a bry3t grene, And at, for sake of at segge, in swete to were. For at watz acorded e renoun of e Rounde Table, And he honoured at hit hade euermore after, As hit is breued in e best boke of romaunce (Gawain 2515-2519). The iconic sign of truth, seen in Gawains pentangle, is broken by the deception of his host, and then, after a brief flirtation with emptiness and shame accorded to the failed sign in other contemporary works, the girdle gains an unexpected significance. It becomes a sign of honorthe liveried sign of the renown and honor of the Round Table. Furthermore, this livery functions as the final iconic sign in the text, the indelible image that will forever appear in the best book of Romance. There is a positive dimension to the liveried signs in Sir Gawain that does not necessarily appear in other contemporary works. It is impossible to know the poets exact motivation for this shift, but one can suggest that, like Chaucer, he was responding to the climate of Richard IIs reign. He seems to have had intimate knowledge of

PAGE 61

57 Richards courtly practices. Richard IIs court would eventually find its nub in that region, culminating in his elevation of the earldom of Cheshire to an independent principality within the realm (Putter 31). Richard IIs recruitment policies repeatedly demonstrated a predilection for Cheshiremen, and they reciprocated with loyalty to the Crown and to the badge of the White Hart. Thus, the Cheshire-born Gawain-poet, although probably not a court-poet, was nevertheless steadily and specifically royalist, revealing a concern for the precise practice of kingship by his obsessive recourse to regalian images. Themes of kingship are explicit throughout the five poems attributed to him, even in the overtly moral and religious poem Cleanness, whose central theme turns out to be distinctly Ricardian 8 in terms of what the documentary record tells us (Bowers 16). In Cleanness, the poet demonstrates an obvious familiarity with Richards political strategies and persona, and as Bowers asserts, he even seems to indirectly praise Richards hygienic fastidiousness by linking it with Gods perfect cleanliness. 9 Cheshire had a history of gladly accepting the liveries of the king; in 1387, during a ten-month "gyration" through the region, Richard recruited the Cheshire archers with badges of golden crowns, and in later years, he awarded them his badge of the White Hart, and for a time, the banner of St. George, also the banner of the Order of the Garter, flew over Cheshire. And, for a time, the sublime nature of livery that Richard II longed to illustrate, in Cheshire and elsewhere, seems to have influenced the Gawain-poet. For example, the Pearl Queen and the rest of the divine procession, as Bowers explains, are clothed in identical gowns. And the poet invokes the precise terminology of livery so that they might not be confused with some religious order: And all in sute her liur3 8 Bowers is here referring to Richards obsession with personal cleanness. Richard II was meticulous in this regard; he constructed bath-houses with hot and cold water, both for himself and for his subjects, introduced the practice of eating with spoons, and invented the handkerchief (16). 9 See Bowers, 16.

PAGE 62

58 wasse (Pearl line 1108). The liveried procession, in this context, remains idealized, a triumphal celebration of eternal life, and the dream of perfect and serene fraternity (Bowers 139). In Pearl, livery bears no trace of a corruptive, or potentially corruptive influenceinstead, it is a sign of redemption. The North West Midlands was in the foreground during the dramatic final years of Richard II, and although the Gawain-poet may have been loyal to Richard II, as many Cheshiremen were, he could not have remained immune to the controversies of Richards last years. During the most turbulent years, the Gawain-poet may have felt some doubt about the success of Richards campaign. Aspects of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight suggest that the poet was responding, perhaps unconsciously, to the charges brought against Richard II. Bowers notices the link between childgred Arthur and his company of berdlez childer to the allegations of Richards own immaturity and unreliability. Other details of the narrative, especially its careful attention to the bejeweled costumes, the feasts served, and the castle dcor also bear striking resemblance to Richards own tastes, all eventually labeled extravagant by his detractors. 10 Therefore, given his seeming loyalty to Richard in Pearl and Cleanness, and the political turmoil in Cheshire, one might imagine that the poets attitude toward Richard II would have been ambivalent at the very least. In Pearl the livery badge provides a way of articulating a clear relationship between the signifier (their livery and identical dress) and the signified (membership in the community of heaven). We find no such simplicity in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; it is a poem overwrought by signs and the problem of doble speche already confronted by Chaucer and Gower. And yet, unlike other poets, the Gawain-poet does 10 See Bowers, 17.

PAGE 63

59 not seem to destroy icons in order to give us a clear sense of the right course of action or truth. In Sir Gawain, signs endlessly confound the viewer; as R.A. Shoaf has noted, their very multiplicity vex and question any exclusivity in interpretation (Syngne of Surfet 153). The relationship between the countless signifiers and their signified seems particularly occluded, and it seems that only particular instances of signification exist and there can be no universal meaning for these signs. It is as if "the classical notion of 'sign' dissolves itself into a highly complex network of changing relationships" (Theory of Semiotics 49, Eco's italics). The Green Knight as Arbitrary Sign The Green Knight is the most frightening figure in the whole of Sir Gawain, and for good reason. Aside from a monstrous appearance, he is over-determined by signssigns that are frightening in their arbitrariness, like a riddle that will never be solved. Here, the threat of emptiness in his meaning is just as terrifying as the possibility of having too many meanings, many of which contradict each other. Initially, we search for meaning on familiar ground, looking for his cultivated aspects through the refinement of dress: Ande al grayped in grene pis gome and his weded: A strayt cote ful strezt, pat stek on his sides, Amere mantile abof, mensked whithinne Wyth pelure pured apert, pe pane ful clene [] Bope pe barees of his belth and oper bytpe stones, Pat were richely rauled in his array clene Aboutte hymself and his saddel, vpon silk werkez. Pat were enbrauded abof, wth bryddes and flytzes With gay gaudi of grene, pe golde ay inmyddes. Pe pendauntes of his payttrure, pe proude cropure [} Pat euer glemered and glent, al of grene stones (Gawain lines 151-172)

PAGE 64

60 The Green Knight is dressed elegantly in green, from head to toe, and there is a curious blend of refinement and raggedness to his dress. Several subtle details characterize his manner of dress: the ermine trim of his mantle and hood, the bright gold on silk borders, regal trefoil designs, and embroidered butterflies and birds on his clothing and saddle. His hair is well curled, combed, and bejeweled: folden in wyth fildore aboute pe fayre grene (Gawain 170-189). Moreover, the cultivated aspects of his dress are complemented by his knightly form: Half etayn in erde I hope at he were, Bot mon most I algate mynn hym to bene, And at e myriest in his muckel at my3t ride; For of bak and of brest al were his bodi sturne, Both his wombe and his wast were worthily smale, And alle his fetures fol3ande, in forme at he hade, ful clene (Gawain lines 140-146). J. A. Burrow notes that the Green Knight is, in fact, the fine figure of a man, according to the medieval courtly ideal. Nevertheless, the conventional contrast between massive body and slender waist is highly pronounced in this description, a physical characteristic that compounds the uncertain nature of the Green Knight (Burrow 13). Thus, even though this character resembles, in part, the ideal knight, his imposing size, elvish shape, red eyes and green skin and hair clearly suggest otherworldliness. The Green Knight embodies the very nature of the sign, which is to be two things at once, courtier and wild-man, genial host and threatening enemy. He is the ultimate semiotic and logical nightmare. Burrow explains that the whole of the following description hovers in a similar way between the monstrous-supernatural and the merry human (13). However, although much ink has been spilled in the attempt to explain the real significance of the color

PAGE 65

61 green, in relation to the Green Knights identity, 11 the court at Camelot can make no sense of his appearance: Ther watz lokyng on lene e lude to beholde, For vch mon had meruayle quat hit mene my3t at a hael and a horse my3t such a hwe lach, As growe grene as e gres and grener hit semed, en grene aumayl on golde glowande bry3ter. Al studied at er stod, and stalked hym nerre Wyth al e wonder of e worlde what he worch schulde. For fele sellyez had ay sen, bot such neuer are; Fori for fantoum and fayry3e e folk ere hit demed (Gawain 233-240). The Green Knights form and mannerisms are so contradictory and unbelievable that the courtiers at Camelot are initially speechless, as they have never seen such a marvel in their lives. Even after their close inspection of his apparel and his person, he resists definition so completely that they believe he must be illusion. And, unbeknownst to Gawain at this early stage, they are correct: the Green Knight is, in fact, the product of Morgan le Fays illusion. As illusion, he is always void of any natural center or structure; he appears to be a knight, and he appears to issue a challenge to Arthurs court, but the signs he presents have multiple, and irreconcilable meanings. R.A. Shoaf, in addressing this surfeit of signs, points to the end of the description, in which the poet describes the objects carried by the Green Knight: an axe and a sprig of holly. He writes: 11 The most generally accepted meanings for the color green is the color of fairies, the color of the dead, and the devil (Burrow 14). However, a number of other meanings have also been suggested, including the possibility that the Green Knight might a real man, such as Amadeus VI, also known as the Green Count (see DArdenne 113) or the green squirea West Midland man supposedly serving at Richards court (see Highfield 18). Still others suggest that he might be the aghlich myster, an agent of divine intervention (Pollard 86-87) or a representative of Christ (Besserman 219-222) or Thor (Zalatel 29-30), and still others have argued that the Knights green attire and red eyes make him the specter of Christmas. For still more interpretations, see Vantuono, 159-160.

PAGE 66

62 Arthur, and Gawain after him, for example, can only interpret the Green Knight's challenge as implying that he, Arthur or Gawain, is to strike the blow with the ax, whereas, in fact, the challenge is sufficiently ambiguous to leave open the possibility of Arthur or Gawain critically choosing the "holyn bobbe" as the weapon to use (Syngne of Surfet 158). The precise rules of the Green Knights game, presumably a challenge to the court of Arthur, are somewhat mysterious. As Shoaf asserts, the ambiguity in the rules of the game would have allowed for it to proceed in a much less lethal direction, had Gawain only chosen the harmless holyn bobbe as a weapon. However, Arthur and Gawain, in short, like the rest of the courtiers, haven't the critical temperament, at least not yet--neither can yet gloss the ax with the "holyn bobbe" and construe the two of them in terms of a different relationship. Hence, each fails to interpret the ambiguity, and Gawain as a consequence takes the lethal weapon, committing himself thus to a life-imperiling encounter a year hence (Syngne of Surfet 159-160). At this point in the poem, Gawain and Arthur, although mystified by the Green Knights appearance, readily accept the axe as the sign of physical combat, even though more than one option exists. The reason why Gawain chooses the axe as his weapon, and not the holly bob has been discussed by many critics. Ross Arthur has called it an iconography of two hands in which a choice is offered between two contradictory signs. As Shoaf suggests, the critical attitude at Arthurs court precludes them from choosing the holly, because the ax, to the somewhat warlike society of knights appears to be the natural sign for weppen. Of course, the seeming naturalness of the sign is underscored semantically, by the ambiguity of the Green Knights own proposal. We are encouraged, by his argument, to choose the axe instead of the holly:

PAGE 67

63 Be so bolde in his blod, brayn in hys hede, at dar stifly strike a strok for an oer, I schal gif hym of my gyft ys giserne ryche, is ax, at is heu innogh, to hondele as hym lykes, And I schal bide e fyrst bur as bare as I sitte. If any freke be so felle to fonde at I telle, Lepe ly3tly me to, and lach is weppen, I quit-clayme hit for euer, kepe hit as his auen (Gawain 286-294). The premises of the game seem to mention the axe directlyit is the axe, ys giserne ryche that will become the prize for the challenger who strikes a blowpresumably with the axe. Moreover, since the axe is the only object mentioned in the rules of the game, the active words of combat seem to refer to itit is the object which can be handled and used to deliver the first strike. Thus, by the time the Green Knight theatrically asserts, I quit-clayme hit for euer the axe seems to be the only weapon choice possible. In this instance, our blindness to the ambiguity of the sign leads, as Eco might suggest, to a mode of argument that, while using probable premises and considering only a partial section of a given semantic field, pretends to develop a 'true' argument, thus covering up the contradictory nature of the Global Semantic System and presenting its own point of view as the only possible conclusion (whether this attitude is deliberately and cynically adopted by a sender in order to deceive a naive addressee, or whether the sender is simply the victim of his own one-sidedness) (A Theory of Semiotics 3.5.1, 191). The sign (the iconic image of the Green Knight holding two weapons) is ambiguous. It is part of a system like Ecos Global Semantic Systema formation that designates a free arrangement of signs and signifying clustersin which language and all its possible textual usages are implicated (Role of the Reader 68). According to Eco, the presence of such a structure allows for one type of metonymic relation to emergea codified metonymic relation, inferable from the very structure of the semantic field (Role of the Reader 68). Semiotic judgments can be made based on the code, and, since the dominant

PAGE 68

64 object in the Green Knights discourse is the axe, we assume he means for Gawain to use the axe. This semiotic operation occurs even though there is another legitimate sign; although it is clearly a viable option as weppen, the holly bob has nevertheless been elided by the one-sidedness of the discourse. As I suggested in the previous chapter, when the object seems naturally represented in the sign, we believe that the icon has brought us closer to the truth of that object. Instead of engaging the duplicity of the sign, or the fissures within its representation we, like the court at Camelot, fill the gaps unconsciously with visual and semantic clues. Therefore, it seems perfectly natural that Gawain should choose the axe, since, based on the construction of the argument, it appears as the only true and proper answer to the challenge issued. This drive to discover the true meaning of the sign, however, ultimately only provides a false sense of security; the sign has been given provisional meaning, but its meaning is not necessarily the safest, or even the best option available.

PAGE 69

CHAPTER 5 THE PENTANGLE AND THE GREEN GIRDLE As I explained in the previous chapter, there is evidence for the theory that the Gawain-poet was responding to the same problematic of livery, as well as broader concerns about the nature of signs that exist in Chaucer, Gower, William Langland, and the poet of Richard the Redeless. However, the Gawain-poets response to the issues surrounding livery, signs and trawe is also plainly different from any of his contemporaries. Gower and Chaucer both champion trawe as a lack of deceit and doubletalk which leads to right action; 1 Langland, and the poet of Richard the Redeless, likewise convey the message that signs can only be trusted if they proceed from honesty and true intentions. The Gawain-poet seems to be somewhat at odds with his contemporaries, since, for him, double speche does not automatically suggest duplicity or vntrawe. Instead, the Gawain-poet, whose concern with trawe might best be viewed in terms of its most obvious iconthe pentangle on Gawains shieldpresents the issue ambiguously. The geometrical shape of the pentangle, with its unchangeable, interlocking lines, deceives us precisely because it presents itself as the natural, immutable sign of truth. 2 Like Pascal, Charles Peirce explains the mental process necessary to create an iconic sign: 1 See Gower, Confesio Amantis, VII, 1531-1536. 2 Shoaf has argued that the connection between the moral concept truth and the geometrical figure is not merely arbitrary. He writes, Solomon was the first to see, the pentangle is of its nature like truth--or so the poet claims. Both are fivefold, interlocking, endless." (Poem as Green Girdle 70-71). 65

PAGE 70

66 Any two objects in nature resemble each other, and indeed in themselves just as much as any other two; it is only with reference to our senses and needs that one resemblance counts for more than anotherResemblance is an identity of characters; and this is the same as to say that the mind gathers the resembling ideas together into one conception (Peirce 1.365). The result of a perceived similarity between the iconic sign of the pentangle and the abstract concept of truth causes the viewer to assume that they naturally correspond to one another. We assume that the pentangle is, in fact, the natural sign of truth because we perceive a correspondence between two objects, even if no shared identity exists in reality. Thus, the inferential nature of cognition creates an icon because it bears a resemblance of some sort to its object, "whether any such Object actually exists or not" (Peirce 2.247). The pentangle on Gawains shield could be called an iconic sign, because, as Shoaf suggests, it is the likeness of its object, a kind of geometrical picture of truth (Poem as Green Girdle 70-71). In fact, the poet gives us some suggestion as to the origin of this likeness, explaining how the signs relationship as a token of truth was established: Hit is a syngne at Salamon set sumquyle In bytoknyng of trawe, bi tytle at hit habbez, For hit is a figure at haldez fyue poyntez, And vche lyne vmbelappez and loukez in oer, And ayquere hit is endelez; and Englych hit callen Oueral, as I here, e endeles knot. Presumably, Solomon imagined the pentangle as a natural signin the Augustinian sensebecause of its geometry. 1 However, the poet does not explain why the appearance of the pentangle, with its five interlocking lines, should be a token of truth. Instead, by 1 The suggestion that the pentangle is somehow a natural sign may remind us of Augustine, who claims, those are natural which, without any desire or intention of signifying, make us aware of something beyond themselves, like smoke which signifies fire. It does this without any will to signify (Augustine 34).

PAGE 71

67 these words, the poet encourages us to see a relationship between the physical description of the pentangle and the abstract qualities of truth, whether that relationship really exists or not. Furthermore, the iconicity of the sign can lead us to confuse its identity for what it represents or signifies. As Peirce argues: Icons are so completely substituted for their objects as hardly to be distinguished from them. Such are the diagrams of geometry. A diagram, indeed, so far as it has a general signification, is not a pure icon; but in the middle part of our reasonings we forget that abstractness in great measure, and the diagram is for us the very thing. So in contemplating a painting, there is a moment when we lose the consciousness that it is not the thing, the distinction of the real and the copy disappears, and it is for the moment a pure dream--not any particular existence, and yet not general. At that moment we are contemplating an icon (3.362). The object that the icon represents appears immediately visible and even palpable to the viewer, as if we were confronted with the thing itself. Thus, since we assume that the Pentangle must contain the same properties as its represented object, it seems that we are looking at the object itself. In addition, we can make inferences about that object, since its identity seems to be immediately presented to us by its iconic sign. However, the identity of the object only seems to exist within the iconic sign. Because we can see the object in the sign, we assume that we are looking at the truth in that object; and, when we forget the abstractness of the pentangles relationship to its object, it is possible to see the pentangle as the very token of truth itself. At this very moment we are seduced by the sign, since an icon maintains its semiotic function by resembling the conspicuous qualities of the object, even though it does not actually represent the object itself. Peirce clarifies: Each Icon partakes of some more or less overt character of its Object. They, one and all, partake of the most overt character of all lies and deceptionstheir Overtness (1.386). By this observation, Peirce echoes what

PAGE 72

68 Pascal and other theorists of iconicity have claimed; the icon persuades the viewer to suppose that no gaps exist in its representation at all; in looking at the icon, we are hoodwinked into believing that the very kernel of the objects truth appears before us, even though what we are looking at is merely an empty resemblance. Like the iconic representations of Richard II I described in Chapter 2, this sign of the pentangle presents itself as natural through duplicity. Indeed, as Shoaf tells us, it appears more natural than most signs; consequently, because it seems so close to its signifiedthe pentangle can all too easily obscure the distance or, better, the difference between itself as sign and what it signifies (Poem as Green Girdle 71). The problem of the shield is therefore its sleight of handit presents itself as an uncomplicated sign, an image that Gawain either should aspire to or already emulateseven though as an iconic sign it functions as an exhibition or exemplification of its object, not confirmation of that objects presence. 2 Through its seemingly overt relationship to its object, we are encouraged to enter that place of pure dream that Peirce describes, the place where the icon comes to stand for the thing itself. This is obviously a far more complicated vision of the sign than we find in the Gawain-poets contemporaries. Other writers typically discover the emptiness of the iconic sign after its object proves to be markedly different from its representation 3 and then ask their audience to embrace a concept of trawe by only accepting signs which are not iconic, and can be logically verified. Although many examples exist, one clear 2 See Peirce 282; 3. 556; 4. 448; 4. 531 3 As in the case of Chaucers Manciples Tale where the noble bow becomes an instrument of murder and must be destroyed.

PAGE 73

69 instance of this kind of reasoning occurs in Gowers Confessio Amantis, when he advises his readers (especially Richard II himself): To speke upon congruite: Logique hath eke in his degree Betwen the trouthe and the falshode The pleine wordes forto schode So that nothing schal go beside, That he the riht ne schal decide (VII, 1531-1536). However, unlike Gower, the Gawain-poet sets up the question of trawe by using a sign which is already iconic, and thus only has a pretended congruity with its object. And, although we may be able to posit a logical connection between the icon of the pentangle and the abstract nature of truth, that relationship is always fraught with ambiguity. There is an additional dimension to the structure of this iconic sign which complicates the problem of its trawe still further: this iconic sign of truth, is also the iconic sign of Gawain. Prior to its lengthy introduction in this poem, a precise connection of Gawain to the object of his sign cannot be logically discovered or verified; the pentangle has no relationship to Gawains character in Arthuriana, 4 and its design is different from all other arms traditionally born by him. 5 Far from being hailed as the 4 King Arthurs shield device seems to have been first a cross and/or an icon of the Virgin Mary, as reported in the Annales Cambriae and in Nenniuss Historia Brittonum (ca. 800). Though he is said to have carried these on his shoulders, this might result from a confusion of Welsh ysqwt shield and ysqwd shoulder in the translation into Latin from a hypothetical Welsh source (Arthurian Encyclopedia 231). 5 Chretin does not mention Gawains arms at all, though he gives detailed descriptions of the blazons of a number of minor knights. Kyot the Provenal, has Gawain wearing a surcoat with two gampilns of sable in appliqu work. This is a variant of the single gampiln borne by his cousin, Ilinot, Arthurs son. In thirteenth-century French Romances, Durmart, Escanor, and the Second Continuation of Perceval, Gawains arms are: Argent, a canton gules, with related blazons for his brothers. These may be canting arms in French, derived from the name of the father, King Lot of Orkney, because lot means section, and a canton can be considered to be a section of a shield. Geoffrey of Monmouth, explains that Gawain was educated in Rome and was given his arms (not described) by Pope Sulpicius. In the Perlesvaus, Gawain received from Pope Gregory the Great the shield of Judas Maccabeus; Gules, an eagle Or. In official fifteenth-century tradition, as represented by the roll of arms attributed to Jacques dArmagnac, Gawain bears: Purpure, a double-headed eagle Or, a device derived from both the shield of Judas

PAGE 74

70 most true knight at the opening of the poem, Gawain simply appears as gode Gawain (line 109) and the gode knyzt (line 381). In fact, there is no reason to suspect that Gawain has any special relationship with the sign of the pentangle until he adopts it during the arming scene. 6 In fact, rather than attempting to envision Gawain as a true man on his own merit through straightforward character description, the poet presents his correspondence to his sign as proof of Gawains ethical fiber. The detailed description of Gawains iconic sign, the pentangle, frames our understanding of Gawain himself: And quy e pentangel apendez to at prynce noble I am in tent yow to telle, of tary hyt me schulde: Hit is a syngne at Salamon set sumquyle In bytoknyng of trawe, bi tytle at hit habbez, For hit is a figure at haldez fyue poyntez, And vche lyne vmbelappez and loukez in oer, And ayquere hit is endelez; and Englych hit callen Oueral, as I here, e endeles knot. Fory hit acordez to is kny3t and to his cler armez (Gawain lines 623-631). While reading this passage, we overlook the iconicity of the pentangle because it seems to overtly represent its object, truth. Moreover, in this passage, Gawain seems to be directly related to the object of the pentanglethe pentangle accords to Gawain because they each represent the same values of truth. Thus, if we accept this suggestion, we could agree with Burrows claim that, the poet after establishing his premise (the pentangle is a sign of truth) and predicting the conclusion (it acordez to is knyzt and to his cler armez), establishes what is logically his major premise: that Gawain is true (44). Maccabeaus and the emblem of the Holy Roman Empire. His brothers share the same arms with the appropriate differences (Arthurian Encyclopedia 231). 6 John Burrow has argued that Gawain is initially not marked by any special predestination or individual sign. He is not, like the heroes of other romances, the only knight who is capable of undertaking such a challenge; one does not feel that the beheading adventureis for Gawain alone in any mysterious fashion (Burrow 11).

PAGE 75

71 As I have already explained, the representation of truth, with regard to the iconic pentangle, is merely a hollow resemblance. Nevertheless, in this passage, we are given syntactically linked terms: (1) speaking of Gawain, (2) of the title of truth, and (3) of the pentangle or the endless knot. As readers, we are encouraged to interpret this series of connections by abbreviation, a process of shortening by condensation rather than by suppressionThis first articulation is presented as equal to the secondthat is the value of the conjunctive and (Marin 53). Thus, seeing an implicit connection between Gawain himself, truth and the pentangle, we quickly fall under the spell of the icon, having mistaken the appearance of a connection for the lack of a real basis of association. In other words, the referential object of the addressed discourse, [has become] the referential object of the received discourse (Marins italics, 53). Gawains character corresponds, not to the abstraction of truth, or even truth itself, but to an icon of truththe pentangle. If this connection is initially unclear, the poet wastes no time in connecting Gawains own nature with the physical appearance of the pentangle. His traits are conceived as pentads, each recalling the five interlocking lines of the pentangle: Fyrst he watz funden fautlez in his fyue wyttez, And efte fayled neuer e freke in his fyue fyngres, And alle his afyaunce vpon folde watz in e fyue woundez at Cryst ka3t on e croys, as e crede tellez; And quere-so-euer ys mon in melly watz stad, His ro o3t watz in at, ur3 alle oer yngez, at alle his forsnes he feng at e fyue joyez at e hende heuen-quene had of hir chylde; (Gawain lines 640-667). The image of the pentangle is linked to the five wounds of Christ and the five joys of Mary, each of which allows Gawain to fulfill any definition of truth that the poet puts

PAGE 76

72 forward. And yet, starkly placed within this lengthy description of all the ways in which Gawain can be considered true is an interesting detail. Oddly, Mary is emblazoned on the inside of Gawains shield presumably because he is not always true to his goals in combat. The poet explains that the image of Mary aids Gawain during battle, helping him to remain steadfast and courageous: At is cause e kny3t comlyche hade In e inore half of his schelde hir ymage epaynted, at quen he blusched erto his belde neuer payred (Gawain 648-650). Thus, we must wonder, why should Gawain, who is so fautlez, and who fayled neuer e freke in his fyue fyngres have need of the type of insurance policy that Marys image seems to provide? This moment demonstrates that the pentangle, despite being so described as a token of truth may have emptiness and weakness within it. This recognition of the pentangles inability to correspond exactly to Gawain is crucial, because it implies that other objects are necessary in order to maintain the integrity of the iconic sign. The pentangle may seem to be a representation of the qualities of truth, but that representation only exists through a tenuous syntactical linkage of terms. In addition, presumably, the pentangle and Gawain can only seem reliable, trustworthy icons when other images (such as that of Mary) bolster them. Rather than lingering on a sign which may be at odds with the meaning of the pentangle, the poet simply absorbs the inconsistency back into the discourse. We return to the description of Gawain, as if no contradiction exists or is even possible: Now alle ese fyue syez, for soe, were fetled on is kny3t, And vchone halched in oer, at non ende hade, And fyched vpon fyue poyntez, at fayld neuer, Ne samned neuer in no syde, ne sundred nouer, Withouten ende at any noke I oquere fynde,

PAGE 77

73 Whereeuer e gomen bygan, or glod to an ende. erfore on his schene schelde schapen watz e knot (Gawain lines 656-662). When confronted by this sign, this fabulously over determined semiotic weight (Russell 63), we tend to ignore the gaps in its representation, and assume that Gawain is a true man. Moreover, we also quickly forget that, like the Green Knight, the Pentangle knight has more than one symbol about him; the significance of the other parts of his attire, the image of the Virgin Mary, or the embroidered parrots and turtle-doves and love-knots on his clothing and saddle 7 have all been overshadowed by the emphasis on the pentangle. As a result of this construction, we accept the poets conclusion that he must be triewe for the same reason that Gawain does not choose the holly branch as a weapon earlier in the poemthe ambiguity of the situation is occluded by an argument that pre-empts disagreement. The poet makes a case that uses probable premises in the pretense of developing a 'true' argument. The argument, as a whole, only considers certain aspects of the semantic system in an attempt to mask its internal contradictions and present its own point of view as the only possible conclusion. 8 As Stephen J. Russell argues, Readers are duly assured that the shield mirrors Gawains inner virtues but the scene presents them otherwise (65). 7 The Turtledove, according to medieval bestiaries and iconography, signifies fidelity and true love. The turtle dove does not think of revoking its first vows of fidelity, because it knows how to preserve the chastity which it pledged at its first meeting (Bestiary 163-164). The image of the Parrot among the love-knots might likewise refer to true love and fidelity. However, a secondary meaning of the parrot (emblazoned as a popinjay in heraldry) might modify the meaning of restraint and fidelity suggested by the Turtledove; [the parrots] head is so strong that if you have to teach it with blows while it is learning how to speak to men, you have to strike it with an iron rod (Bestiary 129). Thus, although the general reading of these signs is one of true love, the character of the parrot suggests a more ambiguous meaning. 8 See Eco, A Theory of Semiotics 3.5.1, 191

PAGE 78

74 As a result of this formulation, the qualities of Gawain, conceptualized by the geometrical organization of the pentangle, become the basis for what we can gauge as trawe in both objects. In fact, it is difficult to envision Gawain as true with the simple meaning of honesty, or integrity that one finds in Gowers Confessio Amantis, or even the many meanings of truth that Burrow sees within it. 9 The mental image of the pentangle is so connected to the image of Gawain that it might even be said to function, semiotically, as a livery badge, since thinking of one icon necessarily suggests the other. As many critics have noted, the pentangle is never directly mentioned after its introduction; whatever organization and definition it may have offered disappears into the background of the narrative. However, even when the pentangle itself is no longer overtly mentioned, the iconic experience continues to influence us, and we may be tempted to read every reference in terms of a highly over-idealized concept of trawe, rather than a simple ethical principle. Gawain is referred to as the e segge trwe and is trwe kny3tez throughout the narrative, and generally seems to display the qualities that we associate with the pentangle, even during subtle moments when his behavior suggests otherwise. 10 Once the poet has made the association of Gawain with the pentangle, it is not an easy connection to forget. As with signs of kingship, in this context, the iconic sign of 9 For the Gawain-poet, Burrow explains that To praise a man for his truth might mean (a) that he was loyal to people, principles or promises, (b) that he had faith in God, (c) that he has without deceit, or (d) that he was upright and virtuous. These various meanings [were] of course, closely related to one another; but they leave room for a certain amount of semantic maneuvering, and the Gawain-poet exploits this to the full in his exposition of the pentangle (43-44). 10 Mary is mentioned several times throughout the narrative, and Gawains prayers to her while stuck in the middle of Wirral (line 737-759) suggest that he is using her image to sustain his courage. Although he is understandably afraid in the wilderness, he is hardly living up to his reputation as faultless in these moments.

PAGE 79

75 trawe operates because it covers up its emptiness and presents a false image of power. A belief in the amazing power of the iconic sign sets up a fiction that exists at the basis of every enunciation about the iconic figurea secret comparison between the iconic figure and all other knights. In our minds, we imagine Gawain as the Pentangle Knighta man truer than all othersand we expect him to behave accordingly. This belief will persist even though that conception hinges on a simulated, iconic projection. 11 Thus, what is occluded, and nearly elided by the iconicity of the pentangle, is the nature of Gawain himself, as a knight, and as a man. It is difficult to understand the poets motivation for presenting Gawain in this way. As Eco suggests, in arguments of this type, it may be that the attitude is deliberately and cynically adopted in order to deceive the reader into seeing some greater truth about the sign, or that the poet is simply the victim of his own one-sidedness (A Theory of Semiotics 3.5.1, 191). One might assume that the latter case was accurate, if the pentangle was the only sign that existed in the text. However, at key points, the poet deliberately demonstrates instances where the sign is not one-sided, but extremely fluid and unpredictable, capable of achieving many meanings. Gawains iconic relationship to the concept of trawe may initially blind us to the ambiguity, and finally, the emptiness of his own icon. However, the unpredictability of the sign is evident with regard to the Green Knight, in which physical characteristics, heraldic emblems, and abstract qualities become increasingly and obviously muddled. As Putter notices, Gawain 11 In the political sphere, this comparison can take the form of a unconscious judgment about the Kings greatness above all other Sovereigns. According to Marin, this comparison is generated by the conception of the Kings extraordinary grandeur through his iconic representations (Marin 66).

PAGE 80

76 asks the country yokels of Wirral in vain whether they have ever set eyes on a knyzt grene belonging to a grene chapel. The Gawain-poet only reports their response indirectly, but in their multiple negations (Al nykked him with nay, at neuer in her lyue/ay seze neuer no segge) and in the unexpected stress which the alliterative metre forces on the word such[. .]we may nevertheless hear their incomprehension; no, they have certainly not heard of a green knight. Now, we cannot be sure how they understand Gawains questionit is posed in a way that allows them torefer simply to the color of the knights armsBut the possibility that they take it this way[]only increases ones sense of the absurdity of what Gawain knows to be the case: that somewhere in England there dwells a knight who is green all over (49-50). In this instance, some of the inhabitants of Wirral may assume that Gawain is referring to the Green Knights armorial bearings and heraldic emblems because they cannot imagine that a green man exists. Others may assume that Gawain is referring to a knight who is literally green, and likewise claim to have never seen such a man. The vagueness of Gawains question necessitates an interpretative act, a decision to understand green as a descriptor of a man, his heraldic arms, or both. The multi-layered significance of the adjective green creates fluidity in the representational framework and allows for more than one truth to emerge among the townsfolk; even if the audience may assume that Gawain is asking for the knight who is green all over and not the knight who carries a green shield. One might argue that, in the first part of the poem, there is little danger of confusing Gawains identity in this way. To ask if anyone has seen a pentangle knight would invariably yield a single answer: Gawain. However, when we ask about the Green Knight, identity is not clear by iconic signs or even physical characteristics. Even when the poet presents us with a situation that should signal the identity of the Green Knight, we do not automatically recognize him as such: Gawayn gly3t on e gome at godly hym gret, And u3t hit a bolde burne at e bur3 a3te,

PAGE 81

77 A hoge hael for e nonez, and of hyghe eldee; Brode, bry3t, watz his berde, and al beuer-hwed, Sturne, stif on e strye on stalworth schonkez, Felle face as e fyre, and fre of hys speche; And wel hym semed, for soe, as e segge u3t, To lede a lortschyp in lee of leudez ful gode (Gawain 842-849). Putter notices a striking resemblance between the congenial but imposing host of Castle Haudesert and the figure of the Green Knight. He is immensely tall, outspoken, has a big beard and walks around briskly on stout legs a detail which recalls the Green Knights gait as he runs to recapture his decapitated head (Putter 83). Even more telling is the description that he has a face as e fyrean image which should likewise remind us of the intense fire-red eyes of the Green Knight. Nevertheless, despite the similitude of the Green Knight and his host, Gawain simply regards his host as a man well-suited to be a lord of such a Castle. It seems that this similarity between Gawains (as yet) unnamed host, Lord Bertilak, and the Green Knight himself causes something interesting to happen: his query about the Green Knights whereabouts gains tremendous specificity: Fory, sir, is enquest I require yow here, at 3e me telle with trawe if euer 3e tale herde Of e grene chapel, quere hit on grounde stondez, And of e kny3t at hit kepes, of colour of grene. er watz stabled bi statut a steuen vus bytwene To mete at mon at at mere, 3if I my3t last; And of at ilk Nw 3ere bot neked now wontez, And I wolde loke on at lede, if God me let wolde (Gawain lines 1056-1063). In this passage, Gawain is careful to explain that he is searching for a Green Chapel, which is occupied by a man who is a knight, a wild man, and the color green. The careful description of the Green Knight creates a contrast between him and the host, a man who

PAGE 82

78 is a knight, but clearly neither green, nor wild. This distinction allows Gawain, and the reader, to ignore the oddity of his hosts unspecific response: enne la3ande quo e lorde, 'Now leng e byhoues, For I schal teche yow to at terme bi e tymez ende, e grene chapayle vpon grounde greue yow no more (Gawain 1069-1070). The host does not respond to Gawains question as directly as one might expect. With a dubious laugh, he explains that he will take Gawain to his foe, and that he should not concern himself with the Green Chapel at present. Then he makes a promise that increases our suspicions about the hosts identity, and his connection to the Green Knight. On New Years Day, instead of the Lord himself guiding the way to the Chapel as he suggested a few lines earlier, someone will guide Gawain: Mon schal yow sette in waye, Hit is not two myle henne (Gawain 1068-1079). At least two explanations for this discrepancy are possible. He may mean to take Gawain to the Green Chapel indirectly by procuring a guide for him, or, more likely, his laughter and his assurance mean that he will guide Gawain to his foe because he is the Green Knight. Gawain could not recognize this however, since without the clear sign of his identityhis greennessthe Green Knight can masquerade as a provincial lord. This results in the narrative even though his hosts physical form and characteristics do recall the aspects of his alter-ego in a nearly recognizable way. As Shoaf points out, the Gawain-poet shows us that identification is indeed structured by relativity and relationships and not by the constant adherence of iconic signs to their likenesses. For this reason, when signs of association recur, their meaning is unrecognizable without an interpretation of their identity or significance from the poet.

PAGE 83

79 Nowhere is this made more explicit than in the final temptation scene, where Lady Bertilak offers Gawain two very different tokens of her affection. First, Ho ra3t hym a riche rynk of red golde werkez, Wyth a starande ston stondande alofte at bere blusschande bemez as e bry3t sunne; Wyt 3e wel, hit watz worth wele ful hoge. Bot e renk hit renayed (Gawain 1817-1821). The ring, of rich red and gold design, mirrors the colors of Gawains shield, but, lacking the pentangle it does not signify truth or seem to naturally belong to Gawain because of some shared likeness. In the hand of the lady, this ring presents itself as just a ring, without any attached meaning. Why Gawain should reject the token that clearly corresponds to his own colors is not fully explored by the narrative; we are told that his refusal is on the grounds that he cannot repay the gift. Lady Bertilak gives an added meaning to this response; she claims Gawain rejects the ring, not because he cannot reimburse her with a gift, but because the ring has a value exceeding what Gawain can compensate. Consequently, she offers Gawain a less valuable and also more suspiciously colored token instead of the ring: 'If 3e renay my rynk, to ryche for hit semez, 3e wolde not so hy3ly halden be to me, I schal gif yow my girdel, at gaynes yow lasse.' Ho la3t a lace ly3tly at leke vmbe hir sydez, Knit vpon hir kyrtel vnder e clere mantyle, Gered hit watz with grene sylke and with golde schaped, No3t bot arounde brayden, beten with fyngrez; And at ho bede to e burne, and blyely biso3t, a3 hit vnwori were, at he hit take wolde. And he nay at he nolde neghe in no wyse Nauer golde ne garysoun, er God hym grace sende To acheue to e chaunce at he hade chosen ere (Gawain lines 1828-1838).

PAGE 84

80 The girdle, although supposedly less expensive than the ring, is nevertheless made of green silk, patterned in gold thread and encrusted with precious gems. If the rings color recalls Gawains own sign, then the description of the girdle is surely a repetition of the colors in the Green Knights own armor. However, like the ring, the girdle has no apparent attachment to the Knight apart from its coloration. In this discourse, both objects have been evacuated of the significance that they might have possessed earlier in the poem, leaving Gawain with a choice between two seemingly harmless tokens of Lady Bertilaks affection. For this reason, the girdle can be easily distinguished from the pentangle; it does not immediately present itself as an iconic sign. It may have associations, connections, and meanings, but it does not function as an icon because it does not have an overt physical resemblance to anything (or anyone) else in the poem. Although it may be attached to the Green Knight, as we will eventually discover, its signification is not bound up with his identity. It is, therefore, an arbitrary signa sign with no stable meaning. Shoaf writes: The knot that the green girdle as sign ties with what it signifies is not permanent, fixed, or geometrically perfect. The green girdle, as the poem is careful to emphasize, is a pure token (2398) -its token-ness, if you will, free of all prescription and proscription (Poem as Green Girdle 75). Although Gawain cannot refuse the green girdle for the same reason that he might have refused the ring, he is reluctant to take it because it, literally, means nothing to him. It is only when the Lady gives it a meaning that Gawain is ready to consider taking the token. She tells him: Now forsake 3e is silke sayde e burde enne, For hit is symple in hitself? And so hit wel semez. Lo! so hit is littel, and lasse hit is wory;

PAGE 85

81 Bot who-so knew e costes at knit ar erinne, He wolde hit prayse at more prys, parauenture; For quat gome so is gorde with is grene lace, While he hit hade hemely halched aboute, er is no hael vnder heuen tohewe hym at my3t, For he my3t not be slayn for sly3t vpon ere. After Lady Bertilaks explanation, Gawain is immediately attracted to the girdle: en kest e kny3t, and hit come to his hert Hit were a juel for e jopard at hym iugged were: When he acheued to e chapel his chek for to fech, My3t he haf slypped to be vnslayn, e sle3t were noble (Gawain lines 1845-1858). The girdle becomes attractive to Gawain because it offers, through magic, the one thing that he does not possessindestructibility. Although the pentangle itself may be the endless knot, Gawain, despite his identification with the pentangle, is not eternal, and so he is attracted (and understandably so) by the possibility of emerging, unkilled, from his confrontation with the Green Knight. The ring, and the pentangle itself, cannot offer the same merits as the girdle. Despite the many qualities reflected in the pentangle, all of which Gawain seems to possess, his bravery may fail upon occasion. In these cases, he has apparently needed additional signs, such as the Virgin Mary inside of his shield, to help him keep his promises and his courage in battle. Such signs are not iconsthey are personal items which hold special meaning for Gawain alone. However, in order to preserve the icon as a representation of truth and, by implication, Gawain as the man most triewe these signs must lie concealed behind or within the description of the pentangle. Perhaps this is why Lady Bertilak: bere on hym e belt and bede hit hym swye -And he granted and hym gafe with a goud wylle -And biso3t hym, for hir sake, disceuer hit neuer, Bot to lelly layne fro hir lorde; e leude hym acordez

PAGE 86

82 at neuer wy3e schulde hit wyt, iwysse, bot ay twayne for no3te (Gawain lines 1860-1865). This process, would uphold the pentangle as an impervious iconic sign, but it would only do so through duplicity. Since he accepted the girdle, his own sign of the pentangle must be lacking in a crucial respect, but he cannot declare this openly. This results in a paradox; disclosing his acceptance of the girdle to Lord Bertilak will demonstrate the emptiness of the pentangle as an icon, even if it ultimately proves that Gawain is truer than that sign. Concealing the girdle might preserve the appearance of the icon, initially, but Gawains vntrawe will be apparent. Either way, the fact that Gawains identity has been tediously predicated on a fraudulent icon will be revealed. He will cease to resemble, even partially, the sign which supposedly resembles him the most. This tension between the organized, supposedly unchangeable pentangle with the fluid, circular shape of the green girdle comes to the foreground in the final moments of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. We know which course of action Gawain chooses, and, to save himself, not only his life, but also his identity as the pentangle knight, he conceals the girdle. Prior to the battle, he Lays vp e luf-lace e lady hym ra3t,/Hid hit ful holdely, er he hit eft fonde and on the morning of the battle Bi he hade belted e bronde vpon his bal3e haunchez, enn dressed he his drurye double hym aboute, Swye sweled vmbe his swange swetely at kny3t e gordel of e grene silke, at gay wel bisemed, Vpon at ryol red cloe at ryche watz to schewe. Bot wered not is ilk wy3e for wele is gordel, For pryde of e pendauntez, a3 polyst ay were, And a3 e glyterande golde glent vpon endez, Bot for to sauen hymself, (Gawain lines 2032-2040).

PAGE 87

83 When Gawain wraps the girdle around his waist, we can see that the girdle has already overtaken the iconic sign of the pentangle. It is the last item described in this arming scene, and it is described in great detail. The pentangle is not described, but we infer that it is still there, even though the red cloth where it might show is literally covered up by the green cloth of the girdle. The poet again makes it clear that Gawains intentions are not to deceive, but to avoid certain death, even though by concealing the girdle, he is obviously engaged in an act of deception. As long as the girdle remains hidden, the truth of the icon, the pentangle cannot be questioned. This allows the reader to maintain that secret comparison, perhaps even as an unconscious assessment, that Gawain is truer than other knights; he, unlike all others, can claim to own the significance of the pentangle because they are both icons of the same object. However, ironically, the duplicity of the icon is revealed by Gawains own duplicityin showing his own vntrawe, we must assume that the icon of the pentangle is also an untrue representation. This demonstration, within the poem, calls the validity of Gawains iconic sign, and, also his identity, into question. When Gawain shrinks a little from the impending blow of the axe, the Green Knight refers to the qualities earlier attributed to the pentangle to criticize Gawain: 'ou art not Gawayn,' quo e gome, 'at is so goud halden, at neuer ar3ed for no here by hylle ne be vale, And now ou fles for ferde er ou fele harmez! Such cowardise of at kny3t cowe I neuer here. (Gawain lines 2270-2274). The Green Knight claims that Gawain cannot be the same challenger before him, because by reputation, he is too brave to flee from an enemy, or flinch from a blow. This directly

PAGE 88

84 contradicts his identity as it is expressed by the pentangle; instead of being a man who is like the pentangle, recognizable as Gawain and therefore unlike all others, the Green Knight recognizes a man who is precisely like all others. His iconic sign and his identity are disavowed in one simple observation. In other texts, when the emptiness of the sign is revealed, the narrative simply ends on the notion of emptiness, and a need to adhere to better signs, or to make better ethical choices. The Gawain-poet, however, does not end the narrative here. After the final strike of the axe nicks Gawain in the neck, the Green Knight explains that 'For hit is my wede at ou werez, at ilke wouen girdel, Myn owen wyf hit e weued, I wot wel for soe. Now know I wel y cosses, and y costes als, And e wowyng of my wyf: I wro3t hit myseluen. I sende hir to asay e, and sothly me ynkkez On e fautlest freke at euer on fote 3ede; As perle bi e quite pese is of prys more, So is Gawayn, in god fayth, bi oer gay kny3tez. Bot here yow lakked a lyttel, sir, and lewt yow wonted (Gawain lines 2359-2368). This speech confirms what we might have guessed beforethe green girdle is the property of the Green Knight, who was also Gawains host, Lord Bertilak. And, as a result of Gawains deception, he can no longer resemble the pentangle with exactness. Instead, although he is nearly the truest knight, he does lack, a little. However, rather than accepting his lack, Gawain hurls the girdle at the Green Knight, blaming it for his misfortune. Instead of accepting the relatively positive notion that he is nearly faultless he proclaims, Now am I fawty and falce, and ferde haf ben euer/Of trecherye and vntrawe: boe bityde sor3e/and care! It seems that he still thinks of his identity in purely negative terms, and that he is trapped by the emptiness of his own iconic sign. As Shoaf argues

PAGE 89

85 what [Gawain] does not know, however, and what he deliberately confuses, is the right relationship between the green girdle as sign and what it signifies. For him, the girdle, a piece of cloth, has become identical with his life, lewt and trawe. But this relationship of identity between the green girdle and what it signifies is arbitrary and, in Gawains case, wholly subjective; and this he ignores (Poem as Green Girdle 67). Gawain seems truly ignorant as to any alternate significance the green girdle might have, and, when the Green Knight cleanses him of any guilt in the situation, Gawain immediately blames the woman who gave him the girdle for his own misfortune. His fixedness on the pentangle remains evident in his reference to Solomon: instead of having a token of truth from Solomon, Gawain discovers the deceit connected to his token, claiming to have been deceived wyth fele sere (Gawain 2390-2417). In spite of Gawains acceptance of a certain (and seemingly inalterable) meaning for the girdle, its arbitrariness is explicit in these last moments. It may symbolize disloyalty, misfortune, and vntrawe for Gawain, but it also has a host of other meanings. Shoaf summarizes these meanings very nicely: As we have seen, it is called a "`syngne of surfet'"; it is also called a "`pure token'" (2398), a "`token of vntrawe'" (2509), and, finally, Gawain wears it "in tokenyng he watz tane in tech of a faute" (2488; emphasis added)For the Green Knight, it signifies "`e chaunce of e grene chapel at cheualrous kny3tez'" (2399); for the Lady it signifies, as her gift to Gawain, her great affection toward him; for Gawain, again, finally, in the moment when he takes it from the Lady, it signifies no less than life itself (Syngne of Surfet-156). The meaning of the girdle is therefore only arbitrary, and its meaning will ultimately depend on a contractual agreement. It acts as a pessimistic sign, associated with shame and a warning against cowardice and covetousness, and it is a positive sign, associated with chivalrous champions and friendship. Gawain, however, is hurt the most by this knowledge of the arbitrariness of signs. His own iconic sign, the pentangle, has been seen as untrustworthy, and he seems unable

PAGE 90

86 to recover his own identity from the wreckage of that sign. On his return home, Gawain wears the girdle, now a baldric, bound at his side, and tied in a knot. When he shows the lace to his fellow knights, he articulates only one meaning, introducing it as the symbol of his shame and vntrawe: Pis is pe token of vntrowthe pat I am tanne inne, And I mot nedez hit were wyle I may last, For non may hyden his harme; bot vnhap ne may hit, For per hit onez is tachched, twinne wil hit neuer (Gawain lines 2509-2513). However, the Knights of the Round Table reject Gawains imposition of meaning on the girdle. Instead, they all laugh lovingly and then they choose to adopt a similar sign, worn in the same fashion, for Gawains sake. The agreement to transform the girdle into a baldrica liveried signrobs most of the signifying potency from Gawains characterization of it as disgraceful, and gives it a new significance. All the knights who wear the baldric are to be honouredeuermore after (Gawain 2520). The Gawain-poet, beyond simply being conscious of the ways in which iconic signs lose their significances, seems to possess an acute sense of the arbitrary nature of signs. Gawain cannot exist in absolutist terms as a man of either trawe or vntrawe; the way in which his sign will be read is arbitrary. As a result, instead of retaining the iconic sign to be a true knight, or completely rejecting it to become the untrue man he can exist simultaneously as bothas Jill Mann has suggested, the girdle is a badge of honor as well as shame (Mann 115). Although we can never know definitively, it does not seem outlandish to suggest that, for the Gawain-poet, trawe was not found in icons, signs, or proscriptions, but in our will to keep our promises and remain true to our obligations. If this were the case,

PAGE 91

87 unlike his contemporaries, he would not have wished for the sign to arise from a true basis so that we could act upon it with rightness. Instead, he might have believed that right action or good intentions would provide a basis for the signs significance, and, once established, this sign could never be untrustworthy, but would retain its meaning forever, in the best books of Romance.

PAGE 92

CONCLUSION Throughout his reign, Richard II would rely more heavily upon iconic signs than any of his royal ancestors. His fixation on signs may have sprung from the overwhelming symbolism of his coronationan elaborate iconic display designed to prove Richard IIs suitability as King to the populace. Within the larger framework of the coronation scene, signs were introduced to legitimize his reign, each infused with religious and conventional meaning. For example, the golden coronet he received on his coronation day was not merely decorative; it was an iconic sign that carried with it an invisible and immaterial confirmation of his power as king. The Bishop of Wells, in 1436, expresses the iconic significance of the Crown: In the figure of the Crown, the rule and polity of the realm are presented; for in the gold, the rule of the Community is noted, and in the flowers of the Crown, raised and adorned with jewels, the Honor and office of the King or Prince is designated. 1 The rhetorical implication of this concept, and of other similar methods of defining the king and Crown create an image [that is] reality at the same time. Thus, the coronation ceremony would undoubtedly have impressed Richard II with the power of signs, and presented him with the theoretical language that inextricably connected him to the pageantry of his kingship. Throughout his reign, Richard II would seek to affirm, and reaffirm his royal powers through elaborate demonstrations; he seems to have continually 1 Quoted in Kantorowicz, 363. 88

PAGE 93

89 exploited the visual impact of the coronation symbols in an effort to keep his image as unquestioned sovereign intact. In fact, Richard II seems to have been so impressed by the iconicity of his coronation, that he used similar iconic displays whenever he could to bolster his own image. He delighted in spectacle, appearing in his coronation regalia during some political functions, and he appeared in dazzling, expensive array during most others. He created a court life centered on the constant exhibition of himself as sovereign; his was a world that was over-consciously gay with its fine feasts and joustings (Mathew 13). He also redefined the terminology used in the royal address to make himself a prince rather than a king, a gesture which was part of the larger agenda to increase the publics reverence of him. Richard II probably would not have conceptualized his program of kingship in the same terms later explained by theoreticians like Pascal, or Peirce, or even his own contemporary William of Ockham; however, their theoretical formulations mirror what Richard II seems to have longed to accomplish by his distribution of liveried signs throughout the country. As anointed sovereign, Richard II most likely believed that all signs and badges both signified and reflected his own personal magnificence and that these emblems could project the power of the king into the masses. Richard therefore had a good reason to hold an unwavering conviction in his own badges as the highest and most powerful in the kingdom: their owner was the ruler of England. This belief in the unassailability of his icons seems to have persisted even though each of Richards livery badges (the Gilt Crown badge, and later the White Hart badge) were rejected by a large part of the country.

PAGE 94

90 In addition, Richard made several attempts to present a badge which affirmed his authority, and he relied heavily on the iconic experience to infuse his badges with meaning. For example, to create the White Hart badgethe badge which held the most swayRichard altered the arms of Kent (his mothers emblem), changing the hind to a hart and adding a crown-collar. This last addition was presumably to link Richards own badge to the legendary moment when Charles VI of France supposedly captured a white hart with a collar inscribed Caesar hoc mihi donavit. He presented it to the public in an outstanding iconic display at Smithfielda gesture meant to affirm his own power and that of the badge itself. This significance of the White Hart badge was also amplified later, in the Wilton Diptycha portrait which unmistakably conveys the idea that the power of the White Hart badge comes from, and is supported by, a celestial source. Through a series of successive attempts, Richard did secure this meaning of the badge, but only briefly. However, Richards unequal political favoritism, and his mistreatment of the livery system would later work against him. This political climate explains part of the new literary movement, which saw more emphasis on the concept of trawe and more of a concern about the nature of icons. Richard the Redeless and Piers Plowman reflect a keen awareness of the duplicity of iconic signs and liveries. Such poets wish to explain how damaging empty signifiers can be, and, consequently, express a longing for a sense of precision and attention to the truth of signs. In addition, Chaucer, and Gower both suggest that the virtue of trawe should be prized above all iconic images, and hope that their readers, including Richard II himself, will maintain that desirable quality.

PAGE 95

91 Even when signs denote and reflect the power of the King, the unpredictable and often unlucky fortunes of mortal kings often influence their signification. Livery, as Strohm has argued does not serve a single master (Hochons Arrow 179), and although Richard had hoped to control his symbol, ultimately it controlled him. Once Richards own practices contradicted the image that he attempted to portray, the fraudulence of his own iconic signs became apparent. Those subjects, like the Cheshiremen, who enjoyed Richards continued support, respected the authority of the badge, even though for the rest of the country, the badge had become simply an empty signifier. The parallels between Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and the reign of Richard II can be observed, through their common link to livery and the problems of the iconic sign. As a Cheshire-man, the poet of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight may have felt a sense of ambivalence toward livery; during Richards most troubled days his countrymen remained loyal to the badge of the White Hart, even though the hatred for the badge was steadily growing in other parts of the country. Regardless of the poets own feelings about the badge, he could not fail to be touched by the scandal of livery and the eventual ruin of Richards own iconic sign. Thus, although for the purposes of this study I have used many theorists to explain the problems of the iconic sign, the Gawain-poet would not have needed any such theoretical basisRichard IIs own whimsicality with livery and iconic images provided him with a ready example. Although many critics will not hesitate to agree that the Gawain-poet is questioning the authenticity of signs, and their meanings, many would be reluctant to link these concerns to Richards livery campaign. However, reading the specific historical conditions which surrounded the Gawain-poet, and reconstructing, insofar as it is

PAGE 96

92 possible, his own response to the crisis of signification and iconicity at Richard IIs court can aid us in determining the driving force in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. From this historical framework, we can suggest that the Gawain-poet, like his contemporaries, was deeply apprehensive about the role of icons, liveries, and other associational formsto use Wallaces phrasein society. Undeniably, this anxiety about signification existed in many other facets of fourteenth-century life, including, perhaps, the crisis of chivalry at Richards court, often seen as a major factor in Sir Gawains composition, as well as the general disintegration of trawe in economic and theological spheres. However, the consequence of the livery debatehitherto under-exploredis that it presents an ideological matrix of questions about the nature of allegiance and communitas as they are communicated through signs. At the heart of Gawains dilemma, we do not discover a civilization that has evolved away from Christian ideals, as so many critics have argued, or a meditation on the abstract problem of trawe. Instead, we are made to confront the real problem that the Gawain-poet would have tackled through the livery issuecan a society based on these types of signs and sworn obligations endure? There is no easy answer to this question, and the poet of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight seems to convey two messages at the close of the poem. The first is a sense of the inherently uncontrollable nature of signs and their ability to upset the balance of power within a kingdoma position that can be immediately traced back to Richard II. For, despite the acclaim that the White Hart badge received during the height of Richards popularity, eventually, the badge was revealed to be merely an icon, not a guarantor of real authority, or even a reflection of it. For the poet of Richard the

PAGE 97

93 Redeless, the icon of the badge is irksome because it is an empty but ubiquitous signifierit pokes into everyones affairs, pretending to act as an agent of regal authority when it really has no meaning. The Gawain-poet, like the poet of Richard the Redeless, is also concerned with the ramifications of iconic signs but his reaction to them is appreciably different. The best example of an icon in Sir Gawainthe pentangleis initially beneficial. It demonstrates not only the identity of its bearer in a mundane sense (Gawain is recognizable as the Pentangle Knight), and it also provides us with a description of his unique and admirable qualities. However, the poet also recognizes that the pentangle is an iconic sign; it only resembles the objects it represents (both Gawain himself and the abstraction trawe) and it excite[s] analogous sensations in the mind (Peirce 2.299; see also 3.362) Therefore, although the pentangle might be said to resemble what it depicts, the signifying force of the image lies in the spectacle of its iconic signification and not in its direct correlation to any real object. 1 Since there is not necessarily any real correspondence between the icon and its object, a hidden danger exists. We may be seduced by the lure of these images into believing they represent a real truth of an object when, in fact, icons never truly reflect reality. As the Gawain-poet must have seen in his own government, if the likeness between the icon and its object dissolves, it is because the meaning of the sign is altered, or because the bearer of the sign proves dissimilar to it. In this instance, the sign, or the bearer of that sign seems duplicitous, because a betrayal of the imagined meaning of the sign has taken place. Consequently, we might be tempted to blame the choice of sign, 1 See Deacon et al. 188.

PAGE 98

94 calling the pentangle too idealized an identity for any one person to sustain, or, we might assign culpability to Gawain for falling to uphold his own icon. While it is not my intention to argue that the character of Gawain was meant to resemble Richard II directly, this response to the collapse of icons could have been inspired by the behavior of the King himself. Gawains aversion to confronting the emptiness of his iconic sign resembles, fascinatingly, the fanatical way in which Richard clung to the validity of his own iconic identity even when it was openly discredited. 2 In Sir Gawain, although the loss of the pentangle does reveal the emptiness of the sign, it does not, in the end, leave Gawain with a sense of worthlessness. The void left by the icon of the pentangle is eventually filled by the new sign of the green girdle. With its seemingly arbitrary signification, the girdle presents the opportunity for a redefinition of the meaning of signs and the chance to set up a non-iconic sign which still has powerful influence. Thus, at the end of the adventure, it is clear that Gawain cannot exist as a man of either trawe or vntrawe only, but that his identity is contingent on his actions, and on his words, not an iconic sign. His identity is not an absolute icon, and not matchless in its unconditional perfection, and so the only true sign of his identity can only exist in an arbitrary emblemthe girdle. By this chain of reasoning, the poet leaves us with the sense that the only signs which are false in their meanings are those which seem, on the 2 Chronicque de la Traison et mort de Richart Deux Roy Dengleterre recounts Richards attempt to defend his reputation through personal combat: this will I prove, and fight four from the best of you, and there is my pledge. Gillespie claims that the fact that Richard would offer such a challengeor that he could be portrayed as having made such an offeris evidence of the vitality of chivalric values in Ricardian kingship. Although the reality of this scene can never be determined, it does suggest that Richard maintained a belief in his own good chivalrous character until he met his end (120). This same reaction to icons can be seen in other sources. Even Christine de Pisan remarks on Richard IIs character, claiming that he was once praised For being preux, a true Lancelot/It was said of him, without fault, in matters of arms and battle but then quickly adds Fortune greatly harmed him and he was imprisoned. I have taken the text of this poem from James L. Gillespies article, The Art of Kingship, pg 118. He cites the original source as Oeuvres poetiques de Christine de Pisan, ed. M. Roy (3 vols. Paris, London, 1863-4).

PAGE 99

95 surface, to represent only one meaning, or one image; for the Gawain-poet, the meaning of a sign can be constantly in flux, always dissolving and forming new meanings. As a result, the Gawain-poet goes further than many other authors of his time to suggest that all signs are not dangerous; some signs, if agreed upon by consensus and in the spirit of trawe, can be helpful in maintaining social unity. A beneficial example of communitas, in this case, arises. As William of Moerbeke suggests, it is created by a bond of friendship and involves "a plurality of participants, with a common aim pursued by common action, with full differentiation between its members but without any relations of subjection or domination on the basis of it (qtd. in Wallace, 74). No one owns the girdle, not even Gawain, and, so, no one can be dominated by its influence. The green girdle is adopted in the spirit of friendship and solidarity, and so no one can suffer its ill effects; moreover, once it is given a new meaning it can act as a non-threatening type of livery. Moreover, this livery will always have a fluid meaningit represents different things to Gawain, Bertilak, the court at Camelot, and finally recalls the motto of the Order of the Garter, Hony Soyt Qui Mal Pence, to whoever added it at the close of the poem. Through revising the historical conditions surrounding the poems likely composition date, we recognize, not only a repetition of the questions posed by the livery debate but also an indication of how the Gawain-poet might have answered those questions. The poet, who was probably a Cheshire-man, and certainly royalist, would naturally have been ambivalent about Richard IIs use of iconic signs. And yet, rather than rejecting all signs or livery, on the grounds that they are treacherous or empty, he chooses to remind his readers of the randomness of meaning in all signspolitical or otherwise. However, this does not amount to an espousal of iconic signs (even if they

PAGE 100

96 belong to a sovereign)in fact, the poet suggests that we must negotiate the signs capriciousness, by giving it a significance which is not iconic, unrealistic, or dominating. In the spirit of William of Ockham, meaning can only be generated by willed agreements and connections, not on common natures and necessary connections (Utz 21). Once a consensual agreement is reached within a society about the meaning of those signs, we should remain steadfast and true to that meaning. It seems that only through these actions can we avoid the traps of iconicity and maintain unity, both politically and socially.

PAGE 101

REFERENCES Aries, Philippe and Georges Duby, eds. A History of Private Life: Revelations of the Medieval World. Trans. Arthur Goldhammer. Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1988. Arthur, Ross Gilbert. Medieval Sign Theory and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1987. Barber, Richard, ed. Legends of Arthur. Rochester, NY: The Boydell Press, 2001. Barr, Helen. Signes and Sothe: Language in the Piers Plowman Tradition. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1994. Barron, W. R. J. English Medieval Romance. New York, NY: Longman Inc, 1987. Bennett, Michael. Richard II and the Revolution of 1399. Stroud: Sutton Publishing, 1999. Benson, Larry ed. King Arthurs Death: The Middle English Stanzaic Morte Arthur and the Alliterative Morte Arthure. Middle English Text Series. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1994. Benson, Larry and F.N. Robinson eds. Riverside Chaucer. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987. Geoffrey Chaucer. The Manciples Tale. Benson: 282-287. Geoffrey Chaucer. The Legend of Good Women. Benson: 587: 631. Bergner, H. The Two Courts: Two Modes of Excellence in SGGK. English Studies 67 (1986): 401-16. Besserman, Lawrence. Gawains Green Girdle. Annuale Mediaevale 22 (1982): 84101. Blanch, Robert J. Imagery of Binding in Fits One and Two of SGGK. Studio Neophilologica 54 (1982): 53-60. ------------Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: A Reference Guide. New York, NY: Whitston Publishing Company, 1983. 97

PAGE 102

98 Blanch R. J. and J. N. Wasserman. From Pearl to Gawain: Forme to Fynisment. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1995. Boethius. In Librum Aristotelis De Interpretatione. Ed. by C. Meiser. 2 vols. Leipsig, 1887. Boulton, DA .J .D. The Knights of the Crown: The Monarchical Orders of Knighthood in Later Medieval Europe 1325-1520. New York, NY: The Boydell Press, 2000. Bowers, John. The Politics of Pearl: Court Poetry in the Age of Richard II. Cambridge. MA: D.S. Brewer, 2001. Brewer, Elisabeth. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: Sources and Analogues. Cambridge. MA: D.S. Brewer, 1992. Bruce, Christopher W. The Arthurian Name Dictionary. New York, NY: Garland Publishing Inc, 1999. Brut, or, Hystoria Brutonum. Trans and Ed. W.R.J. Barron and S.C. Weinberg. New York : Longman, 1995. Burrow, J.A. Ricardian Poetry: Chaucer, Gower, Langland and the Gawain poet. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1971. ------------A Reading of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. London: Routledge and K. Paul, 1965. Conley, Tom. Foreword. Portrait of the King. By Louis Marin. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1988. Coulton, G.G. Medieval Panorama: The English Scene from Conquest to Reformation. New York, NY: Noonday Press, 1955. Coronation 1911 Edition Encyclopedia. 2003. 16 Jan. 2003. DArdenne, S. R. T. O. The Green Count and SGGK. The Review of English Studies (1959): 113-26. Davies, Martin. The Wilton Diptych. Ed. The Trustees of the National Gallery. London: Waterlow and Sons Ltd., 1980. Deacon, David, Michael Pickering, Peter Golding and Graham Murdock. Researching Communications: A Practical Guide to Methods in Media and Cultural Analysis. London: Arnold, 1999.

PAGE 103

99 Dean, James M, ed. Richard the Redeless. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University, 2000. Duls, Louisa DeSaussure. Richard II in the Early Chronicles. The Hague: Mouton, 1975. Eberle, Patricia. Richard II and the Literary Arts. Richard II: The Art of Kingship. Ed. Anthony Goodman and James Gillespie. Oxford: Claredon Press, 1999. Eco, Umberto. A Theory of Semiotics. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press: 1976. ------------The Role of the Reader. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press: 1979. Eco, Umberto and Constantino Marmo eds. On the Medieval Theory of Signs. Philadelphia, PA: J. Benjamins Publishing Co, 1989. Fife, Graeme. Arthur the King. New York, NY: Sterling Publishing, 1991. Figgis, John Neville. The Divine Right of Kings. Harper Torchbooks. New York, NY: Harper and Row, 1965. Finley, C.S. Endless Knot: Closure and Indeterminacy in SGGK. English Language Notes 27 (1990): 7-13. Fox-Davies, Arthur C. A Complete Guide to Heraldry. London: Thomas Nelson and Sons Limited,1961. Gillespie, James, ed. The Age of Richard II. New York, NY: St. Martins Press: 1997. Doris Fletcher. The Lancastrian Collar of Esses: Its Origins and Transformations Down the Centuries. Gillespie 191-205. James Gillespie. Richard II: Chivalry and Kingship Gillespie 115-139. A.K. McHardy, Haxeys Case, 1397: The Petition and Its Presenter Reconsidered. Gillespie 93-115. Frank L. Wiswall, Politics, Procedure and the Non-Minority of Edward III: Some Comparisons. Gillespie 7-27. Goodman, Anthony and James Gillespie eds. Richard II: The Art of Kingship. Oxford: Clarendon Press; New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1999. Gordon, Dillian. The Wilton Diptych. London: National Gallery, 1993. Gower, John. Confessio Amantis. Ed. Russell A. Peck. Kalamazoo, MI: Western Michigan University, 2000. Grayson, Kent. The Icons of Consumer Research: Using Signs to Represent Consumers' Reality. Ed. Barbara Stern. Representing Consumers: Voices, Views and Visions. London: Routledge, 1998. 27-43.

PAGE 104

100 Guth, Delloyd J. Late Medieval England 1377-1485. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985. Hicks, Michael. Bastard Feudalism. New York, NY: Longman, 1995. ----------------Whos Who in Late Medieval England (1272-1485). Ed. Geoffrey Treasure. London: Shepheard-Walwyn, 1991. Hopkins, Andrea. The Chronicles of King Arthur. New York, NY: Barnes and Noble, 1993. Horrox, Rosemary, ed. Fifteenth-Century Attitudes: Perceptions of Society in Late Medieval England. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Hutchison, Harold Frederick. The Hollow Crown: A Life of Richard II. New York, NY: John Day Co., 1961. Ingham, Patricia Clare. Sovereign Fantasies: Arthurian Romance and the Making of Britain. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001. Johnston, Paul. The Life and Times of Edward III. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1973. Jones, Richard H. The Royal Policy of Richard II: Absolutism in the Later Middle Ages. New York, NY: Barnes and Noble, 1968. Kaeuper, Richard W. Chivalry and Violence in Medieval Europe. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1999. Kantorowicz, Ernzst. The Kings Two Bodies: a Study in Medieval Political Theology. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997. Kirk, Elizabeth. Wel Bycommes Such Craft Upon Cristmasse: The Festive and the Hermeneutic in SGGK. Arthuriana 4, (Summer 1994): 93-137. Levy, Bernard S and Paul E. Szarmach, eds. The Alliterative Tradition in the Fourteenth Century. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1981. Malory, Thomas. Le Morte Darthur: The Winchester Manuscript. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. Mann, Jill. Price and Value in SGGK. Essays in Criticism 36 (1986): 294-318. Margeson, Robert W. Structure and Meaning in SGGK. Papers on Language and Literature 13 (1977): 16-24.

PAGE 105

101 Marin, Louis. Portrait of the King. Trans. Martha Houle. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1988. Mathew, Gervase. The Court of Richard II. New York, NY: W.W. Norton and Company Inc. 1968. A Medieval Home Companion: Housekeeping in the Fourteenth Century. Trans. and Ed. Tania Bayard. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers, 1991. Milton, Roger. Heralds and History. New York, NY: Hippocrene Books Inc, 1978. Neubecker, Ottfried. Heraldry: Sources, Symbols, and Meaning. Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1976. Norris J. Lacy, and Geoffrey Ashe, eds. The New Arthurian Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Garland Publishing, 1996. Ormrod, W. M. The Reign of Edward III: Crown and Political Society in England, 13271377. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990. Pascal, Blaise. Penses. Paris: Hyperion, 1936. Pastoureau, Michel. LHermine et le Sinople: Etudes dHeraldique Medievale. Paris: Le Leopard dOr.1982. -------------------Figures et Couleurs: Etude sur la Symbolique et la Sensibilite Medievales. Paris: Le Leopard dOr, 1986. Patrick. Marietta. A Reading of SGGK. Ball State University Forum 24 (1983): 27-33. Peirce, C. S. The Collected Papers of C. S. Peirce. Ed. Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss. 8 vols. Cambridge: A. W. Burks, 1931-58. Pollard, William F. Images of the Apocalypse in SGGK. Proceedings of the PMR Conference 3 (1978): 85-93. Putter, Ad. An Introduction to the Gawain poet. New York, NY: Longman, 1996. ---------Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and French Arthurian Romance. Oxford: Claredon Press. 1995. Robertson, D.W. A Preface to Chaucer: Studies in Medieval Perspectives. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1962.

PAGE 106

102 Robinson, John Martin, and Thomas Woodcock. The Oxford Guide to Heraldry. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. Rosenthal, Joel T. Late Medieval England (1377-1485): A Bibliography of Historical Scholarship 1975-1989. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1994. Rothery, Guy Cadogan. Concise Enclycopedia of Heraldry. London: Stanley Paul and Company, 1994. St. John Hope, W. H. Heraldry for Designers and Craftspeople. Ontario: Dover Publications, Inc, 1999. ---------------An Introduction to Heraldry. New York, NY: Dover Publications Inc, 2001. Saul, Nigel. Richard II. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997. Shichtman, Martin. SGGK: A Lesson in the Terror of History. Papers on Language and Literature (1986) 22 3-15. Shoaf, R.A. The Poem as Green Girdle: Commercium in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Gainesville, FL: University of Florida, 1984. ----------------The Syngne of Surfet and the Surfeit of Signs in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Ed. Christopher Baswell and William Sharpe. The Passing of Arthur: New Essays in Arthurian Tradition. New York, NY: Garland Publishing, 1988. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: A Dual-Language Version. Trans. and Ed. William Vantuono. New York, NY: Garland Publishing, 1991. Stow, George B, ed. Historia Vitae et Regni Ricardi Secundi. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1977. Strohm, Paul. England's Empty Throne: Usurpation and the Language of Legitimation, 1399-1422. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998. --------------Hochons Arrow: The Social Imagination of Fourteenth Century Texts. Princteon, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992. ---------------Social Chaucer. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989. Thompson, Edward Maunde ed. Chronicon Angliae, ab anno domini 1328 usque ad annum 1388, auctore monacho quodam Sancti Albani. London: Longman and co., 1874.

PAGE 107

103 Trask, Richard. Gawains Unhappy Fault. Studies in Short Fiction (1979): 16, 1-9. Tuck, Anthony. Richard II and the English Nobility. London: Edward Arnold, 1973. Usk, Adam. The Chronicle of Adam Usk, 1377-1421. Trans. and Ed. C. Given-Wilson. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997. Utz, Richard J, ed. Literary Nominalism and the Theory of Rereading Late Medieval Texts: A New Research Paradigm. Lewiston, ME: E. Mellen Press, 1995. J. Stephen Russell, "The Universal Soldier: Idealism and Conceptualism in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Utz 51-80. Richard J. Utz, "Negotiating the Paradigm: Literary Nominalism and the Theory and Practice of Rereading Late Medieval Texts" Utz 1-30. Vance, Eugene. Mervelous signals. Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press, 1986. Wallace, David. Chaucerian Polity: Absolutist Lineages and Associational Forms in England and Italy. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997. Walsingham, Thomas, quondam monachi S. Albani. Historia Anglicana. Ed. Henry Thomas Riley. London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts, and Green. The Rolls Series. 1863-1864. The Westminster Chronicle, 1381-1394. Trans. and Ed. L.C. Hector and Barbara F. Harvey. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982. Wilkin, Gregory. The Dissolution of the Templar Ideal in SGGK. English Studies 63 (1982): 109-21. Wilkinson, Bertie. The Later Middle Ages in England, 1216-1485. London: Longman, 1977. Zalatel, Cora. The Green Knight as Thor. Emporia State Research Studies 32, No. 4 (1984): 28-38.

PAGE 108

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH I studied English and Comparative Literary Studies at Occidental College in Los Angeles, California. As an undergraduate, I became fascinated by the historical and literary context of literary creations like Chretien de Troyes Arthurian Romances, as well as the work of medieval philosophers like William of Ockham. My interest in medieval studies continued throughout my college career and I spent my junior year abroad in Bristol, England, studying Middle English Romances. It was there that I began work on my honors projecta study of the theme of incest and its appearance in many different literary genres throughout this period. I Graduated Cum Laude and with Honors from the Occidental College English Department in 2001. Since coming to the University of Florida as a Graduate student, I have continued my research into medieval studies, and I was awarded the Bowers Fellowship in 2002-2003 for my work in this field. Working with Dr. Shoaf and Dr. Paxson has allowed me to pursue my longstanding interests in medieval literature and history. In accordance with these interests, my Masters Thesis focuses on Richard IIs abuse of the livery system and the influence of this social system on the themes of the poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. In the future, I would like to persevere in and broaden this thesis topic for my PhD dissertation. Beyond medieval literature, I have also devoted some study to psychoanalysis, and most recently I have worked to apply the structural aspects of Lacanian theory to the 104

PAGE 109

105 framework of medieval popular romance. This combination has provided me with new and exciting perspectives in my work, and gave me a subject for my first conference paper. My paper, The Madness of Subjects and Objects: Psychoanalysis, Historical Relevance, and the Middle English Romance" was given at the University of South Carolina Comparative Literature Conference, "The Desire of the Analysts" in February 2003.


Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0000762/00001

Material Information

Title: And He Honoured at Hit Hade Euermore After
Physical Description: Mixed Material
Copyright Date: 2008

Record Information

Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
System ID: UFE0000762:00001

Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0000762/00001

Material Information

Title: And He Honoured at Hit Hade Euermore After
Physical Description: Mixed Material
Copyright Date: 2008

Record Information

Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
System ID: UFE0000762:00001


This item has the following downloads:


Full Text


















"AND HE HONOURED IAT HIT HADE EUERMORE AFTER":
THE INFLUENCE OF RICHARD II'S LIVERY SYSTEM ON SIR GA WAINAND
THE GREEN KNIGHT












By

THERESA OSTROM


A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS

UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA


2003















TABLE OF CONTENTS

page

A B S T R A C T ............. .......................................................... iii

CHAPTER

1 IN TR O D U C TIO N ............................................................................ 1

2 SIGNS AND KINGSHIP IN RICHARD'S EARLY YEARS .............................14

The Loss of a Slipper and the Finding of the Holy Oil .....................................14
Signs, Seals, and Livery................. ................ ............ ....... ...... 23

3 THE WHITE HART BADGE AND THE CONTROL OF SIGNS..................27

Early Attem pts at Livery .............................................................. 32
The Badge of the White Hart and the Wilton Diptych ............................... 36

4 THE LIVERY SYSTEM AND THE CONCEPT OF TRAWE.......................49

The Concept of Trawpe in Chaucer's and Gower's Works........................50
The Green Knight as Arbitrary Sign.......... ............ ........... .... .......... 59

5 THE PENTANGLE AND THE GREEN GIRDLE...........................65

6 CONCLUSION. ........... .......... ...................... ......88

REFERENCES ......... ... .................................... ............97

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ....................................................104
















Abstract of Master's Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts

"AND HE HONOURED IAT HIT HADE EUERMORE AFTER":
THE INFLUENCE OF RICHARD II'S LIVERY SYSTEM ON SIR GA WAINAND
THE GREEN KNIGHT


By

Theresa Ostrom

May 2003

Chair: R. Allen Shoaf
Major Department: English

This study investigated the relationship between King Richard II's manipulations

of semiotics and the appearance of signs in the fourteenth-century text, Sir Gawain and

the Green Knight. Many critics have noted that the Gawain-poet presents conflicting

responses to signs in the poem; I argue that these contradictory messages may be directly

linked to the program of kingship under Richard II. The king's use of livery (a signifying

system which used icons, badges or emblems to denote feudal ties) encouraged allegiance

among some subjects, but also excited fears about duplicitous, arbitrary signs and the

corruption of their bearers.

I used the evidence offered by chronicles of British history to propose that

Richard possessed an awareness of the power of icons and that he used them repeatedly

to gain support or to assert his preeminence. Nevertheless, despite many successes at









currying public favor through icons, when Richard II's popularity decreased, the certainty

of his rule was less and less assured; as the chroniclers explain, the king's badges, once

clear indicators of his authority, degenerated into ambiguous, or meaningless objects.

The theoretical framework for my analysis of Richard II's use of iconic signs was

largely drawn from the works of Charles Peirce, Umberto Eco, and the studies of the

iconography of kingship by Louis Marin. My own interpretation of the language and

semiotics of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was augmented by R.A. Shoafs book The

Poem as Green Girdle and his essay "The 'Syngne of Surfet' and the Surfeit of Signs."

As Shoaf points out, for the Gawain-poet, the basic meaning of a sign, especially one

which would signify association, is altered considerably-as it was in Richard II's

political campaign.

My reading of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, in light of the livery debate, has

yielded unique insight into its philosophical and political complexity. As a royalist, he

may have been loyal to Richard's White Hart badge; and yet, aware of the deep divisions

Richard's badges created throughout the kingdom, the poet likewise betrays a mistrust of

signs. However, the Gawain-poet ultimately reminds readers of the unpredictability of

all signs-political or otherwise. Through Gawain's ordeal, the poet reveals that the

meaning of any sign is constantly in flux, dissolving and forming new meanings; as

readers, we must negotiate the sign's capriciousness and give it significance.
















CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION

Pat lordes, and ladis, Pat longed to pe Table
Vche burne of fe Bofetherhede a bauderyk schulde haue,
A bende abelefhym about of a bryzt grene
And at, for sake of fat segge, in swete to were.
(Sir Gawain and the Green Knight 2515-2519)

Critics have often commented on the strangeness of Camelot's sudden adoption of

the green girdle in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. 1 For while the joyous acceptance

of Gawain's badge of shame seems to re-establish equality and solidarity at Camelot, the

green girdle still remains indefinable-saturated with all the meanings that it gains

throughout the poem. As a result, the poem ends with two conflicting positions; the first

is the compulsion to harness the power of the girdle and distribute it as a liveried sign of

Camelot's unity, while the second seems to be a deep-seated fear of the inherently






1 So many critics have commented on this problem that it would be nearly impossible to produce a full list.
However, it is possible to break down some of the commentary into general threads of criticism about the
poem. Robert Margeson tried to solve the problem of the ambiguous ending by claiming that the "failure"
of Gawain is more crucial to interpreting the meaning of the poem than Camelot's (or Bertilak's)
declarations of Gawain's success. Critics like R.J Blanch and Richard Trask see the adoption of the girdle
as a symbol of Christian values and human weakness. L. Besserman sees the girdle as a symbol which
operates with the same logic as the cross in Christianity. According to Besserman, "Like the Cross, the
central icon of Christianity, the green girdle is transformed from a sign of degradation and defeat into a
banner of victory. Gawain, however, does not join in celebrating this reversal. And we are left wondering
whether or not his is the deeper vision" (100). Gregory Wilkin sees the court's adoption of the girdle as a
wrongful "attempt to participate in Gawain's partial honor" (120-21). Marietta Patrick, H. Bergner and
Martin Shichtman also blame the members of the court at Camelot for failing to grasp the full impact of the
meaning of the girdle. More recently, critics like C.S. Finley and Elizabeth Kirk claim that a lack of
closure was the poet's intention, and that a case might be made for three or more interpretations of the
girdle's significance. Blanch and Wasserman go against earlier, religious interpretations of the girdle made
by critics, to claim that, at Camelot "misunderstood signs [. .] are substituted uneasily for true leadership
and the communication of Christian values" (24).












uncontrollable nature of such signs and their ability to upset the balance of power within

a kingdom.

An origin for the poet's ambivalence toward signs can be illuminated if we accept

the growing evidence that Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was written in the era of

Richard II.1 In this period, the extravagant use of liveried badges reached an almost

unthinkable height; Richard II celebrated and exploited 'liveree de signes' as an

extension of his power to favorite subjects and proof of his glory, while Commons and

other complainants argued that the proliferation of signs rendered livery an insignificant

and expensive practice. Bitter quarrels about the proper use of these signs circulated

throughout the kingdom, and could not fail to influence the Gawain-poet, even if he was

"steadfastly royalist" as John Bowers claims.2 Thus, the purpose of this study is to

examine the prevailing sense of anxiety about Richard's use and abuse of livery, and, in

light of this information, to investigate the complex image of the green girdle-a

"positive" badge whose dangerous nature lurks quietly beneath the surface of Sir Gawain

and the Green Knight.

The word "livery"3 originally possessed a number of different connotations.

However, the earliest and most common meaning refers to a specific military uniform,



1 Although no scholar has pinpointed a definitive date for the poem's composition, most scholars generally
agree that it was during the reign of Richard II.

2 Traces of "royalist" sentiments and Ricardian images have already been discussed by John Bowers and
other recent critics of the poem, and it is clear that the poet found, in Richard's court, his primary source for
inspiration. Bowers writes: "No 'courtly poet' in a hazy generic sense, the Pearl Poet is steadily and
specifically royalist, revealing a concern for the precise practice of kingship by his obsessive recourse to
regalian images" (15-16).

3The word, livery, is derived from the Middle English word, liver, from Old French livree, delivery, or
from Latin liberare, to free, from liber, free ("Livery").









and badge, issued by feudal superiors to their retainers. The term could also represent a

manner of dress adopted by noblemen or gentlemen, or a special manner of dress

signifying priesthood or another vocation.4 Abuses of this system were endemic almost

from its inception; wrongdoers soon discovered that a great lord's livery protected them

from punishment; lords abused their obligations to vouch for their retainers in court;

liveried men used their badges to intimidate others. Kings and Commons routinely

produced legislation designed to control or curtail such abuses. B. Wilkinson explains

that "Already, in the Statute of Westminster I, Edward I forbade maintenance by his own

officials, and Edward II condemned it in 1327. The first parliamentary complaint against

peacetime retinues was in 1331" during the reign of Edward III. According to Wilkinson,

this case was dealt with effectively, and Edward III never allowed the lords to "get out of

hand" with their retinues (203-204).

In fact, in addition to controlling livery among his lords, Edward III effectively

used liveried signs inspired by Arthur's Round Table to strengthen his own rule over

England's military class.5 However, from the time of Edward III's death to the

coronation and reign of Richard II, already existing problems with the livery system

rapidly increased. The kingdom was already awash with insignias, some of which were

not bestowed by nobles, but adopted by peasants of their own accord. One of the most



4 Adopting livery to signify one's vocation or association was routine; livery retainers have been recorded
as early as the twelfth century in 1154 and 1162. According to Hicks "the practice was apparently
commonplace by 1218, when a northern bandit was reported to be buying cloth in bulk for his 15
accomplices 'as if he had been a baron or an earl'" (Hicks 62).

5 Scholars tend to think that Edward's goal in implementing the Round Table was to control the military
class and to present himself as a warrior and knight of Arthur's caliber. Paul Johnson writes "Edward
could afford to have himself regarded, in the context of chivalry, as a first among equals, the equality being
symbolized by the Round table, in the shape of a hollow circle, around which he and his knights sat"
(Johnson 121-122).










striking accounts of liveried signs among the peasant class occurs in Froissart's

description of the Peasant's Revolt of 1381. Froissart tells us that at least sixty of the

rebels, including Wat Tyler, wore jupons (of a presumably matching livery); jurors at

Scarborough also describe the livery of hoods the rebels wore in order to further their

conspiracy against kings and nobles. The peasant class's adoption of a symbol of their

own solidarity, specifically for polemical purposes, suggests that the significance of

livery had shifted; instead of referring to a badge or uniform given from a superior lord to

his retainer, "livery" could now refer to a more general badge signifying one's

association with a group, not simply a king or lord.

Under Richard II, livery came to represent both the traditional manner of dress

that signified the rank and honor of the bearer as well as the less romantic use of livery or

badges to designate short-term alliances among enterprising commoners. The system

exceeded governmental control, used extensively by unscrupulous lords and commoners

who sought to exploit the system for economic gain.6 As Paul Strohm notes, Commons

was powerless to stop the situation-paralyzed by continual debate about these "new and

illicit forms of association, in which stable and hierarchically ordered ties of vassalage

were challenged by short-term and lateral arrangements for personal advantage." In this



6 In Hochon 's Arrow, Paul Strohm explains that:
A new syntax of personal relations that became available for use and possible abuse between the
late thirteenth and mid-fifteenth centuries. Newly permissible forms of association were offering
unscrupulous lords and enterprising upstarts the opportunity to thrive by colluding for economic
advantage in ways that diluted or abused [the] traditional social practices [of livery] (57).

SStrohm further explains:
The ties of vassalage were sworn and sanctified and irreversible; those of congregation or
covinage or affinity were sustained by improvised oaths of a sort entered into lightly, or by
contract, or by the simple acceptance of a badge or other emblem of livery. These practices were
brought into textual consideration under a variety of headings, such as covinage, or conspiracy to
oppress neighbors by force; maintenance, or connivance in joint legal pleading; champerty, or by
the instigation of legal pleas; improper searing and oath-taking to bind the fortunes of a single










petition, the effectiveness of livery was questioned; any honors that might have been

bestowed along with a badge were weakened by the simple fact that most social

enterprises used this system; it seemed as though anyone wishing it could adopt some

form of livery badge. David Wallace explains that this process of adopting badges or

signs of alliance was an important creation of associationall forms" in the social world of

the Middle Ages. Moreover, he claims that "allegiance to a specificfelaweshipe or

universitas could often outweigh loyalty to civic or state authorities" and that adherence

to badges helped to preserve a feeling of group loyalty in spite of the political, social, and

theological upheaval of that time period (Wallace 73).

Even though Wallace may be correct in suggesting the psychological importance

of the "sense of sworn obligation" that the badge seems to uphold, he nevertheless admits

that there are two contradictory outcomes to this type of society. The first is an

extrapolation of Aristotle's concept of koinonia, which, following William of Moerbeke,

he views as communitas.8 This more idealistic society





group; and nontraditional retaining, especially through the use of livery or emblematic apparel to
secure and advertise short-term alliances for mutual profit (Hochon 'sArrow 57).

William of Moerbeke only provides one sense of the meaning of communitas, or community-a concept
which may have been debated. Walsingham, in thinking of the desire of the St. Albins rebels to be called
communes or the commons, writes

Ita enim tunc temporis gloriabantur eo nominee, ut nullum censerent nomen honorabilius nominee
"communitatis, nec quemquam de caetero reputaturifuerunt dominum, juxta aestimationem
suam stolidam, nisi Regem solummodo et communes (Hist. Angl. 472).

[For at that time they gloried in the name, and considered that no name was more honorable than
that of "community," nor, according to their stupid estimation, were there to be any lords in the
future, but only King and commons.]

Strohm argues that Walsingham's attribution of the idea of community to the rebels has two sides. It may
be read as absurdity, "a notion held only during a brief period of tumult by a group of befuddled people." It
also might be read sympathetically, "as a rationale for revolutionary conduct" (41) based on deep-seated
moral principles, such as truth and loyalty.









is created by a bond of friendship and involves a plurality of participants, with a
common aim pursued by common action, with full differentiation between its
members but without any relations of subjection or domination on the basis of it
(qtd. in Wallace 74).

This bond is only maintained, however, through a "natural" impulse for self-government

and a genuine regard for principles of trawfe or truth. Once man's dishonesty manifests

itself, we might, like Augustine, begin to believe that the reason for governing images,

like livery, is rooted in the essential corruption of man's eternal soul. Following

Augustine, it seems that the badge would be simply act as remedium peccati:

"[government] controls the wicked within the bounds of a certain earthly peace" (qtd. in

Wallace 74).

Although these are two possible readings of the necessity of livery, in reality, the

social practice of livery did not provide the kind of positive corporate structure Wallace

describes. Badges, as associationall forms" also did not succeed as agents of

governmental control in the Augustinian sense. Rather than preventing wickedness, they

seemed instead to excite or perpetuate it. A familiar complaint-that livery gives its

bearers license to perform "all kinds of wickedness"-appears in the 1388 petition at the

Cambridge Parliament. The Westminster chronicler observes that those wearing badges

or signa issued by lords were performing various misdeeds:


At this parliament the commons complained bitterly about the badges issued by
the lords, "since those who wear them are, by reason of the power of their
masters, flown with such insolent arrogance that they do not shrink from
practicing with reckless effrontery various forms of extortion in the surrounding
countryside; fleecing and discomfiting the poor in every court, including those of
the greatest, and indiscriminately robbing the middle and other classes of their
rights and reducing them to helplessness" (West. 355).









As the chronicler explains, those wearing badges of the lords possess such "insolent

arrogance" that they practice extortion, taking advantage of the poor and rich, with little

care for justice. It is not merely the natural character of these men, but it is the "boldness

of their badges that makes them unafraid to do these things and more besides" (West.

355). Badges, although originally meant to function as positive symbols of the good

character or reliability of a lord's retainers, now clearly become the sign of their bearers'

superciliousness.

Historically, whenever such a problem arose with livery, the lords came forward

to assure the public that they would keep their retainers under control. However, at this

point, when the lords promised that they would punish the perpetrators of such acts,

Commons demanded more decisive action. In a surprising move, Richard II himself

stepped in, offering to discard his own badges as an example for the lords. The

Westminster Chronicler offers the following details of Common's ruling:


First, that all the liveries called 'badges'. As well of our lord the king as of other
lords, of which the use has begun since the first year of the noble king Edward the
Third (whom God assoil) and all other lesser liveries, such as hoods, shall
henceforward not be given or worn but shall be abolished upon the pain specified
in this present parliament[. .] But it is the king's will, with the assent of the lords
in parliament, that the matter touching this article shall be continued in its present
state until the next parliament in the hope that in the meantime amendment will be
effected by him and the lords of his council, without prejudice to the dignity of
the king and of the lords and of all other estates of the parliament (West. 357).


These rulings were later incorporated into a statute and "proclaimed" in London and

many other places. However, Richard did not keep his promise, or abide by the statute,

as we know from the Vita Ricardi Secundi. Richard introduced his badge of the White

Hart at the Smithfield tournament two years after the Cambridge Parliament in 1390.









Although Richard voiced a desire to give up badges in the hope of restoring tranquility to

the realm, he ultimately could not abide by his word. Moreover, Richard went much

further than standard practice, patronizing scores of people and one entire region with his

badge-in terms of peacetime retinue, this number was unprecedented.9 When he was

obviously aware of the dangerous results of the distribution of badges, one guesses that it

was his overconfidence in his power, coupled with his longstanding faith in the power of

signs that led to his obvious violation of the statute.

However, the source of the problems with livery after the Cambridge Parliament's

decision in 1388 may not have solely been in the body politic. Wilkinson asserts that "the

real trouble was not the impossibility of handling the problems created by the new pattern

of feudalism but the personal inadequacies of some English kings" (204). This is

undoubtedly the case; Richard II's own inauspicious dealings in livery seem, in part, to

have stemmed from his desire to find the perfect symbol to express his divine supremacy

as king. For this reason, it seems, the comparatively short list of regal emblems under

Edward III10 mushroomed during Richard's reign. Although Richard II's primary symbol

and livery badge would later become a white hart, gorged with an open crown of gold, he

also used a white falcon (after Edward II's symbol); or two white harts; or two angels.1

Sometimes Richard would incorporate traditional symbols of the Plantagenet family,

such as a branch of broom, to demonstrate his illustrious ancestry, or the baldric of the


9 In the reigns of previous kings, the number of liveried men was extended in wartime. In such cases, the
men were only tied to their lords on a temporary basis, usually through badges. For example, in 1454
Humphrey Duke of Buckingham was reported to have made 2,000 Stafford knots 'for what end your wit
will construe' (Hicks 65).

10 Edward III had only used a golden lion and a silver falcon as his individual emblems, distributing the
livery for the Order of the Garter to only a select group of knights.

1 See Rothery 249.









Order of the Garter, presumably to demonstrate his membership. Richard II, it may be

argued, was constantly searching for a symbol that expressed his kingship; he infringed

on the livery system most grievously and most often, even from the earliest moments of

his coronation. To show the tremendous sway signs had over Richard II, I expand on

these issues in Chapter 2 of my study.

My specific objective in this study is to investigate Richard's manipulation of

semiotics, through livery, and to explain how the political climate impacted the concept

of the sign in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. R.A. Shoaf s book The Poem as Green

Girdle and his essay "The 'Syngne of Surfet' and the Surfeit of Signs" each provide

crucial foundations for my reading of the Gawain-poet's concerns with language and

semiotics. Shoaf points out a key element in the fabric of Sir Gawain-its signs are

multiple, enigmatic, and potentially dangerous in their ambiguity. For the Gawain-poet,

the basic meaning of a sign, especially one which would signify "association" is altered

considerably, as it was in Richard II's political campaign. Instead of merely envisioning

the icon of a livery badge as a sign of a feudal tie, he championed the badge as evidence

of his own royal authority. From all available evidence, it seems he took steps to mask

the iconicity of his own badges, so that his own signs would not be seen as

representations of power, but the reality of power itself. However, as Richard II's

popularity decreased, the "certainty" of his power was less and less clear, and his badges,

like the green girdle of Sir Gawain, seem to have no fixed meaning.

The link between the Gawain-poet and Richard II goes beyond a shared

theoretical or semiotic matrix; the Gawain-poet would probably have been affected in a

direct way by Richard's use of livery. Historically, Richard II consistently turned to the









use of livery in order to influence his subjects or solidify his bond with noblemen or court

advisors. His chosen emblem, the White Hart, was vastly dispersed among his

supporters, with the intent of extending the king's image, and by implication, his power.

One depiction of Richard II, the Wilton Diptych, emphasizes the eternal power of

Richard II's livery by making the icon of the White Hart the seemingly "natural" badge

of the angels. Amid this concentration of liveried signs, one might glimpse other

competing signs from his Plantagenet ancestors embedded in the scenery, which are

curiously juxtaposed against the badges and banners of his own patron saints.12

The White Hart badge was widely dispersed in Richard II's beloved region of

Cheshire and from that region alone he retained over 700 Cheshiremen to serve as

knights, esquires and archers. From this number he selected 312 to serve as personal

bodyguards, lavishing seemingly endless affections and monies on his Cheshire coterie.

This was the place where he had hoped to rebuild his power base after his humiliating

defeat by the Lords Appellant. To demonstrate his love of the region, he flew the banner

of Saint George (also the banner of the Order of the Garter), over Cheshire. By this

action, Richard had symbolically linked Cheshire to him with two of his most powerful

liveries: his own personal emblem, the White Hart badge, and the Order of the Garter,





John Bowers writes:

The central obsession of the Wilton Diptych is the same as Richard II's political and personal
obsession throughout the 1390s: the sacred status of kingship... The eleven angels surrounding
Christ wear the White Hart badges of Richard II's royal livery, which the king himself is also
wearing in the left panel...Besides granting holy sanction to the practice of bestowing liveried
signs, this use of the White Hart badges suggests a mystical identification between Richard's
household's and Christ's. The angels belong to the king'sfamilia, and yet Richard is being
welcomed as the missing twelfth spirit in their heavenly company (Bowers 29).









which carried with it all the Arthurian symbolism of the Round Table that it had gained

under Edward III.

In the last years of Richard II's reign, "such insignias certainly did not enjoy a

reputation as spiritual peace-tokens of the sort described by the poet (in Pearl)" (Bowers

96). Once associated with regal grace and the solidarity of the kingdom, such liveried

signs merely became a symbol of Richard's growing unpopularity. His enemies

criticized the badge openly, and after his death, badges were pointed to as an important

factor in his downfall. For example, Adam Usk draws readily on a prophecy of Merlin13

to explain Richard II's exile, through the use of The White Hart badges:


Iste dux Henricus, secundam propheciam Merlyny iuxta propheciam, pullus
aquile, quiafilius lohannes; set secundam Bridlintoun meriot canis, propter
libetatuam callariorum leporariis conueniencium, et quia diebus canicularis
uenit, et quia infinitos ceruos, liberatam scillicet regis Ricard in ceruis
existentem, penitus a regno affugauit.

[According to the prophecy of Merlin, this duke Henry is the eaglet, for he was
the son of John; following Bridlington, however, he should rather be the dog,
because of his livery of linked collars of greyhounds, and because he came in the
dog days, and because he drove utterly from the kingdom countless numbers of
harts-the hart being the symbol of King Richard] (52, trans. C. Given-Wilson).

Livery, as iconic sign, is always uncontrollable, no matter who attempts to use it; for

while Richard II had hoped to control his symbol, ultimately it controlled him, even to

the point of becoming a portent of his own destiny. In this context, livery behaves more

like the green girdle in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, as it becomes duplicitous and

uncontrollable. Paul Strohm explains in Hochon 's Arrow: "a brief survey of the

'literature of livery' demonstrates that it does not serve a single master" (179).


13 This reference to Merlin's prophecy, according to Given-Wilson, was probably derived form the
"Prophecy of the Eagle" which was frequently found beside the prophecies of Merlin in contemporary
manuscripts (Given-Wilson 52).









Fears of the dangers of livery, as well as the king's celebration of it could not fail

to influence the Gawain-poet. He was most likely a Cheshireman himself; the dialect of

the only copy of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is that of the North-West Midlands,

and scholars have pinned down its origin in Cheshire. In the center of this political strife,

the poet must have had feelings of loyalty toward the king that so favored his own

province, but may have also experienced feelings of uncertainty toward the future of

Richard II 's reign, especially when the livery formed the unsteady foundation for his

control of the realm. The question of livery and maintenance during Richard II's rule

alone reflects the unsettled moment in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight when the court

adopts the badge of Gawain's shame as their symbol of honor.

Richard II's abuses of livery and other iconic signs of kingship and the probable

influence on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is the focus of the remaining chapters of

this project. Sir Gawain reflects the growing sense of apprehension about the

proliferation of signa and the problems of liveried association. As a livery badge, the

function of the girdle might reflect the twofold outcome that Wallace sees existing within

all forms of association; it may become either a symbol of trawfe and communitas or

reflect a sense of "wickedness" that exists within every individual as a result of original

sin. At first glance, it seems that the poet chooses the former option; the poem ends

happily-the green girdle, at first a symbol of deceit, finds its place as the sign of

unification for a kingdom.

And yet, its meaning is scarcely innocuous. At best, this symbol seems simply

another ambiguous emblem of Arthur's reign; at worst, the residue of its original

association, as a sign of deception and shame, will never be fully expunged. The negative






13


meaning of the badge could continue to hold sway over its bearers, threatening the honor

and the unity that the members of this court should have "euermore after." Thus, the

poet, perhaps influenced by Richard's own flightiness with iconic images, conceptualizes

one of the most powerful signs in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the girdle, as a sign

without predetermined significance-an indeterminate image with a host of meanings.















CHAPTER 2
SIGNS AND KINGSHIP IN RICHARD' S EARLY YEARS

Richard II nursed a growing sense of the power of signs and symbols at an early

point in his reign. Even before he took power, chroniclers and literary figures constantly

interpreted or reinterpreted signs and symbols so that they would come to signify some

crucial element of Richard II's kingship. Therefore, the purpose of this chapter will be to

trace the strange history of those signs in the early years of Richard II's reign. Such an

investigation must necessarily include the king's coronation, his subsequent obsession

with the so-called pageantry of kingship and his own appearance and behavior. In every

case, the same events were used over and over again for dramatically different ends:

Richard II attempted to prove his fitness as a king and his divinely ordained office, while

anti-Ricardian dissidents pointed to the same moments in his reign to demonstrate his

rash, wasteful nature and even to explain or predict his eventual downfall.

The Loss of a Slipper and the Finding of the Holy Oil

One of the first significant moments for the future king Richard II occurred when

he was ten years old. At this tender age, he was inducted into his father's esteemed Order

of the Garter on Saint George's day, April 23rd, 1377. Although the festival seemed

auspicious, there was clearly an air of pessimism, which prompted the chronicler to add

"and unfortunate 1th1yge% and unprofitable harmes, i i/th many evle, began for to










sprynge, and, the more harm is, conteyned long tyme after."1 Such ominous portents

would continue to follow Richard II throughout his reign, and as he became increasingly

unpopular, these initial concerns would emerge as full-blown signs of his failure as a

king.

Two months later, Edward the Black Prince was dead, and Richard II had his first

real encounter with the awesome power of signs and royal spectacle-his coronation.

Crowned when he was ten, this elaborate ceremonial must have influenced him all his

life, and the religious and traditional symbolism of the affair could only have confirmed

his belief in the sacred dimension of his kingship. As Harold Hutchison notes, the early

coronation of Richard II might have been a political warning by Commons, intending to

convey their disapproval of his uncle John of Gaunt, but


For the youthful heir to the throne it was an impressive scene-his hereditary
claims were now reinforced by the bold voice of the Commons of England, he
was soon to be mightier than his mighty uncle, and to rule the great realm of
England as undisputed monarch. It was heady wine for one so young (15).

The chroniclers have reported the splendor of the coronation scene with astounding,

meticulous detail. The coronation more or less followed the Liber Regais,2 consisting of


1 Quoted in Hutchison, 20.

2The fourth and most important of all English coronation services is that of the Liber Regalis, a manuscript
still in the keeping of the dean of Westminster. It was introduced in 1307, and was used until the
Reformation. The following is a bare outline of its main features:

the ceremonies began the day before the coronation, the king being ceremonially conducted in a
procession from the Tower of London to Westminster. There he reposed for the night, and was
instructed by the abbot as to the solemn obligations of the kingly office. Early next morning he
went to Westminster Hall-and there, among other ceremonies, as rex regnaturus was elevated into
a richly adorned seat on the king's bench, called the Marble Chair. Then a procession with the
regalia was marshalled, and led into the abbey church, the king wearing a cap of estate on his
head, and supported by the bishops of Bath and Durham. A platform with thrones, &c., having
been previously prepared under the crossing, the king ascended it, and all being in order, the
archbishop of Canterbury called for the Recognition, after which the king, approaching the high
altar, offered a pall to cover it, and a pound of gold. Then a sermon appropriate to the occasion










the richly symbolic, but undoubtedly arduous process for a boy so young; the ceremony

in Westminster Abbey began with mass, a sermon, the taking of the royal oath, the

presentation to and acceptance by the people, the blessing, and the anointing. Next,

several symbolic adornments were given to Richard II by the Archbishop following the

religious ceremony, including a sword, bracelets, the pall, the crown, the ring, the scepter,

and the verge.

All of these elements in Richard II's coronation were infused with religious

symbolism. As Walsingham recounts in the Historia Anglicana, the divine sanctity of

kingship was assured when the Archbishop implored blessing of the new king:

"Omnipotens et sempiterne Deus, benedic, Domine, hunc Regem nostrum; qui regna

omnium moderaris in saeculu, tali eum benedictione glorifica, ut Daviticae teneat

sublimitatis sceptrum, et glorificatus in ejus propitius reperiatur merito" (Hist. Angl.

333). The religious importance of kingship is affirmed throughout the rest of the

ceremony as well; when the Archbishop anointed Richard II with the holy oil, a choir

sang the Antiphon between the Archbishop's speeches. After this, those present gladly

was preached by one of the bishops, the oath was administered by the archbishop, and the Veni
Creator and a litany were sung. Then the king was anointed with oil on his hands, breast, between
the shoulders, on the shoulders, on the elbows, and on the head; finally he was anointed with the
chrism on his head. Thus blessed and anointed, the king was vested, first with a silk dalmatic,
called the colobiuni sindonis, and then a long tunic, reaching to the ankles and woven with great
golden images before and behind, was put upon him. He then received the buskins (caligac), the
sandals (sandalia), and spurs (calcaria), then the sword and its girdle; after this the stole, and
finally the royal mantle, four-square in shape and woven throughout with golden eagles. Thus
vested, the crown of St Edward was set on his head, the ring placed on his wedding finger, the
gloves drawn over his hands, and the golden sceptre, in form of an orb and cross, delivered to him.
Lastly, the golden rod with the dove at the top was placed in the king's left hand. Thus
consecrated, vested and crowned, the king kissed the bishops who, assisted by the nobles,
enthroned him, while the Te Deum was sung. When a queen consort was also crowned, that
ceremony immediately followed, and the mass with special collect, epistle, gospel and preface was
said, and during it both king and queen received the sacrament in one kind. At the conclusion the
king retired to a convenient place, surrounded with curtains, where the great chamberlain took off
certain of the robes, and substituted others for them, and the archbishop, still wearing his mass
vestments, set other crowns on the heads of the king and queen, and with these they left the church
("Coronation").









cried "Vivat Rex. Alle 'luia "' ([sic] Hist. Angl. 334). The benediction, the enthronement,

and the celebration of another mass where Richard II confessed and was absolved, merely

served to make the religious dimension of kingship all that more apparent.

Although it was saturated with religious symbolism, the coronation ceremony

concluded with a strange event that could have come straight from the pages of Arthurian

romance: "the dramatic appearance of the King's champion, Sir John Dymmock, in full

armor at the Abbey doors to offer mortal combat to any opposition" (Hutchison 22). At

the end of this long day, an exhausted Richard II was carried out on the shoulders of Sir

Simon Burley, to rest at the palace. Before the banquet that evening, Richard II got his

first taste of royal power when he created four new earls and nine knights. His youngest

uncle, Thomas of Woodstock, was created earl of Buckingham; Sir Thomas Mowbray, a

companion of his own age, he made Earl of Nottingham; Sir Henry Percy became Earl of

Northumberland; and his tutor, Sir Guichard d'Angle, he made Earl of Huntingdon (Hist.

Angl. 333). Hutchison claims that this early grant of titles was a well-tempered use of the

young king's power and, on this occasion, he seemed a promising king.

Oddly, this triumphant display of power in the young king's reign did not capture

the imagination of chroniclers, and it did not seem to obsess Richard II himself. Instead,

it was the image of young Richard II, so weary that he had to be carried out of

Westminster that became the indelible tableau for his supporters and his harshest critics.

Hutchison tells us that "Richard lost a slipper as he went, but we have the word of an eye

witness that even amid so much splendor and magnificence he played his part nobly in all

the beauty of his youth" (22). Although Hutchison's source, the Chronicon Angliae,

supports this reading, not all chroniclers agree on the serenity of the moment. The









Westminster Chronicler, for example, recounts that moment because of its dreadful

deviance from accepted custom:

It is generally accepted that immediately after his coronation the king should go
into the vestry, where he should take off the regalia and put on the other garments
laid out ready for him by his chamberlains before returning by the shortest route
to his palace, but at the coronation of the present king the contrary was done, with
deplorable results; for when the coronation was over, a certain knight, Sir Simon
Burley, took up the king in his arms, attired as he was, in his regalia, and went
into the palace by the royal gate with crowds milling all round him and pressing
upon him, so that on the way he lost one of the consecrated shoes through his
thoughtlessness (415-417).

Obviously, this account is not equivalent to the serene and gracious moment that

Hutchison describes; instead, it presents the scene as it must have been, partly blaming

the crowds and the chaos of the moment for the negligent loss of the slipper. The

Westminster Chronicler does not lament the loss of the slipper any further, but he takes

the opportunity to suggest that future kings not be allowed to leave the church after a

coronation unless the king has gone to the vestry and decently put off his royal insignia as

custom dictates (417). However, L.C. Hector and Barbara Harvey provide an important

gloss on this moment; since the shoes were part of the regalia Alfred wore during his

coronation in Rome by Leo IV, and later by Edward the Confessor at his coronation and

entrusted by Edward to Westminster Abbey, the loss of the slipper was significant.

Many chroniclers bypass the incident entirely, and as a result it is difficult to

know how seriously this incident impacted popular opinion of Richard II. For the most

part, his coronation seems to have continued normally; he went to the banquet without

incident, and was successfully presented to the public the following day. Although the

unpleasant incident of the lost slipper seems to have faded away from public memory at

this point in Richard's career, it was far from being completely forgotten. After Richard









II's death and the ascension of Henry IV to the throne, Adam Usk does not hesitate to

reiterate this moment, with several significant changes:

At this lord's coronation, three symbols of royalty foretold three misfortunes
which would befall him: firstly, during the procession he lost one of his
coronation shoes, so that to begin with the common people rose up against him,
and for the rest of his life hated him; secondly, one of his golden spurs fell off, so
that next the knights rose up and rebelled against him; thirdly, during the banquet,
a sudden gust of wind blew the crown from his head, so that thirdly and finally he
was deposed from his kingdom and replaced by King Henry.3

As Paul Strohm affirms, no other account of the coronation mentions any other

misfortune beyond the loss of the slipper. Even Adam's first account of the coronation

does not include the detail of the slipper, claiming instead that bad council and numerous

liberties of the magnates would lead to Richard II's misfortune. This, coupled with "the

commonsense fact that crowns seem unlikely to be blown by gusts of wind from royal

heads"4 suggests that Adam's retelling of the incident was constructed to illustrate

Richard II's inability to control the symbols of his kingship from very early on in his

reign. This moment in the Chronicles encapsulates a larger problem of Richard II's

kingship-retrospectively viewed, it becomes the sign of the hatred of generations.

In the hands of a less subtle chronicler, the same unlucky event was reworked to

"foretell" of Richard's apparent death by starvation. In this version, a number of other

elements in Richard's coronation were brought together to explain yet another prophecy

of another "certain knight"-an eyewitness who:

saw the king's slipper falling to the ground and saw the king at the banquet
vomiting his food ['ubi vidit Regis sotulare ad terram cadentem et regem ad
prandium cibum suum evomentem']. He explained it thus: "This king will be




3 Adam Usk 91.

4 England's Empty Throne, 21.









glorious and extremely abundant in food, but he will lose the dignitas of the realm
and in the end will die on account of hunger."

Stohm asserts that the invention of a prophetic 'knight of France,' serves a recursive

function. Prophecies such as these, no doubt created after Richard's coronation (and

sometimes after his death) attempted to show the consequence of signs throughout his

reign. This created the illusion "that the present moment is the consequence of an

inevitable and unalterable pattern" (Empty Throne 21-22).

Whether Adam Usk's coronation prophecy was fanciful on Adam's part, or

reflected actual sentiment at the time cannot be determined. However, it is clear that

Richard II was deeply troubled by the loss of the slipper, as he took great pains to replace

the absent shoe with a new pair of comparable value, as the Westminster chronicler

explains. In March 1390, Richard had sent Westminster a pair of "red velvet shoes, with

fleur-de-lis worked on them in pearls, which had been blessed by Pope Urban VI shortly

before his death; they were to be deposited with the rest of the royal insignia associated

with the king's coronation" (West. 415). Paul Strohm tells us that an inventory of the

regalia taken in 1356 includes "'deux chaunceons de samyt rouge' (two slippers of red

silk) as well as 'deuxpairs desporons"' so presumably, this gift to Westminster was

intended as a replacement for the one that he had lost more than a decade ago. Richard's

attempt to rectify the loss, especially after so many years, suggests that he felt, at the very

least, responsible for its loss. Or, perhaps, like Adam Usk, Richard thought of the

moment as an inauspicious one, and yearned to replace the missing slipper in order to

reaffirm his power as king.

The latter suggestion-that Richard considered the loss of a slipper

inauspicious-is more likely the case. Richard II undoubtedly believed that coronation









conferred an indelible sign upon him, and that the shift of the sacredness of royal power,

as compared with all other constituted authority, was strengthened through the religious

and traditional elements of this ancient ceremony. Thus, the scandal that resulted from

the loss of a valuable royal insignia seems to have sparked what Nigel Saul calls

Richard's "abiding fascination with coronation regalia,"5 and his keen interest in the

trappings of kingship continued throughout his reign. Around 1390, Richard became

increasingly obsessed with externalizing the mark of his legitimacy to the throne; first he

replaced the missing slipper with a new pair, and then, he is envisioned as a boy in the

coronation scene of the Wilton Diptych.6

During the crucial period of 1390-99, he seems to have become fixated on the

scene of the coronation, representing it over and over, in an attempt to affirm the

legitimacy of his reign, and to assert his power as a king. Later, he was elated in his

discovery of the holy oil of St Thomas in the Tower in 1399. Nigel Saul recounts:

For the first time, use was made of the miraculous phial of oil said to have been
presented to Becket by the Virgin Mary, and afterwards hidden at Poitiers, until
discovered there by Henry's grandfather, Henry of Grosmont. According to
Walsingham, Richard had come across the phial wile searching in the Tower a
year or two previously and had asked Archbishop Arundel to anoint him with it.
(423-424).

By this time, Richard's throne was in grave danger, and, if replacing the slipper at

Westminster served a symbolic reaffirmation of his authority as king, being re-anointed

with this holy oil, would once again establish Richard as unquestioned sovereign.

Traditionally, some kings used holier oil than the bishop's chrism, but the papacy would


5 Saul cites the same incident of the lost slipper and uses the same evidence as Hector and Harvey: William
Sudbury's treatise on the regalia, incorporated in the Speculum Historale. Saul claims that Richard's
motivation for giving Westminster the red shoes was to replace a "missing slipper of St Edmund which had
fallen off at his coronation" (448). Saul most likely means Edward the Confessor here, not St Edmund.
6 A fuller explanation of the Wilton Diptych, and its symbolism, will be provided in the next chapter.










permit only an inferior grade to the emperor. However, this chrism had descended

directly from the Virgin Mary's heavenly hands to Thomas Becket, and had been used to

anoint Edward II.7 This oil undoubtedly conferred upon the anointed a place in the

illustrious line of British kings,8 but, more importantly, it provided a divinity that

superseded all other mortal accouterments of kingship. Unfortunately for Richard, his

request to be anointed by this oil was flatly refused, and, after confiscating the oil, the

archbishop bestowed the privilege on his usurper Henry.

Signs, Seals, and Livery

In addition to his focus on coronation regalia, Richard also attempted to change

the significance of some of that regalia. During the king's minority in 1383-6, the use of

the major seals was altered so that he might play a stronger role in government. He

expedited administrative procedures, or simply bypassed them, by elevating the power of

In France, a legend about this celestial oil gained credence. Supposedly, as a special sign of divine favor,
the Holy Dove had miraculously descended from heaven, bearing a vessel (afterwards called the Sainte
Ampoule), containing holy oil, and had placed it on the altar. Since the oil used in his coronation had come
direct from heaven, the king of France was rex Christianissimus, the Most Christian king. The first
recipient was the Merovingian Clovis, but a drop of oil from the Sainte Ampoule mixed with chrism was
afterwards used for anointing the kings of France.

The chrism was introduced into English coronations, for the first time probably at the coronation of Edward
II. To rival the French story another miracle was related that the Virgin Mary had appeared to Thomas
Becket, and had given him a vessel with holy oil, which at some future period was to be used for the
anointing of the English king. A full account of this miracle, and the subsequent finding of the vessel, is
contained in a letter written in 1318 by Pope John XXII to Edward II. The chrism was used in addition to
the holy oil. The king was anointed with the oil, and next signed on the head with the chrism. As a result of
the legendary origin of the oil, comparisons with Christ could be freely made. (Figgis xviii).
8
SThe oil may have linked Richard II with Arthur, at least in the literary sense. Clovis, the French recipient
of the oil, was often confused with Arthur, sometimes with comic results. Fife writes:

Sigisbert VI, a Merovingian king-in-waiting, a century after Charlemagne had robbed the family
of power, pathetically declared himself King Ursus (Bear) and tried to win back the crown from
Louis II. His failure led to exile in Brittany. Thence to England where, out of the blue, it seems,
he founded an English branch of the lost dynasty called Planta... hence the Plantagenets. Which
may be nothing more than pure romance, to give it the polite name (29).

Hence, in the legends surrounding the holy oil, Richard, if anointed, could have been given a place
alongside his "ancestor."









the royal seal. No formal means existed to sidestep the king's authority in this matter,

"but after 1383 a pattern began to develop which witnessed a decline in the use of the

privy seal to authenticate chancery warrants." It seems that the signet seal was repeatedly

used to move the great seal, and Richard expressed his power through the use of a

personal signet ring. In spite of his youth and the existence of a king's secretary, Richard

seems to have blatantly taken advantage of a loophole in the system (Wiswall 11).

Richard apparently used the signet seal to arrange financial matters until 1386, when

Bishop Arundel of Ely refused to recognize the authority of the signet over the great seal.

Roughly during this time, Richard was also seeking other personal symbols of his

kingship, and of his illustrious heritage. Apart from his unusual obsession with

coronation regalia and his unique use of a personal signet ring, he wanted a symbol that

could represent him alone. His first choice seems to have been his uncle John of Gaunt's

livery, the collar of Esses. Apart from being a family emblem, Richard may have been

attracted to the collar because it was an old and unusual type of livery symbol. It had

been used by Gaunt and his retainers at a time when collars were unknown as liveries,

even as far back as 1371. Richard's adoption of the badge was a haughty display of his

own power: when Gaunt returned from Spain in 1389, he was met by his nephew,

Richard II. During the meeting, Gaunt was wearing a collar of Esses but Richard took it

from his uncle's neck at once and placed it on his own. Apparently, this became one of

Richard's many livery badges, since

In 1394 Richard, fourth earl of Arundel, complained in Parliament that the king
was in the habit of wearing the livery collar of the duke of Lancaster and that
persons of the king's retinue did the same. The king answered that he wore the
livery of his uncle Gaunt as a sign of love, as he did the liveries of his other
uncles. In 1392 Richard ordered and paid for a gold collar of seventeen esses and









had another made with esses and the flowers of 'souvenez vous de moi' (Fletcher
191-2)

However, despite the criticism this badge elicited in 1394, it was initially associated with

nobility. John Gower's metrical chronicle, appended to his poem Vox Clamantis, speaks

of the collar of Esses as a gift from heaven: a mark of faithfulness and true nobility

(Fletcher 202).

Richard II possessed a genuine love of heraldic symbols as well, making use of

these symbols as well as badges when it was advantageous for him to do so. For

example, when the king prepared to lead his first army on an expedition to Ireland in

1385, he secured the highly revered banner of St Cuthbert for his journey; added to this

banner were 38 standards of the king's arms and no less than 92 of the arms of St George

delivered from the privy wardrobe. He would also assume the arms of St Edward the

Confessor, a move which had multi-layered significance. 9 It was "designed to impress

not only the wild Irish who held the Confessor in high regard, but also the none too docile

English, with the special sanctity of the king's position as the Confessor's heir" (Gillespie

122).

The adoption of St Edward's heraldic arms seems to have occurred before 1394, a

time in which Richard was already experimenting with other types of livery. Richard

also made extensive use of the livery of the Order of the Garter, distributing robes to the



9 Gillespie writes
Richard's use of St Edward's arms on his first Irish expedition is well known, but there is
evidence to indicate that the king already had begun to impale his arms with the Confessor's
before the death of Queen Anne in 1394, since her arms appear (in at least two surviving
examples) impaled with those of Richard and the Confessor. The symbolic conjunction of
Richard and St Edward is again emphasized by the impaled arms on the reverse of the heavenly
panel of the Wilton Diptych, and it was, of course, immortalized in Richard's selection of his final
resting place adjacent to the Confessor's shrine. It is not necessary to mistake Richard II for either
Sir Lancelot or Giles of Rome to recognize that the heir of Edward III both appreciated and
manipulated chivalric ideas and ideals (122).









noble ladies of the court-a chivalrous, but unorthodox gesture. James L. Gillespie points

out that the statutes of the Order did not limit the distribution of the badge to ladies, and

Richard exercised his freedom in this matter to the fullest extent. Of course, Edward III

had given his court ladies some emblems of the Order of the Garter, but "Richard was the

first monarch to bestow such marks of honor upon women on appreciable scale, and he

remained the most prodigal monarch in his distribution of these robes until the practice

was discontinued by Henry VIII" (Gillespie 132). At least 36 court ladies received the

robes of the Garter, and, as Gillespie points out, Richard seems to have used this custom

to win the support of these ladies' husbands. However, the badge of the Order of the

Garter was more closely associated with Edward III, and, despite the political import of

the Garter, Richard remained unsatisfied by the effects of this livery.

In spite of apparent loyalty between John of Gaunt and his young nephew Richard

II, John of Gaunt's use of the collar of Esses as his household badge may have impelled

Richard to the distribution of his new livery, the badge of the white hart. The decision to

adopt the badge came on the heels of Parliament's attempt to abolish livery, part of

Richard's new rule that no magnate should provide so great a "livery and maintenance as

the King" (Mathew 147). In addition to being a brand new livery symbol, the badge of

the white hart did not have the same significance as the collar of Esses or the badge of the

Garter. It did not imply the same chivalric bonds as knighthood, and yet it was not a

temporary sign of allegiance, as livery badges had been in the past. Instead, it served

primarily political ends, even finding its way to Richard's allies in Spain. Gillespie

claims

A privy seal writ dated 2 July but without regnal year declares that the king has
granted twelve ladies, twelve knights, and ten squires license 'to wear and use our









livery of the stag, each according to his/her estate, in the manner and style as it is
used within our realm of England'. The king also ordered harts fabricated of
gold. One of these was given to the archbishop of Cologne in 1398; a second was
sent to the Byzantine emperor in the following year (133).

Richard gave his badge of the white hart to ladies, gentlemen, and regularly depicted it in

works of art, or included it in the architecture of churches and other buildings. His

intentions here were again political. Between 1394 and 1397, he embraced the idea of

himself as emperor, rather than king, styling himself "entier emperour de son roiaume."

He sent the badge of the white hart to Cologne in an attempt to establish close relations

with the king of that region, and sending the badge of the white hart to the Byzantine

emperor was likewise an attempt to further his aspiration to become "King of the

Romans" or Holy Roman Emperor. This distribution of livery was unlike anything that

had occurred previously, and thus, Richard seems to have redefined the significance of

livery alongside his imperialist ambitions. Gillespie sums up this phenomenon: "The

king's artistic tastes have led historians to search for an intellectualized theory of

kingship behind such a programme...Richard seems to have exploited the visual impact

of conventional symbols to win what support he could" (122).

Although some of these livery traditions were derived from the court of Edward

III, Richard clearly manipulated the system for his own ends. Primarily, it seems that the

use of his livery badges and collars were deliberate efforts to reaffirm the sanctity of his

coronation, and to expand his regnal power. However, just as the symbolism of

Richard's coronation would later be used against him, so too would the proliferation of

new signs and badges-especially that of the white hart.
















CHAPTER 3
THE WHITE HART BADGE AND THE CONTROL OF SIGNS

As I described in the previous chapter, Richard II must have felt the power of

signs, and, in hoping to control the objects of his coronation, he often relied on images

and livery to prove his legitimacy and supremacy as king. However, it was the badge of

the White Hart which afforded Richard this opportunity; it became his representational

image, in which all of his power and his grandeur were invested. At the peak of his

popularity, the badge reflected Richard II's sophisticated, deft use of signs; and yet, his

unbalanced policies, political favoritism, and his grievous mistreatment of the livery

system would later besmirch the glory of the badge. When Richard's power waxed, the

White Hart badge was celebrated; added to the decoration of Westminster Hall,

Westminster Abbey and all-pervasive in the Wilton Diptych.1 However, unfortunately

for Richard, when his power waned, and after his deposition, it also became emblematic

of all of his regnal indiscretions. 2





1 The Hall remains a monument to Richard's court architecture: it was decorated with carvings of white
harts, and was intended to be used for court feasts and court ceremonials. In all Richard spent 12,304 on
Westminster during his last years (N Lillic%" 36). It was also depicted on plates, banners, manuscripts,
textiles, seals, and many other household items (Gordon 50).

2 His indiscretions and injustices were manifold. He tampered with the Rolls of Parliament; he altered and
nullified statutes agreed upon by both houses of Parliament. He exercised a dispensing power that was
liberal beyond the custom of such a king as Edward III; in various ways he showed that he regarded neither
law nor custom as binding his action (Figgis 75-76). There can be no question that by these measures
Richard was attempting to create a written constitution, a lex regia which should save the rights of the
English Crown forever. It is made high treason to attempt the repeal of the statutes; all solemnly swear to
keep them (Figgis 76). The poet of Richard the Redeless touches on most, if not all of these unjust acts.









John Bowers may be right in suggesting that Richard II "anticipated by nearly

three centuries the insights of Pascal" (80). For the elegance of the monarch, and overt

displays of supremacy through spectacle, will inevitably contribute to the effectiveness of

the king's badges and other signs. His power can become invested in signs, only through

outward displays of authority. Pascal writes

The custom of seeing kings accompanied by guards, drums, officers and all those
things that bend the machine toward respect and terror, cause their face to imprint
on their subjects respect and terror even when they appear by themselves, because
one does not separate in thought their persons from the retinues with which they
are ordinarily seen. And the world, which does not know that the effect comes
from this custom, thinks that it comes from a natural force; and from that comes
these words: "The character of Divinity is imprinted on his face, etc" (qtd. in
Marin 14).

According to Pascal, the grandeur that one attributes to the king comes from the

consistent association of the king with a certain vision of power. Through this act, the

king's physical body seems to become an iconic sign, as the connection between the

signifier-the king's physical body, and the signifier-unusual divinity or grace, become

habitual.

As Kent Grayson observes, when we are able to see the object in the sign, we

begin to feel that the icon has brought us closer to the truth of that object; this effect is

usually more powerful than anything an index or a symbol might create. Grayson points

out the obvious problem of this representational framework:

instead of drawing our attention to the gaps that always exist in representation,
iconic experiences encourage us subconsciously to fill in these gaps and then to
believe that there were no gaps in the first place... This is the paradox of
representation: it may deceive most when we think it works best (41).

As long as the king maintains a consistent self-image, and continues to impress the public

with his own grandeur, the duplicity of such iconic signs will remain unbroken. The









signs of the king-his portraits, his badges, his liveries-will also carry the same

paradox. They correspond to the king's physical person, and, justified by their

relationship to his image as an iconic sign, operate metonymically as signs in their own

right. In the words of William of Ockham, the sign "does not make us know something

for the first time, as has been shown elsewhere; it only makes us know something

actually which we already know habitually" (49).

Consequently, a badge can represent what is already believed about the

sovereign's character, eliciting the same type response of awe and reverence as the king's

actual presence. As Louis Marin tells us, the king's image really is different from the

image or insignia of a feudal lord or guild; "the king's world is set free in the infinity of

each of his subjects representations" (xii). Subjects, once dazzled by the spectacle of the

king, and swayed by the discourse of the court, will see the king's fragmentary presence

embodied in his signs.

It is not my intention to suggest that Richard II reasoned his own use of the White

Hart badge in with the precise theoretical knowledge described by Marin. However, his

almost obsessive attention to spectacle, as well as his belief in the uncontestable authority

of his own livery suggests that his own thought process must have been along similar

lines. He seems to have truly believed that his signs directly signified his royal person,

and that his livery could further his imperialist goals to become the sign of his

unquestioned majesty.

Like Pascal, Richard clearly understood that "elegance as a means of showing

one's power" (54) also applied to the selection of a badge. Originally a favorite piece of

Richard's jewelry, Richard seems to have chosen the White Hart as his livery badge










partly because he appreciated its ornamental and traditional quality. When worn, the

badge would have been sewn or fixed to the left breast. Even the less expensive variety

were extravagant; if worked in cloth, it was of white silk with the crown and chain

patterned in gold thread. If wrought in metal, it was often gold or pewter-more

expensive badges for magnates could be a jewel, or set with rubies and sapphires.2 ome

of the more delicate badges were made of mail en ronde bosse (opaque white enamel

fused over gold), a technique practiced on the Continent and perfected in France.

In addition to the badge's obvious physical beauty, it was introduced during one

of Richard's most elaborate displays of regal authority. The chronicler of the Vita

Ricardi Secundi provides us with the only existing account of the White Hart badge's

first appearance: at the Smithfield Tournament in 1390, he flaunted the principal image of
-3 Besides his heraldic
a white hart with a crown and a gold chain among his typical arms.3 Besides his heraldic

and livery symbols, he wore his crown and full regalia, resplendently enthroned before at

least two hundred visitors from France, Germany, and other regions. Richard clearly

used the Smithfield tournament as an opportunity to become the focus of royal spectacle,

"as well as foster his ambition for imperial promotion" by displaying his new symbol to

foreign dignitaries (Bowers 97). By appearing in full regal dress, and by impressing


1Richard, exceedingly fond of jewelry, routinely added a number of different gilded or bejeweled emblems
to his wardrobe. An elaborate pair of broomscod collars, symbolizing his Plantagenet ancestry, were even
more exquisite-one was decorated with four rubies, three sapphires and twenty-seven pearls and the other
with twenty-three pearls and a ruby (N Litihc 28). Richard also owned several golden brooches of White
Harts, pledging five of them as security for a loan from the City of London in 1379.

2 Mathew, 27-28.

3 The monk of Evesham writes: "Decimon, undecimo, et duodecimo die mensis Octobris rex tenuit suam
magnam curiam in episcopate London, et apud Smythfeld hastilidia grandia. Ad quam curiam uenerunt
extranei de Francia, de Selandia, de Alemannia, et de aliis partibus, ducentes secum equos optimos, et
arma pertinencia, ubi datum eratprimo signum uel ogil,, illud egregium in ceruo albo, cum corona et
catena aurea" (Historia Vita 132).









onlookers with his magnificence, that glory could then be transferred, at least in the

public mind, to the badge itself.

The demonstration of Richard's power at the Smithfield tournament only

augmented the badge's already layered significance. Firstly, it verified his link to his

royal ancestors; Edward the Black Prince owned a bedspread that depicted a White Hart

encircled with the arms of Kent, suggesting that the white hart, or, more precisely, the

white hind, was the emblem of Richard's mother.4 However, the white hart also provided

an important link to the Continent, which appealed to Richard's fascination with

European culture and his imperialist aspirations. Bowers explains that Charles VI of

France wore a similar badge from as early as 1380, "because he was reported to have

captured a white hart wearing a crown-collar with the inscription 'Caesar hoc mihi

donavit'" (97). Richard must have intended to draw on the connection; a crown collar

was clearly added to his mother's emblem, creating the familiar symbol of the cervus

reservatus pictured on the exterior cover of the Wilton Diptych.

Whatever his intentions were, the actual reason why Richard chose to reintroduce

livery at this moment is still unclear. John Bowers, Paul Strohm, and many other critics

see the adoption of the White Hart badge as a necessary step in the progression toward

his absolutist goal. Nigel Saul proposes a number of solutions, suggesting, among other

things, that Richard was ingrained with a love of badges and liveries from an early age,

and that the display at Smithfield marks a point when Richard was "deliberately fostering

a more elaborate and ceremonial style of monarchy" (340). This new style stressed:


4His mother, Joan of Kent, had as badge a white hind. This white hind was also borne by Thomas
Holland, Earl of Kent, her son by her first husband. There is also a theory that suggests Richard II
adopted the emblem because it was a pun on his own name, evident in the French spelling "Richart"
(Rothery 225).









The glossy impressions which official means of simulation leave upon
spectators-whether by direct address or through modes appealing to collective
distraction-tear attention asunder; they force the viewer or consumer into a
glazed state of astonishment. Subjects are produced when they lose critical or
historical conscience; when they succumb to dazzlement or charm of any origin
(Conley, xii).


According to Saul, by this act, Richard II refashioned the image of the king, elevating

himself to a higher level of mystique and supremacy. However, although the badge of

the White Hart might have been the closest Richard II came to reinventing the image of

the king, he had been refining his use of symbols for quite some time.

Early Attempts at Livery

The events at Smithfield were not the first example of Richard II's deftness at the

manipulation of signs and symbols, and it seems that he seized upon any moment that

could create a tableau of his supremacy as king. In an unforgettable moment, he took the

collar of Esses off the shoulders of his uncle John of Gaunt, and placed it around his own

neck, a gesture that symbolically asserted his claim to the throne, not only by usurping a

symbolic link to the Lancastrians, but also by publicly demonstrating his command over

his uncle. This spectacle of signification, like so many others throughout the king's

career, was undoubtedly designed to impress the onlookers with the incontestability of

his reign. Many of his personal symbols, like the collar of Esses, were chosen

deliberately, meant to externalize his claim to the throne and affirm his place among the

long line of illustrious kings.5



5 The collar of Esses allowed for a Lancastrian family connection, and the badge of the Order of the Garter
demonstrated his link to Edward III. He also used the sun in splendor or a sun burst, a branch of broomscod
symbolizing his Plantagenet ancestry, and a white falcon, derived from Edward II. These symbols, although
overshadowed by the badge of the white hart, were not only important in Richard's lifetime, but in his
death as well; the effigies of Richard II and Anne of Bohemia are heavily decorated with all of these
badges, including, not only the white hart, the sun-burst, and the broom sprigs on that of the king, but the









He also delighted in banners, heraldic emblems,6 and liveries of every type,

experimenting with badges even before he filched the collar from John of Gaunt's neck in

1389. Richard's first attempt at livery was the unlikely choice of Gilt Crowns-a

universal, and somewhat generic symbol of kingship. The Westminster Chronicler

explains that, after visiting a number of councils around the country, the king visited

Cheshire, Wales, and Shrewsbury in 1387, taking a great many men into his personal

service. He also sent a serjeant at mace into Essex, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk

who

was commissioned to cause the more substantial and influential inhabitants of
those counties to swear that to the exclusion of all other lords whatsoever they
would hold with him as their true king, and they were to be given badges,
consisting of silver and gilt crowns, with the intention that whenever they were
called upon to do so they should join the king, armed and ready. This serjeant
was eventually arrested in those parts, not far from Cambridge, and committed to
prison (West. 187).


Eleanor Schifele suggests that the failure of the Gilt crown badge may have encouraged

the adoption of a replacement badge. However, one wonders why Richard II would have

bothered to replace the badge at all; the dismal failure of the Gilt Crown badge and other

political disputes surrounding the king's rights to liveried maintenance should have

discouraged Richard from continuing the practice.7



ostrich and a peculiar knot on that of the queen. For a fuller discussion of the golden funeral effigies of the
king and queen see St. John Hope, 173.

6In 1382 Richard II, who used the same arms as his grandfather, a quarterly shield of Old France and
England, married Anne of Bohemia, daughter of the Emperor Charles IV. Her shield was also a quartered
one, so the combined arms of the king and his queen, as shown upon her seal, formed a shield of eight
quarters. This was further complicated through the later assumptions by King Richard of the arms assigned
to St. Edward, a cross between five birds; and the eight quartered shield with this clumsy addition at one
side is immortalized in the Felbrigge brass. For a picture of the shield, see St. John Hope, 89.

7 During the Merciless Parliament, Robert de Vere was charged with abusing the privilege of the livery
system, having "caused the king to have a great retinue of sundry people and to give them sundry badges









As I have already mentioned, signs at this point in Richard's reign were already

mistrusted, as evidence by The Cambridge Parliament in 1388. This attack on livery and

maintenance highlighted its dangerous side, claiming that the unregulated and somewhat

haphazard distribution of badges and other symbols allowed for a breakdown in the social

hierarchy. The demand for restrictions on livery was in response to the lawlessness of

men retained by lesser lords, as well as the irresponsibility of the magnates; however, the

Westminster Chronicler hints at an even more important problem with badges:

At this parliament the commons complained bitterly about the badges issued by
the lords, "since those who wear them are, by reason of the power of their
masters, flown with such insolent arrogance that they do not shrink from
practicing [various extortions in the countryside] it is certainly the boldness
inspired by their badges that makes them unafraid to do these things and more
besides" (354).

Although the chronicler often expresses dislike for the abuse of badges or symbols of

livery, it is significant that he includes a direct quotation from the petition read to

Commons. This suggests that the general population at that time was aware of the

deception that badges seem to possess. In this instance, the sign seems uncontrollable and

duplicitous because the relationship between the signifier (the physical badge) and the

original signified (the liveried relationship) has suffered an aperture. Once the signified

fissure becomes replaced by the arrogance of the bearers, the sign itself becomes suspect,

and the badges would be vilified.

Although the lords offered, as they had traditionally, to discover those responsible

for unlawful activity and punish them, this answer could not satisfy Commons. The

origin for the unrest resided in the badges, not the men, and commons argued that "peace

and quiet in the kingdom" could only be achieved if badges were abolished altogether. In

otherwise than was wont to be done of ancient time by any kings his progenitors" (West. 90). John Bowers
also points out that the Duke of Ireland, when exiled, was forced to forfeit his livery (96).









a characteristically ostentatious gesture, Richard II intervened with an unexpected offer,

pledging, for the sake of tranquility, and in order to set an example to others, to discard

his own badges. He supported Parliament's decision to forestall bestowing or bearing

livery-an act which pleased commons and sent the lords into an uproar. In a deft

political move, he ensured harmony by allowing the lords to continue the distribution of

livery "until the next parliament in the hope that in the meantime amendment will be

effected by him and the lords of his council" (West. 357).

Richard's theatrical suggestion that he set his own signa was an attempt to use his

subjects' apprehension about short-term affiliation for his own ends. His temporary

success in securing public favor by this gesture was unsurprising; the decision did

nothing to impede the distribution of livery-it was merely a brief, probably insincere

expression of anti-livery sentiment, and a promise to take the matter under consideration

at a later time. However, this gesture, just like his previous experiments with livery, was

also a moment in which he flaunted his own power-as a king, he "performs" a particular

role for the crowd. Strohm notes that "At this moment, he does not simply express an

opinion but makes himself into an exemplum, an example of correct behavior" (64).

The "skillful handling of the badges issue"8 suggests that Richard had reached a

new level of self-assurance and sophistication in his kingship; he was rapidly learning to

"control" symbols, both by distributing them, and by taking them away. However,

Strohm may be right in claiming that

so large, varied, and influential a body of discourse as that directed against
liveries may be briefly turned to one account or another, it cannot be securely
possessed-or not, at any rate, by anyone so deficient as Richard in the art of
consistent self-portrayal (Hochon's Arrow 182-183)

8 For Further information on this issue, see Saul, 200.











In January 1390, the parliamentary Commons asked Richard II to keep his promise and

discard his badges, and, as many critics have noted, a compromise ordinance was

reached.9 Richard however, continued to hold the belief that no livery could surpass that

of the king, and amended the ordinance to reflect his powers in the matter.10 Despite his

promise to abolish his own livery signs, Richard would outdo the lavish circulation of

Gilt Crown badges in 1387 with the adoption of the White Hart badge in 1390. Instead of

keeping his promise to abolish his own badges, he introduced a "livery that he yaf lordes

& ladies, knights and skquiers, for to know his housholde from other people" (Brut 343).

However, Richard's primary use for this livery was not merely to distinguish his own

household from others, but to expand his own power. Badges, as Bowers explains, could

only be worn by members of a lord' sfamilia, so Richard simply added scores of men to

his household and bestowed livery on them, thus assuring himself a large retinue.

The Badge of the White Hart and the Wilton Diptych

One wonders why Richard II would have chosen to fall-back on livery to win

political support, especially after his humiliating failure at livery in 1387 and the debacle

at Parliament in 1388. In both cases, he had attempted to exercise control over liveried

signs and failed. However, it seems that Richard began to feel the full power of his office

during this period, and that he toyed with an entirely new rhetoric of kingship. This new

rhetoric was designed to establish himself utterly as king, and in these years he reasserted

the rights of his Crown above the control of the appellants. First, he redefined the


9 In this ordinance, liveries were restricted to household servants, "as well as knights and esquires retained
under written indenture by bannerets and above." (Bowers 97).

10 See the Historia Anglicana, 196, for a full account of this meeting of Parliament. Mathew 147 provides a
summary of this and other policy changes effected during 1390.









rhetoric of respect at court, introducing a new and lavish vocabulary with which he would

reaffirm, and even increase his royal majesty. Saul explains that "the king was referred

to as a 'prince' and addressed as 'your majesty' and 'your highness'... The lofty language

complemented such other expressions of deference as bowing or averting the gaze"

(340). The Ricardian concept of regality, especially his insistence of court etiquette and

ostentation, was, as always, designed to impress spectators with the splendor and sanctity

of his royal office.11

His restructuring of all facets of courtly life, especially his relationship with his

subjects, was based on the new semantic system and intended to highlight his increasing

authority. By stressing the power of respect within the representative framework of

kingship, Richard II may have been doing more than massaging his royal ego. For, as

Marin tells us:

Unlike the production of goods for the master's use, in which the slave
"inconveniences himself' because the master needs them, this production of the
use-value includes a plus-value [with signs this] plus value [always reflects the]
discourse [of] power. In effect, these goods... are less of use than of significance.
They indicate, furthermore and all the more so, the mastery of the master (29).

In other words, the words of respect used to address one's master or sovereign prove no

usefulness, apart from their ability to further the image of the master's greatness. Perhaps

Richard II was thinking of William of Ockham, when he suggests: "Words are not

connected primarily to concepts and then, through mental mediation, to things; they are

directly imposed upon things and states of affairs" (qtd in On the Medieval 64). Or,

perhaps he recognized the importance of what Boethius suggests "voces significare


11 See R.H. Jones, 97.










conceptss; to speak the name of the king is to bring his person into being, and to invoke

the power relationship within the state.12

Whatever his influence, the effect of adopting this new lexis would not be trivial;

beyond simply impressing his courtiers, it was also a deliberate attempt to claim on his

supremacy. "Princeps" or prince outranks "cyning" or king in terms of the type of

sovereignty it represents, and "your highness" suggests a deliberate attempt to insist on

the untouchable sanctity of his Crown. It seems that Richard II, influenced by the

symbolism of his coronation, regarded himself king by virtue of unction and the bestowal

of the royal insignia. As Neville Figgis explains, Richard

was the last person to ignore the significance of the preamble to the great Statute
of Praemunire, which asserts that "this crown of England hath been so free at all
times that it hath been in no earthly subjection in all things touching the regality
of the said Crown.13

As a result, Richard II did not distinguish between what Ernst Kantorowicz calls, "The

King's Two Bodies,"14 believing that the king's physical person and the Crown were one

and the same.15 Richard II therefore became the origin of law and king by God's grace

and birthright; he can be bound by no earthly custom. The signs of kingship in the


12 See William of Ockham, vocee institute ad oim,,i,,t. .i.ih, liquid ,,i iif,. ,ti per conceptum mentis, si
concepts ille mutaret ,. -,ii;,, liii suum eo ipso ipsa vox, sine nova institution, suum ,;.-,. 1;,. 1,li
permutaret... Sic etiam intendit Boethius quando dicit voces significare concepts" (Summa 1.8). Ockham's
source is Boethius, the second book of In librum De Interpretatione.

13 16 Ric. II c.5, Statutes of the Realm, qtd in Figgis 73.

14 Kantorowicz explains that the difference between the Crown as a symbolic, incorporeal body and the
king's actual body was one of the most crucial distinctions made in the theory of the King's Two Bodies.
The "incarnation of the body politic in a king of flesh not only does away with the human imperfections of
the body natural, but conveys 'immortality' to the individual king as King" (13). In essence, this affords
the king a kind of "super body," while simultaneously creating the need for the king to project the image of
"manhood."

15 Richard was always guarding the privileges of the Crown. These attempts culminated in 1398, the year
before his fall, when he proclaimed in his extension of the Law of Treason that every attempt against the
king's physical person was a crime of "high treason against the Crown" (Figgis 79).









coronation ceremony conferred this ineffaceable mark of sacramental grace upon him.16

Thus, he was "absolute" monarch, and his physical presence of the king should elicit awe

and respect from his subjects.

A consequence of this heightened sense of respect toward the king himself would

be elevated respect for his badges. Under an absolutist monarch, badges and signs of

kingship reflect his power, and "in effect, [attract] respect toward themselves" (Marin

30). The signs and badges of the king become the delegates of the king, and represent the

dignity and force of his rule. As anointed sovereign, Richard II could have easily, albeit

foolishly, believed that all signs and badges both signified and denoted17 his own

personal glory. As the epicenter of power in the realm, all signs connected to him would

radiate his own authority back to him. Through signs, Richard could hope to project the

power of the king into the masses and assert his own rights of kingship.

The Wilton Diptych provides the most tantalizing evidence of the way in which

Richard II was viewed, or wished to be viewed.18 The Diptych is doubtless another

example of Richard's interest in coronation regalia as a method of externalizing the

sacred status of his kingship-a desire that preoccupied him for much of the early 1390's.

Richard could not restage his coronation, but the Diptych evidences his desire to return to

it; the eleven angels around him and his youthful appearance suggest that he is being

envisioned during his eleventh year, at the time of his coronation. Moreover, despite the

religious function of the Diptych, the item is intended, not to portray Richard II


16 Even after his despotism, he still believed in the sacred vow of kingship. As Figgis tells us, he directed
in his will, that he should receive a royal funeral (79).
17 As Eco claims, "for 'denotatio' one must remember that notaa' was a sign, a token, a symbol, something
sending back to something else" (On the Medieval 49).

18 The commissioner of the diptych is not known, but many scholars, such as Gervase Mathew and John
Bowers suggests that Richard himself may have been directly responsible for the painting.









worshipping Mary and Christ, but to align him more closely with them. The king is

unquestionably the focus of this painting:

Every figure, with the exception of one angel, either gestures or looks toward
him: the three saints behind him introduce him with their hands, while looking
purposefully towards the Virgin and Child and the circle of eleven angels, who
are all turned towards the king. Even the pointing finger of the angel at the
extreme right was altered from its position in the initial design to point not
upwards at the Virgin and Child but unequivocally towards Richard: every detail
ensures that the viewer looks first, not at the Virgin and Child, but at the kneeling
king (Gordon 22).


As the focus of the scene, Richard dominates, even the Virgin and the Child-a strange

anomaly in an altarpiece. However, his influence in the painting is magnified even

further by the omnipresence of the badge of the White Hart, which appears prominently

on the exterior cover of the Diptych. In the interior scene, Richard II and all eleven

angels wear the badge of the white hart, probably as a show of support for his reign,

since, as Dillian Gordon points out, they are "English angels."

In this context, the initially mundane livery symbol gains a heavenly power.

Bowers posits that the use of the badge of the white hart suggests a familial relationship

between Richard and the angels, beyond his already obvious relationship to the divine

family. From the diptych, it seems as if the eleven angels are about to welcome their

twelfth member into their "heavenly company." Bowers also reminds us that the purpose

of livery badges was "to impose a group identity upon a lord's affinity and to link its

members together horizontally while focusing their joint affinities upon the lord who

retained them" (95). Since the angels become the members of Richard's household, he

can, consequently, elevate himself to a similar plane as the Christ-child, who,

traditionally, is king of the angels.









In the left panel of the Diptych, the royal saints of St. Edmund of East Anglia,

Saint Edward the Confessor, and Saint John the Baptist, patron of Richard stand behind

him in what appears to be a gesture of support. John the Baptist, Richard's patron saint

carries an iconographicc lamb that recalls how he had hailed Christ-"Ecce Agnes

Dei"-as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" (qtd. in Bowers 29).

However, from the spatial composition of the Diptych, and the fact that John the Baptist's

hand rests on Richard's shoulder in what could be a presentational gesture, the lamb

could refer to both Christ and Richard at once.

The fact that Richard and the Christ-Child wear the same shade of gold makes the

connection between them even more explicit. Concealed in the halo of the Christ child

are the thorns and nails of the Crucifixion, and Bowers interprets the juxtaposition of the

Christ child and Richard to mean a kingship characterized by "glory and triumph, but

[also] suffering and sacrifice" (29). Additionally, Christ child blesses a red-cross banner,

which reflects the banner of St. George as patron of the Order of the Garter. Livery (both

Richard's own and that of the Order) is here given a kind of heavenly significance-

although Christ child does not wear the White Hart badge, he gives his blessing to the

banner, demonstrating his own loyalty to it. The overt use of such a symbol connects

Richard to them in the way that he is connected through clothing and the iconography of

the lamb to Christ. Through this display of heavenly, saintly, and familial support,

Richard demands his subjects complete loyalty.

All of the iconography within the Diptych confirms Richard II's reign, and a

plethora of other symbols of Richard's kingship are hidden throughout the diptych.19 If


19 The white hart on the external cover is lying on a bed of rosemary, a symbol of his wife, Anne of
Bohemia. There are also a number of heraldic emblems personal to Richard, including the lion guardant,









the heavens are not enough to legitimize him, he includes links to familial emblems-

especially the Plantagenent symbol of the broom cod, with signifies his ancestry. This

portrayal of the king seem to further his own goals of mystifying his own reign and

presenting himself as a kind of God incarnate. His kingdom becomes a heavenly

kingdom, and he exists as icon-on a semiotic plane unattainable by his mortal subjects,

alongside Mary and Christ.

By linking Richard II openly with Christ, the painter of the Diptych presents an

unambiguous image of the sacred status of his kinship. In fact, in this and other

representations of his public persona, Richard seems to hearken back to an earlier concept

of kingship, which is described in the Norman Anonymous. This view held that the king

was the impersonator of Christ, who, on "the terrestrial stage presented the living image

of the two-natured God" (Kantorowicz 47). In the system of kingship, the consecrated

and anointed king could claim deification, since the act of anointing caused him to

become a more excellent man-by divine grace, he became both mortal and eternal, a

Christus, a God-man.

All of these methods of legitimizing his reign seem, for a time, to have reaped

benefits for Richard. In September 1397, he was more powerful than ever; his majesty

was unchallenged and his livery was, without question, the most potent livery sign in

England. With this symbol, he redefined the relationship between a lord and his

retainers, turning household affiliation into a near-religious alliance. Richard II began

distributing the badge to a select group of 34 courtiers as early as 1398, and in 1399 he

sent the badge off to a number of foreign powers in an attempt to solidify their loyalty to

the red cap of maintenance and silver helmet and the royal arms of England and France ancient (lions and
lilies). Around 1395, Richard impaled the latter emblems with the mythical arms of Edward the Confessor
(Gordon 21).









him; in fact, Richard's international position had never been so strong. By this time he

could boast of a close family alliance with the Valois; the Archbishop of Cologne and the

Elector Palatine, and, as Mathew claims, he was being wooed by Pope Boniface IX.20

Richard, convinced of the sanctity of his office, devoted a great deal of energy to

"guarding", "saving", and expanding his Crown and dignity. "In the shrill tones of the

doctrinaire politician, he repeatedly declares that nothing he does shall threaten his

prerogative" (Figgis 75). Even when he was threatened with deposition by the nobles, he

held steadfastly to his belief in the rights of the Crown and the divinity of his office,

believing that he, as anointed sovereign, could not be "un-kinged" so easily.21

Despite his skilled manipulation of signs and symbols, Richard made a number of

key misjudgments. He seems to have depended on signs and symbols to support and

represent his "greatness" even after his ostentatious court displays and his other attempts

to gain public support waned. This was a major mistake, given that the power of such

devices is directly dependent on their ability to elicit fascination within the public mind.

For we know that "The fabrication of presence yields only a gloss of omnipotence"-an

aura-but not an insurmountable power (Conley xii). A sense of power emerges, not

from the appearance of badges and icons, but from the lustrous image of the king, and the

subject's imagined relationship with that image. This is a system where:

Power can see itself as absolute, for the simple reason that the absolute always
supposes a "relative" with which it must be compared in order to be greater than
all greatness, but that the forgetting or the dissimulation of this relative alone


20 Mathew 151.

21 In Shakespeare's Richard II, Richard II reiterates the "indelible character of the king's body politic, god-
like or angel-like" (Kantorowicz 27). However, throughout the play, these ideas seem to disintegrate,
turning to a state of half-reality, where kingship is merely a nothing, or a nomen. Eventually Richard II has
to "un-king" himself, resigning his office to God alone, perhaps because the immaterial stuff of kingship
can no longer be passed to a worthy incarnation.









permits it to pose itself as absolutely absolute...but [this edifice] also sets the lure
where he recognizes himself in his absoluteness and, at the same time, the trap for
his own desire for omnipotence (Marin 56).


In this phantasmagoric system of kingly representation, the continued control of the king

is based on his ability to present himself within a signifying system. To perform this task

necessitates the continuation of the spectacle, so that signs and symbols will reflect the

glory of the Crown. The image of a king, as a figure of absolute authority, must provide a

point of interaction with his relative inferiors. Subjects then imagine their relationships to

that image, and, will be more likely to accept their subjugation to their majestic king

because they have compared the figure of their king to others, and judged him "greater

than all greatness." This often unconscious judgment on the part of the subject allows

badges and other icons to maintain their own power and ensures the integrity of the chain

of power overall.

It seems that, in spite of his love of icons, Richard did not understand the

theoretical implications of his actions. Instead of concentrating on the image of perfection

and regal majesty that he had earlier cultivated for himself, he deferred to the rights of his

ancestral lineage. Even though he claimed that his supremacy was the "only real

guarantee of the customary lawful rights of his subjects," his actions and his public image

often contradicted this declaration (Jones 99). Moreover, Richard played favorites,

drawing most of his retainers from the western regions, especially Cheshire, which had

supported his father Edward the Black Prince and supported him in 1387. At this early

moment, he did not yet openly contradict the Ordinance of 1390 but he established a

connection with Cheshire, bestowing a few badges on its citizens, thereby allowing them

into his "household." However, his bond with his other subjects, especially the citizens









of London, was already slipping. Discontent with Richard, his political tactics, his

treatment of his subjects, and his use of livery was brewing.

This dissatisfaction with Richard was plain by 1397. In this year, parliamentary

Commons heard Thomas Haxey's petition against the distribution of badges,22 a

complaint which was directed at the king. Richard's response to allegations of

misconduct was of strict defiance. Richard II contentiously replied that "it was contrary

to his regality for subjects to interfere with the governance of his household and,

furthermore, such complaints offended the majesty which he had inherited from his

ancestors" (Bowers 98). In this instance, he flagrantly went against the wishes of

commons, recruiting a "vast retinue of lesser servants, most notably the Cheshire archers,

so that a total of 750 were retained by July 1398 at the annual rate of 514" (Bowers 98).

By this act, he clearly alienated most of his subjects, renewing afresh the old images of

badges as the symbol of arrogance, both Richard's own, and that of his subjects. His

dishonesty towards the vast majority of his subjects was enough to make much of his

grandeur vanish, and cause his badges and livery to lose their original meaning and take

on a different, usually unpleasant significance.

Perhaps as a result of the political problems with livery, and Richard's policies in

general, literary works such as Richard the Redeless and Piers Plowman seem to reflect a

heightened sensitivity to the behavior of such signs. These poets, according to Helen

Barr, long for a "sense of linguistic decorum" when it comes to signs; "signs, if they are

to be used properly, must proceed both from honorable intention and also be in


22There was more at stake than livery itself. The petition presented to parliament by Thomas Haxey was
indeed a broad critique of Richard II's governmental policies; livery was simply the most visible symbol of
a greater problem of Richard's kingship (McHardy 108).









accordance with true action" (66-67). When the signs are used improperly, the entire

signifying system is called into question and corruption results. For, as Barr explains,

"While they ought to enable the system to work in a mutually valuable fashion, they fail

to bring value to the system by concentrating solely on their empty significance" (72).

As a consequence of Richard's political choices and his concept of kingship, the

badge of the White Hart always had binary significance-it was simultaneously the most

beloved and the most despised image of his entire reign. The poet of Richard the

Redeless (c. 1399) recognized this when he cites Richard's livery practices as responsible

for breaking up the kingdom and turning his subjects against him:

Omne regnum in se diuisum desolabitur (luce eleven) 23
Yit am I lewde and litill good schewe
To coveyte knowliche of kyngis wittis,
Or wilne to witte how was the mevynge
That ladde you to lykynge you're liegis to merke,
That loved you full lelly or lyverez {livery} begynne (Redeless Prologue 53-58)


Throughout Richard the Redeless, the poet often repeats a complaint that should be

familiar to us. Those that "lyverez usith"-like the bearers of badges the Westminster

Chronicler describes-give the appearance of goodness, but their overly gaudy display

only masks the immoral ways in which they comport themselves. In fact, the poet

stresses the arrogance that the badges gave the bearers, like those liveried men described

in the proceedings of the Cambridge Parliament of 1388. The poet explains that those

"that had hertes brestes... bare hem the bolder ffor her gay broches." In this environment,

the king would find himself in a sea of symbols, a world of "signes/that swarmed so

thikke" (Redeless 1. 21). The actual effect of such signs, the poet believes, is the

destruction of allegiance, and the creation of mistrust. The king would therefore be

23 Every kingdom divided against itself shall be brought to desolation (Luke 11).









condemned to suffer the fate of his metonymical signs, since they begin to symbolize

anything but Richard's supremacy and regnal control.24

Moreover, Richard's over-confidence in the capacity of signs to act in a

representational sense-as denotations of his own power-would have only remained

intact had he continued to fulfill the image of his sovereignty that he worked so hard to

cultivate in the early years of his reign. Once he deviated from that image, he was unable

to regain it, and any course of action he took might inspire the suspicion of his subjects.

Once a king's power is questioned, usurped, or redefined, in this way, his symbols also

gain a new, unanticipated significance, or lose it entirely. As Umberto Eco explains:

If the real sign for individual things is the concept, and the physical expression
(be it word or image) is only a symptom of the inner image, then without a
previous notitia intuitiva of an object, physical expressions cannot 'mean'
anything. Words or images neither create nor arouse something in the mind of the
addressee (as it could happen in the Augustinian semiotics) if in the mind there is
not, previously, the only possible sign of the experienced reality, namely, the
mental one. Without such an inner sign, the external expression results in being
the symptom of an empty thought (On the Medieval 65).

In other words, without the consistent belief in the inner image, or concept of Richard II

as king, the physical symbols associated with him could not be animated by his power, or

even represent his power. Once the dream of Richard's divinity and dignity had

dissipated, all that was left were signs, and these are empty signifiers. In the words of the

poet of Richard the Redeless:


Thane was it foly/ in faith, as my thynketh,
To sette siluer in signes/ that of nought served.
But moche now me merueilith/ and well may I in soothe,
Of you're large leuerey [livery]/ to leodis about,


24 In fact, as Nick Ronan has pointed out (311-14) the signs themselves become the actors in this farce. The
harts and hinds "acombrede the centre" (1. 29). Ultimately, rather than imagining the behavior of harts to
reflect that of the men who bear them, the poet finds the men to exhibit hart-like behavior.






48


That ye so goodliche gaf/ but if gile letted,
As hertis y-heedyd/ and homyd of kynde
No lede of you're lond but as a liege aughte (Redeless 2.48-49).















CHAPTER 4
THE LIVERY SYSTEM AND THE CONCEPT OF TRA WPE

Richard II was inept at maintaining the signifying system of livery; his

imbalanced distribution of signs, and his inconsistent self-portrayal led the badge of the

White Hart to lose its respectability and become, simply, an empty signifier.

Consequently, his subjects became keenly aware of the arbitrary nature of all signs, and

especially suspicious of those signs which represent their bearers. Like the poet of

Richard the Redeless, the Gawain-poet seems especially sensitive to the problems created

when a sign's signified undergoes unforeseen changes. The purpose of this chapter is to

demonstrate the way in which the livery system and Richard II's manipulation of signs

were likely to have influenced the concepts of signification that appear in Sir Gawain and

the Green Knight.

The identity of the poet responsible for Sir Gawain and the Green Knight has yet

to be discovered, but, as a result of linguistic research, critics have pinpointed his

dialectical area in Cheshire.1 Ad Putter claims that the latest possible date of the

manuscript, based on its illuminations and handwriting, would be 1400. However, in the

same breath, he also suggests that the poem must have been written some time before

1400, as Cotton Nero A.x. is "some stages removed from the author's original" (Putter 3).





1 Ad Putter claims that "a surprising number of contemporary poems in alliterative metre from this region
survive, many of them in the same dialect as the works by the Gawain-poet" (Putter 29).









This evidence is especially tantalizing; it establishes a closer connection between the

Cheshire-born poet of Sir Gawain and the political designs of Richard II, which

contoured late fourteenth-century England.

Moreover, intrinsic evidence from the poem, such as the architectural details of

Castle Hautdesert, further substantiates the evidence for a late fourteenth-century

composition date. This means, as Putter argues, that the Gawain-poet was writing his

Arthurian Romance "around the same time that Geoffrey Chaucer was working on his

Canterbury Tales, that John Gower was completing his first version of the Confessio

Amantis, and that William Langland was rewriting Piers Phowman" (3). Interestingly,

two of these authors composed verses to give Richard advice; Gower's first version of the

Confessio was intended as "wisdom to the wise" (8.1.3059), and Chaucer's "Lak of

Stedfastnesse" would likewise offer Richard an indication of behavior befitting a proper

monarch. However, in their works, Gower and Chaucer more often flatter Richard than

criticize him; it seems that neither poet will risk an open critique of their patron and

sovereign.1

The Concept of Trawpe in Chaucer's and Gower's Works

Although Chaucer's relationship to Richard II may have been that of poet to

patron in a traditional sense, the larger ideological context of Richard's politics does

impact on several of Chaucer's works in interesting ways.2 For example, an obvious

similarity exists between the personage of the God of Love, as described in the Prologue

1 John Gower also advises Richard II in the Vox Clamantis, a letter of some 600 lines, written in Latin
elegiac verse. As Patricia Eberle argues, although he "altered the text at a later date, in this version Gower
refers to criticisms of Richard's government only to defend the young king against his detractors" (Eberle
235). However, since Gower feels compelled to scold the king about his apparent bo\ iih" attitude, we can
surmise that this attribute was noted, and exploited by those who would defame Richard II.
2 See Strohm, Hochon's Arrow, 72.









to the Legend of Good Women, and Richard II. Chaucer describes the god of love as a

figure clothed in silk, with green embroidery, and red rose leaves, an outfit strikingly

similar to one of Richard's most expensive dresses.3 Likewise, the physical

characteristics of this god match Richard's own almost exactly-he is described with

"gilte heer [corouned] with a sonne" and a face which "shoon so brighte/That wel

unnethes might I him beholde" (Legend, Prologue 220-233).4 This portrayal, if it is

indeed a reflection of Richard II, is basically a positive one, despite a subtle hint of the

luminous god of love's possible cruelty-his stern gaze makes the poet's "herte colde"

(Legend, Prologue 240).

Chaucer may have continued to think of the image of Richard II when developing

The Canterbury Tales. David Wallace sees a parallel between the young, godlike

protagonist of the "Manciple's Tale" and that "flour of bachilrie" (9.125), Richard II.

According to Wallace, images of "youthful Richard as Phoebus personified (jousting in

armor embellished with his grandfather's celebrated sun badge) seem almost too

apposite" (257). Beyond evoking this particular tableau of the king, Chaucer brings in an

iconic sign for his readers-Phoebus' bow. This bow is a clear iconic sign, with obvious

implications in meaning; for this reason, it can be a better indication of the qualities of




3 Richard is stated to have owned a dress such as this valued at more than a 1000; it was perhaps not too
dissimilar from that worn by Youth in the Parlement of Thre Ages, or this dress from the Legend of Good
Women-green patterned in gold thread (N Ilaic%' 14). Another possible inspiration for this outfit might not
have been Richard himself but Sir Simon Burley, Richard's tutor and close advisor, who owned a tabard of
cloth-of-gold embroidered with roses and lined with green tartarine (N Liici' 26).

4 Richard was undeniably attractive; Nigel Saul remarks that, in the 1370s, Richard "was probably Europe's
most eligible bachelor. He was young, personable and handsome" (Saul 83). Even the chronicler of the
Vita Ricardi Secundi, who disapproved of Richard in general, remarks on his beauty. He describes a man
whose "shining hair flowed; his face was white and round and feminine, often flushed with phlegmatic
blood" (Vita Ricardi 11).









this figure than the cloudy reference to the "fyry dartes" which are held by the god of

love in the Legend of Good Women.

The inclusion of the bow is an interesting element within Chaucer's retelling of

the familiar fable. In the Confessio Amantis, Gower gives Phoebus a "nobler" weapon,

the sword, but other versions, such as those in Ovid, and the Ovide Moralise, adhere to

the traditional bow and arrow as the image of Phoebus.5 Perhaps Chaucer had a specific

reason for selecting the traditional weapon; in the "Manciple's Tale" the bow is not

merely a weapon, but a thing of great power-it is introduced, notably, as a "signe"-a

description which does not exist in any other version. Chaucer writes:

This Phebus, that was flour of bachilrie,
As wel in freedom as in chivalrie,
For his desport, in signe eek of victories
Of Phitoun, so as telleth us the store,
Was wont to beren in his hand a bowe (125-129).

In this context, the bow becomes an important part of the iconic sign; Phoebus, the flower

of knighthood and chivalry, could easily be recognized by the bow he carries with him.

David Wallace argues that the bow "performs a semiotic function equivalent to that of a

livery badge."6 By conceptualizing Phoebus Apollo as an archer-god, Chaucer recalls the

icon of Cupid and is able to empower him with the force of that image. The result is two

icons which seem nearly inseparable from one another; Wallace claims that "there is, in

fact, little to distinguish this figure from the Legend's God of Love" (257). Thus, since


5See Gower, Confessio Amantis, ed. Macaulay, 3.800-801: "And he for wraththe his swerd
outbreide,/With which Comide anon he slowh." Ovid, the Ovide moralism, and Machaut (in the Voir Dit) all
supply Phoebus with a bow and arrow.
6 Not just any livery badge. Wallace is here referring to a specific moment in the Ricardian program, when
Richard relied heavily upon the liveried Cheshire archers to act as his personal bodyguards "The bow itself
[proved] to be the most potent and terrifying symbol of Richard's personal authority." Wallace then points
to the incident in 1397 in which the archers had terrified "an open air parliament with the prospect of
imminent death" (Wallace 257).









Pheobus takes and assimilates the known icon of Cupid into his own iconography, the

sign of the bow may "come to summon mental images of Phoebus" and not Cupid only

(Wallace 257).

The fate of the sign in the "Maniciple's tale" is not markedly different from the

signs are viewed in Piers Plowman and Richard the Redeless. The initial correspondence

between the signifier and signified contributes to the vision of Phoebus as iconic sign.

His nobility and integrity are conceptualized within a single image; Chaucer tells us "And

many another noble worthy dede/He with his bowe wroghte, as men may rede" (9, 112).

However, this tale is concerned with exposing the truth behind the representational sign,

and the attractive icon is eventually shattered. The revelation of the "stable and also so

true" wife's "untrewe" behavior begins to unmask the deception behind the image. In

turn, the adulterous "vileyne" of Pheobus' wife causes his dishonor, and, in "his ire" he

kills her with his bow and arrow.

The bow, now associated with an act of murder, can no longer carry the meaning

of nobility that it once held. As a result, the previous iconic sign becomes defunct and

indeterminate-it becomes a thing lost in ambiguity and confusion. After slaying his

wife, Chaucer tells us that Phoebus "brak his arwes and his bowe" (9. 269), destroying

his former image. This gesture causes a new sign to arise from the "body of the hapless

crow: his loss of song, white feathers, and absence from court will henceforth be read as

"tokenynge" (9.302) of his guilt as an accessory to wife-slaying" (Wallace 257).

Ultimately, the original iconic image of Phoebus, the bow, is evacuated of its power and

presence, and replaced with an empty song, an absence, a loss.









In all probability, the Gawain-poet did not read Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.

However, the treatment of the sign in Sir Gawain follows a remarkably similar pattern

overall; first, there is the representation of Gawain as the knight of "trawbe" realized in

the iconic sign of the pentangle, a sign that is later metaphorically broken by his disgrace.

The previous iconic sign, the pentangle, is replaced by a green girdle, which is initially

the symbol of "ire" and outrage, and then becomes a token of guilt and shame. As

Gawain explains:

'Pis is be bende of fis blame I bere in my nek,
Pis is be lafe and e losse bat I la3t haue
Ofcouardise and couetyse Pat I hafca3t bare;
Pis is be token of vntrawbee at I am tan inne,
And I mot nedez hit were wyle I may last;
For mon may hyden his harme, bot vnhap ne may hit,
For ber hit onez is tachched twynne wil hit neuer' (Gawain lines 2506-2512).

In this context, the defeat of Gawain, as Chaucer demonstrates with Phoebus, causes the

iconic sign to be broken. When this occurs, the leftover signifiers-liveries and badges

especially-must be discarded or granted some new significance. Accordingly, the token

of Phoebus' guilt is reflected by the crow, and, likewise, Gawain sees his own shame in

"fe token ofvntrawfe "- the green girdle.

The obvious parallel between Gawain's situation and Phoebus' is that both

characters wind up committing acts of "vntrawfe" in the hopes of preserving their honor,

and their reputations. However, the "Maniciple's tale" offers its readers some words of

advice in order to avoid the problems encountered by Phoebus. The author warns against

using "wikked" words and lies, since they lead to betrayal, and claims that

[he] that hath mysseyd, I dar wel sayn,
He may by no wey clepe his word agayn.
Thyng that is seyd is seyd, and forth it gooth,
Though hym repente, or be hym never so looth.









He is his thral to whom that he hath sayd
A tale of which he is now yvele apayd.
My sone, be war, and be noon auctour newe
Of tidynges, whether they been false or trewe.
Whereso thou come, amonges hye or lowe,
Kepe wel thy tonge and thenk upon the crowe (9. 353-362).

In this instance, the moral of the tale is to remain truthful, and restrain your tongue, lest

you suffer the fate of the crow, which was rendered speechless and thrown out of the

house. Ultimately, this tale serves as a warning, urging that its readers remain mindful

of honesty and mindful of that which is "-I iei ei."

Such a "deep moral concern with trawfe is not in itself exceptional"; according to

Ad Putter, "it occupied many of the Gawain-poet's contemporaries" (44). In addition to

Chaucer, Gower, in the Confessio, refers to the exact problem of kingship and truth:

And the vertus which are assisted
Unto a kinges Regiment,
To take in his entendement:
Wherof to tellen, as thei stonde,
Hierafterward nou woll I fonde.
Among the vertus on is chief,
And that is trouthe, which is lief
To god and ek to man also (Confessio VII, 1719-1725).


It seems that the Ricardian poets had put trawfe high on their agendas, since Gower and

Chaucer both refer to the necessity of true and plain words, devoid of "double speche."7

This focus was probably a result of the tumultuous political situation of Richard's later

years; his own double-talk, compounded by the misuse of livery and maintenance, and

myriad social upheavals had forced these poets to come to terms with a complex and

fluid system of relationships. In short, their society seems to exalt trawfe as the highest


7 Gower ultimately offers the same advice as is found in Chaucer's "Manciple's Tale." Gower writes: "The
word is tokne of that withinne,/Ther schal a worth king beginner/To kepe his tunge and to be trewe/So
schal his pris ben evere newe" (Confessio 1737-1740)









virtue because keeping promises and honoring contracts is vital in a society that has "lost

confidence in its immutability" (Putter 45).

However, the puzzle of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is that, despite similar

ideological concerns with contemporary works, the poem does not end with an outright

condemnation of Gawain's lack of trawpe or a moral rejoinder. Instead, as Barron

observes "we have been invited to laugh at Gawain" (144). The sign of dishonor, the

green girdle, is given a new meaning under the auspices of Camelot; rather than simply

signifying the emptiness of Gawain's former image, it becomes a symbol of honor, and

seemingly becomes an iconic sign in its own right. For the Gawain-poet explains:

Pat lordes and ladis Pat longed to pe Table,
Vche burne offe broperhede, a bauderyk schulde haue,
A bende abelefhym about ofa bry3t grene,
And at, for sake of fat segge, in swete to were.
For Pat watz acordedpe renoun of e Rounde Table,
And he honoured at hit hade euermore after,
As hit is breued in pe best boke of romance (Gawain 2515-2519).

The iconic sign of truth, seen in Gawain's pentangle, is broken by the deception of his

host, and then, after a brief flirtation with emptiness and shame accorded to the failed

sign in other contemporary works, the girdle gains an unexpected significance. It

becomes a sign of honor-the liveried sign of the renown and honor of the Round Table.

Furthermore, this livery functions as the final iconic sign in the text, the indelible image

that will forever appear in the best book of Romance.

There is a positive dimension to the liveried signs in Sir Gawain that does not

necessarily appear in other contemporary works. It is impossible to know the poet's

exact motivation for this shift, but one can suggest that, like Chaucer, he was responding

to the climate of Richard II's reign. He seems to have had intimate knowledge of









Richard's courtly practices. Richard II's court would eventually find its nub in that

region, "culminating in his elevation of the earldom of Cheshire to an independent

principality within the realm" (Putter 31). Richard II's recruitment policies repeatedly

demonstrated a predilection for Cheshiremen, and they reciprocated with loyalty to the

Crown and to the badge of the White Hart. Thus, the Cheshire-born Gawain-poet,

although probably not a court-poet, was nevertheless

steadily and specifically royalist, revealing a concern for the precise practice of
kingship by his obsessive recourse to regalian images. Themes of kingship are
explicit throughout the five poems attributed to him, even in the overtly moral and
religious poem Cleanness, whose central theme turns out to be distinctly
Ricardian8 in terms of what the documentary record tells us (Bowers 16).

In Cleanness, the poet demonstrates an obvious familiarity with Richard's political

strategies and persona, and as Bowers asserts, he even seems to indirectly praise

Richard's hygienic fastidiousness by linking it with God's perfect cleanliness.9

Cheshire had a history of gladly accepting the liveries of the king; in 1387, during

a ten-month "gyration" through the region, Richard recruited the Cheshire archers with

badges of golden crowns, and in later years, he awarded them his badge of the White

Hart, and for a time, the banner of St. George, also the banner of the Order of the Garter,

flew over Cheshire. And, for a time, the sublime nature of livery that Richard II longed

to illustrate, in Cheshire and elsewhere, seems to have influenced the Gawain-poet. For

example, the Pearl Queen and the rest of the divine procession, as Bowers explains, "are

clothed in identical gowns. And the poet invokes the precise terminology of 'livery' so

that they might not be confused with some religious order: 'And all in sute her liure3


8 Bowers is here referring to Richard's obsession with "personal cleanness." Richard II was meticulous in
this regard; he constructed bath-houses with hot and cold water, both for himself and for his subjects,
introduced the practice of eating with spoons, and invented the handkerchief (16).

9 See Bowers, 16.









wasse" (Pearl line 1108). The liveried procession, in this context, remains idealized, a

"triumphal celebration" of eternal life, and the dream of perfect and serene fraternity

(Bowers 139). In Pearl, livery bears no trace of a corruptive, or potentially corruptive

influence-instead, it is a sign of redemption.

The North West Midlands was in the foreground during the dramatic final years

of Richard II, and although the Gawain-poet may have been loyal to Richard II, as many

Cheshiremen were, he could not have remained immune to the controversies of Richard's

last years. During the most turbulent years, the Gawain-poet may have felt some doubt

about the success of Richard's campaign. Aspects of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

suggest that the poet was responding, perhaps unconsciously, to the charges brought

against Richard II. Bowers notices the link between "childgred' Arthur and his company

of "berdlez childer" to the allegations of Richard's own immaturity and unreliability.

Other details of the narrative, especially its careful attention to the bejeweled costumes,

the feasts served, and the castle decor also bear striking resemblance to Richard's own

tastes, all eventually labeled extravagant by his detractors.10 Therefore, given his

seeming loyalty to Richard in Pearl and Cleanness, and the political turmoil in Cheshire,

one might imagine that the poet's attitude toward Richard II would have been ambivalent

at the very least.

In Pearl the livery badge provides a way of articulating a clear relationship

between the signifier (their livery and identical dress) and the signified (membership in

the community of heaven). We find no such simplicity in Sir Gawain and the Green

Knight; it is a poem overwrought by signs and the problem of"doble speche" already

confronted by Chaucer and Gower. And yet, unlike other poets, the Gawain-poet does

10 See Bowers, 17.









not seem to destroy icons in order to give us a clear sense of the "right" course of action

or truth. In Sir Gawain, signs endlessly confound the viewer; as R.A. Shoaf has noted,

"their very multiplicity vex and question any exclusivity in interpretation" ("Syngne of

Surfet" 153). The relationship between the countless signifiers and their signified seems

particularly occluded, and it seems that only particular instances of signification exist and

there can be no universal meaning for these signs. It is as if "the classical notion of 'sign'

dissolves itself into a highly complex network of changing relationships" (Theory of

Semiotics 49, Eco's italics).

The Green Knight as Arbitrary Sign

The Green Knight is the most frightening figure in the whole of Sir Gawain, and

for good reason. Aside from a monstrous appearance, he is over-determined by signs-

signs that are frightening in their arbitrariness, like a riddle that will never be solved.

Here, the threat of emptiness in his meaning is just as terrifying as the possibility of

having too many meanings, many of which contradict each other. Initially, we search for

meaning on familiar ground, looking for his "cultivated" aspects through the refinement

of dress:

Ande al grayped in grene pis gome and his weded.
A strayt coteful strezt, pat stek on his sides,
Amere mantile abof menskedii hithinim
Wyth pelure pured apert, pe paneful clene [...]
Bope pe barees of his belth and oper bytpe stones,
Pat were richely rauled in his array clene
Aboutte himself and his saddel, vpon silk werkez.
Pat were enbrauded abof wth bryddes andflytzes
With gay gaudi of grene, pe golde ay inmyddes.
Pe pendauntes of his payttrure, pe proude cropure [...}
Pat euer glemered and glent, al of grene stones (Gawain lines 151-172)









The Green Knight is dressed elegantly in green, from head to toe, and there is a

curious blend of refinement and raggedness to his dress. Several subtle details

characterize his manner of dress: the ermine trim of his mantle and hood, the bright gold

on silk borders, regal trefoil designs, and embroidered butterflies and birds on his

clothing and saddle. His hair is well curled, combed, and bejeweled: "folden in ii ~l/

fildore aboutepefayre grene" (Gawain 170-189). Moreover, the cultivated aspects of his

dress are complemented by his knightly form:

Half etayn in erde I hope Pat he were,
Bot mon most I algate mynn hym to bene,
And at e myriest in his muckel at my3t ride;
For of bak and of brest al were his bodi sturne,
Both his wombe and his wast were i v i thily smale,
And alle hisfeturesfol3ande, informed Pat he hade,
ful clene (Gawain lines 140-146).

J. A. Burrow notes that the Green Knight is, in fact, "the fine figure of a man, according

to the medieval courtly ideal." Nevertheless, the "conventional contrast between massive

body and slender waist" is highly pronounced in this description, a physical characteristic

that compounds the uncertain nature of the Green Knight (Burrow 13). Thus, even

though this character resembles, in part, the "ideal knight," his imposing size, "elvish"

shape, red eyes and green skin and hair clearly suggest otherworldliness. The Green

Knight embodies the very nature of the sign, which is to be two things at once, courtier

and wild-man, genial host and threatening enemy. He is the ultimate semiotic and logical

nightmare.

Burrow explains that the "whole of the following description hovers in a similar

way between the monstrous-supernatural and the merry human" (13). However, although

much ink has been spilled in the attempt to explain the "real" significance of the color









green, in relation to the Green Knight's identity,1 the court at Camelot can make no

sense of his appearance:

Ther watz lokyng on lenbe be lude to beholde,
For vch mon had meruayle quat hit mene my3t
Pat a hafel and a horse my3t such a hwe lach,
As growe grene as pe gres and grener hit seemed,
Pen grene aumayl on golde glowande bry3ter.
Al studied at er stod, and stalked hym nerre
Wyth al e wonder of e world what he worch schulde.
Forfele sellyez had pay sen, bot such neuer are;
Forbi for fantoum and fayry3e e folk bere hit demed (Gawain 233-240).


The Green Knight's form and mannerisms are so contradictory and unbelievable that the

courtiers at Camelot are initially speechless, as they have never seen such a marvel in

their lives. Even after their close inspection of his apparel and his person, he resists

definition so completely that they believe he must be illusion. And, unbeknownst to

Gawain at this early stage, they are correct: the Green Knight is, in fact, the product of

Morgan le Fay's illusion.

As illusion, he is always void of any "natural" center or structure; he appears to

be a knight, and he appears to issue a challenge to Arthur's court, but the "signs" he

presents have multiple, and irreconcilable meanings. R.A. Shoaf, in addressing this

"surfeit of signs," points to the end of the description, in which the poet describes the

objects carried by the Green Knight: an axe and a sprig of holly. He writes:



1The most generally accepted meanings for the color green is the color of fairies, the color of the dead,
and the devil (Burrow 14). However, a number of other meanings have also been suggested, including the
possibility that the Green Knight might a real man, such as Amadeus VI, also known as the "Green Count"
(see D'Ardenne 113) or the "green squire"-a West Midland man supposedly serving at Richard's court
(see Highfield 18). Still others suggest that he might be the aghlich mystery, an agent of divine intervention
(Pollard 86-87) or a representative of Christ (Besserman 219-222) or Thor (Zalatel 29-30), and still others
have argued that the Knight's green attire and red eyes make him the specter of Christmas. For still more
interpretations, see Vantuono, 159-160.









Arthur, and Gawain after him, for example, can only interpret the Green Knight's
challenge as implying that he, Arthur or Gawain, is to strike the blow with the ax,
whereas, in fact, the challenge is sufficiently ambiguous to leave open the
possibility of Arthur or Gawain critically choosing the "holyn bobbe" as the
weapon to use ("Syngne of Surfet" 158).

The precise rules of the Green Knight's "game," presumably a challenge to the court of

Arthur, are somewhat mysterious. As Shoaf asserts, the ambiguity in the rules of the

game would have allowed for it to proceed in a much less lethal direction, had Gawain

only chosen the harmless "holyn bobbe" as a weapon. However,


Arthur and Gawain, in short, like the rest of the courtiers, haven't the critical
temperament, at least not yet--neither can yet gloss the ax with the "holyn bobbe"
and construe the two of them in terms of a different relationship. Hence, each fails
to interpret the ambiguity, and Gawain as a consequence takes the lethal weapon,
committing himself thus to a life-imperiling encounter a year hence ("Syngne of
Surfet" 159-160).


At this point in the poem, Gawain and Arthur, although mystified by the Green Knight's

appearance, readily accept the axe as the sign of physical combat, even though more than

one option exists.

The reason why Gawain chooses the axe as his weapon, and not the holly bob has

been discussed by many critics. Ross Arthur has called it an "iconography of two hands"

in which a choice is offered between two contradictory signs. As Shoaf suggests, the

critical attitude at Arthur's court precludes them from choosing the holly, because the ax,

to the somewhat warlike society of knights appears to be the "natural" sign for "weppen."

Of course, the seeming "naturalness" of the sign is underscored semantically, by the

ambiguity of the Green Knight's own proposal. We are encouraged, by his argument, to

choose the axe instead of the holly:









Be so bolde in his blod, brayn in hys hede,
Pat dar stifly strike a stroke for an ofer,
I schal gifhym of my gyftPys giserne ryche,
Pis ax, Pat is heud innogh, to hondele as hym lykes,
And I schal bide e fyrst bur as bare as I sitte.
Ifanyfreke be sofelle tofonde Pat I telle,
Lepe ly3tly me to, and lach bis weppen,
I quit-clayme hit for euer, kepe hit as his auen (Gawain 286-294).

The premises of the game seem to mention the axe directly-it is the axe, "bys giseme

ryche" that will become the prize for the challenger who strikes a blow-presumably

with the axe. Moreover, since the axe is the only object mentioned in the rules of the

game, the active words of combat seem to refer to it-it is the object which can be

handled and used to deliver the first strike. Thus, by the time the Green Knight

theatrically asserts, "I quit-clayme hit for euer" the axe seems to be the only weapon

choice possible. In this instance, our blindness to the ambiguity of the sign leads, as Eco

might suggest, to

a mode of argument that, while using probable premises and considering only a
partial section of a given semantic field, pretends to develop a 'true' argument,
thus covering up the contradictory nature of the Global Semantic System and
presenting its own point of view as the only possible conclusion (whether this
attitude is deliberately and cynically adopted by a sender in order to deceive a
naive addressee, or whether the sender is simply the victim of his own one-
sidedness) (A Theory of Semiotics 3.5.1, 191).

The sign (the iconic image of the Green Knight holding two "weapons") is ambiguous. It

is part of a system like Eco's "Global Semantic System"-a formation that designates a

free arrangement of signs and signifying clusters-in which language and all its possible

textual usages are implicated (Role of the Reader 68). According to Eco, the presence of

such a structure allows for one type of metonymic relation to emerge-a codified

metonymic relation, inferable from the very structure of the semantic field (Role of the

Reader 68). Semiotic judgments can be made based on the code, and, since the dominant









object in the Green Knight's discourse is the axe, we assume he means for Gawain to use

the axe. This semiotic operation occurs even though there is another legitimate sign;

although it is "clearly" a viable option as "weppen," the holly bob has nevertheless been

elided by the one-sidedness of the discourse.

As I suggested in the previous chapter, when the object seems naturally

represented in the sign, we believe that the icon has brought us closer to the "truth" of

that object. Instead of engaging the duplicity of the sign, or the fissures within its

representation we, like the court at Camelot, fill the gaps unconsciously with visual and

semantic clues. Therefore, it seems perfectly "natural" that Gawain should choose the

axe, since, based on the construction of the argument, it appears as the only "true" and

proper answer to the challenge issued. This drive to discover the true meaning of the

sign, however, ultimately only provides a false sense of security; the sign has been given

provisional meaning, but its meaning is not necessarily the safest, or even the best option

available.















CHAPTER 5
THE PENTANGLE AND THE GREEN GIRDLE

As I explained in the previous chapter, there is evidence for the theory that the

Gawain-poet was responding to the same problematic of livery, as well as broader

concerns about the nature of signs that exist in Chaucer, Gower, William Langland, and

the poet of Richard the Redeless. However, the Gawain-poet's response to the issues

surrounding livery, signs and trawfe is also plainly different from any of his

contemporaries. Gower and Chaucer both champion trawfe as a lack of deceit and

doubletalk which leads to right action;1 Langland, and the poet of Richard the Redeless,

likewise convey the message that signs can only be trusted if they proceed from honesty

and true intentions.

The Gawain-poet seems to be somewhat at odds with his contemporaries, since,

for him, "double speche" does not automatically suggest duplicity or vntrawie. Instead,

the Gawain-poet, whose concern with trawie might best be viewed in terms of its most

obvious icon-the pentangle on Gawain's shield-presents the issue ambiguously. The

geometrical shape of the pentangle, with its unchangeable, interlocking lines, deceives us

precisely because it presents itself as the natural, immutable sign of truth.2 Like Pascal,

Charles Peirce explains the mental process necessary to create an iconic sign:




SSee Gower, Confesio Amantis, VII, 1531-1536.
2 Shoaf has argued that the connection between the moral concept truth and the geometrical figure is not
merely arbitrary. He writes, "Solomon was the first to see, the pentangle is of its nature like truth--or so the
poet claims. Both are fivefold, interlocking, 'endless.'" (Poem as Green Girdle 70-71).









Any two objects in nature resemble each other, and indeed in themselves just as
much as any other two; it is only with reference to our senses and needs that one
resemblance counts for more than another.. Resemblance is an identity of
characters; and this is the same as to say that the mind gathers the resembling
ideas together into one conception (Peirce 1.365).


The result of a perceived similarity between the iconic sign of the pentangle and the

abstract concept of truth causes the viewer to assume that they naturally correspond to

one another. We assume that the pentangle is, in fact, the natural sign of truth because

we perceive a correspondence between two objects, even if no shared identity exists in

reality. Thus, the inferential nature of cognition creates an icon because it bears a

resemblance of some sort to its object, "whether any such Object actually exists or not"

(Peirce 2.247).

The pentangle on Gawain's shield could be called an iconic sign, because, as

Shoaf suggests, it is the likeness of its object, "a kind of geometrical 'picture' of truth"

(Poem as Green Girdle 70-71). In fact, the poet gives us some suggestion as to the origin

of this likeness, explaining how the sign's relationship as a "token" of truth was

established:

Hit is a syngne Pat Salamon set sumquyle
In bytoknyng of trawfe, bi tytle Pat hit habbez,
For hit is figure Pat haldezfyue poyntez,
And vche lyne vmbelappez and loukez in ofer,
And ayquere hit is endelez; and Englych hit called
Oueral, as I here, be endeles knot.

Presumably, Solomon imagined the pentangle as a natural sign-in the Augustinian

sense-because of its geometry.1 However, the poet does not explain why the appearance

of the pentangle, with its five interlocking lines, should be a token of truth. Instead, by

1 The suggestion that the pentangle is somehow a natural sign may remind us of Augustine, who claims,
"those are natural which, without any desire or intention of signifying, make us aware of something beyond
themselves, like smoke which signifies fire. It does this without any will to signify" (Augustine 34).









these words, the poet encourages us to see a relationship between the physical description

of the pentangle and the abstract qualities of truth, whether that relationship really exists

or not. Furthermore, the iconicity of the sign can lead us to confuse its identity for what

it represents or signifies. As Peirce argues:

Icons are so completely substituted for their objects as hardly to be distinguished
from them. Such are the diagrams of geometry. A diagram, indeed, so far as it has
a general signification, is not a pure icon; but in the middle part of our reasoning
we forget that abstractness in great measure, and the diagram is for us the very
thing. So in contemplating a painting, there is a moment when we lose the
consciousness that it is not the thing, the distinction of the real and the copy
disappears, and it is for the moment a pure dream--not any particular existence,
and yet not general. At that moment we are contemplating an icon (3.362).


The object that the icon represents appears immediately visible and even palpable to the

viewer, as if we were confronted with the thing itself. Thus, since we assume that the

Pentangle must contain the same properties as its represented object, it seems that we are

looking at the object itself. In addition, we can make inferences about that object, since

its identity seems to be immediately presented to us by its iconic sign.

However, the identity of the object only seems to exist within the iconic sign.

Because we can see the object in the sign, we assume that we are looking at the truth in

that object; and, when we forget the abstractness of the pentangle's relationship to its

object, it is possible to see the pentangle as the very token of truth itself. At this very

moment we are seduced by the sign, since an icon maintains its semiotic function by

resembling the conspicuous qualities of the object, even though it does not actually

represent the object itself. Peirce clarifies: "Each Icon partakes of some more or less

overt character of its Object. They, one and all, partake of the most overt character of all

lies and deceptions-their Overtness" (1.386). By this observation, Peirce echoes what









Pascal and other theorists of iconicity have claimed; the icon persuades the viewer to

suppose that no gaps exist in its representation at all; in looking at the icon, we are

hoodwinked into believing that the very kernel of the object's truth appears before us,

even though what we are looking at is merely an empty resemblance.

Like the iconic representations of Richard II I described in Chapter 2, this sign of

the pentangle presents itself as "natural" through duplicity. Indeed, as Shoaf tells us, it

appears "more natural than most signs"; consequently, because it seems "so close to its

signified...the pentangle can all too easily obscure the distance or, better, the difference

between itself as sign and what it signifies" (Poem as Green Girdle 71). The problem of

the shield is therefore its sleight of hand-it presents itself as an uncomplicated sign, an

image that Gawain either should aspire to or already emulates-even though as an iconic

sign it functions as an exhibition or exemplification of its object, not confirmation of that

object's presence.2 Through its seemingly overt relationship to its object, we are

encouraged to enter that place of "pure dream" that Peirce describes, the place where the

icon comes to stand for the thing itself.

This is obviously a far more complicated vision of the sign than we find in the

Gawain-poet's contemporaries. Other writers typically discover the emptiness of the

iconic sign after its object proves to be markedly different from its representation3 and

then ask their audience to embrace a concept of trawfe by only accepting signs which are

not iconic, and can be logically verified. Although many examples exist, one clear





2 See Peirce 282; 3. 556; 4. 448; 4. 531

3 As in the case of Chaucer's "Manciple's Tale" where the noble bow becomes an instrument of murder
and must be destroyed.










instance of this kind of reasoning occurs in Gower's Confessio Amantis, when he advises

his readers (especially Richard II himself):

To speke upon congruite:
Logique hath eke in his degree
Between the trouthe and the falshode
The pleine words forto schode
So that nothing schal go beside,
That he the riht ne schal decide (VII, 1531-1536).

However, unlike Gower, the Gawain-poet sets up the question of trawpe by using a sign

which is already iconic, and thus only has a pretended congruity with its object. And,

although we may be able to posit a logical connection between the icon of the pentangle

and the abstract nature of truth, that relationship is always fraught with ambiguity.

There is an additional dimension to the structure of this iconic sign which

complicates the problem of its trawfe still further: this iconic sign of truth, is also the

iconic sign of Gawain. Prior to its lengthy introduction in this poem, a precise

connection of Gawain to the object of his sign cannot be logically discovered or verified;

the pentangle has no relationship to Gawain's character in Arthuriana,4 and its design is

different from all other arms traditionally born by him.5 Far from being hailed as the




4 King Arthur's shield device seems to have been first a cross and/or an icon of the Virgin Mary, as
reported in the Annales Cambriae and in Nennius's Historia Brittonum (ca. 800). Though he is said to have
carried these "on his shoulders," this might result from a confusion of Welsh ysqwt "shield" and ysqwd
"shoulder" in the translation into Latin from a hypothetical Welsh source (Arthurian Encyclopedia 231).

5Chreti6n does not mention Gawain's arms at all, though he gives detailed descriptions of the blazons of a
number of minor knights. "Kyot the Provencal," has Gawain wearing a surcoat with two gampilfns of sable
in applique work. This is a variant of the single gampilfin borne by his cousin, Ilinot, Arthur's son. In
thirteenth-century French Romances, Durmart, Escanor, and the Second Continuation of Perceval,
Gawain's arms are: Argent, a canton gules, with related blazons for his brothers. These may be cantingg
arms" in French, derived from the name of the father, King Lot of Orkney, because "lot" means "section,"
and a canton can be considered to be a section of a shield. Geoffrey of Monmouth, explains that Gawain
was educated in Rome and was given his arms (not described) by Pope Sulpicius. In the Perlesvaus,
Gawain received from Pope Gregory the Great the shield of Judas Maccabeus; Gules, an eagle Or. In
"official" fifteenth-century tradition, as represented by the roll of arms attributed to Jacques d'Armagnac,
Gawain bears: Purpure, a double-headed eagle Or, a device derived from both the shield of Judas









most "true" knight at the opening of the poem, Gawain simply appears as "gode Gawain"

(line 109) and the "gode knyzt" (line 381). In fact, there is no reason to suspect that

Gawain has any special relationship with the sign of the pentangle until he adopts it

during the arming scene.6

In fact, rather than attempting to envision Gawain as a true man on his own merit

through straightforward character description, the poet presents his correspondence to his

sign as "proof' of Gawain's ethical fiber. The detailed description of Gawain's iconic

sign, the pentangle, frames our understanding of Gawain himself:

And quy pe pentangel apendez to Patprynce noble
I am in tent yow to telle, poftary hyt me schulde:
Hit is a syngne Pat Salamon set sumquyle
In bytoknyng of trawpe, bi tytle Pat hit habbez,
For hit is figure Pat haldezfyue poyntez,
And vche lyne vmbelappez and loukez in ofer,
And ayquere hit is endelez; and Englych hit called
Oueral, as I here, be endeles knot.
Forpy hit acordez to Pis kny3t and to his cler armez (Gawain lines 623-631).

While reading this passage, we overlook the iconicity of the pentangle because it seems

to overtly represent its object, truth. Moreover, in this passage, Gawain seems to be

directly related to the object of the pentangle-the pentangle accords to Gawain because

they each represent the same values of truth. Thus, if we accept this suggestion, we could

agree with Burrow's claim that, the poet after establishing his premise (the pentangle is a

sign of truth) and predicting the conclusion (it 'acordez to Pis knyzt and to his clear

armez'), establishes "what is logically his major premise: that Gawain is 'true'" (44).

Maccabeaus and the emblem of the Holy Roman Empire. His brothers share the same arms with the
appropriate differences (Arthurian Encyclopedia 231).
6 John Burrow has argued that Gawain is initially not marked by any special predestination or individual
sign. He is not, like the heroes of other romances, the only knight who is capable of undertaking such a
challenge; "one does not feel that the beheading adventure...is for Gawain alone in any mysterious
fashion" (Burrow 11).









As I have already explained, the representation of truth, with regard to the iconic

pentangle, is merely a hollow resemblance. Nevertheless, in this passage, we are given

syntactically linked terms: (1) speaking of Gawain, (2) of the title of truth, and (3) of the

pentangle or the endless knot. As readers, we are encouraged to interpret this series of

connections by "abbreviation, a process of shortening by condensation rather than by

suppression... This first articulation is presented as equal to the second-that is the value

of the conjunctive 'and'" (Marin 53). Thus, seeing an implicit connection between

Gawain himself, "truth" and the pentangle, we quickly fall under the spell of the icon,

having mistaken the appearance of a connection for the lack of a real basis of association.

In other words, "the referential object of the addressed discourse, [has become] the

referential object of the received discourse" (Marin's italics, 53).

Gawain's character corresponds, not to the abstraction of truth, or even truth

itself, but to an icon of truth-the pentangle. If this connection is initially unclear, the

poet wastes no time in connecting Gawain's own nature with the physical appearance of

the pentangle. His traits are conceived as pentads, each recalling the five interlocking

lines of the pentangle:

Fyrst he watzfundenfautlez in his fyue wyttez,
And efte fayled neuer pe freke in his fyue fyngres,
And alle his afyaunce vponfolde watz in pe fyue woundez
Pat Cryst ka3t on be croys, as be crede tellez;
And quere-so-euer Pys mon in melly watz stad,
His Pro po3t watz in Pat, pur3 alle ofer Pyngez,
Pat alle hisforsnes hefeng at e fyuejoyez
Pat be hende heuen-quene had of hir chylde; (Gawain lines 640-667).


The image of the pentangle is linked to the five wounds of Christ and the five joys of

Mary, each of which allows Gawain to fulfill any definition of truth that the poet puts









forward. And yet, starkly placed within this lengthy description of all the ways in which

Gawain can be considered "true" is an interesting detail. Oddly, Mary is emblazoned on

the inside of Gawain's shield presumably because he is not always true to his goals in

combat. The poet explains that the image of Mary aids Gawain during battle, helping

him to remain steadfast and courageous: "At Pis cause pe kny3t comlyche hade In ]e

inore half of his schelde hir ymage epaynted, Pat quen he bluschedperto his belde neuer

payred' (Gawain 648-650). Thus, we must wonder, why should Gawain, who is so

"fautlez", and who "fayled neuer ]e freke in his fyuefy)ng e ," have need of the type of

insurance policy that Mary's image seems to provide?

This moment demonstrates that the pentangle, despite being so described as a

"token of truth" may have emptiness and weakness within it. This recognition of the

pentangle's inability to correspond exactly to Gawain is crucial, because it implies that

other objects are necessary in order to maintain the integrity of the iconic sign. The

pentangle may seem to be a representation of the qualities of truth, but that representation

only exists through a tenuous syntactical linkage of terms. In addition, presumably, the

pentangle and Gawain can only seem reliable, trustworthy icons when other images (such

as that of Mary) bolster them.

Rather than lingering on a sign which may be at odds with the meaning of the

pentangle, the poet simply absorbs the inconsistency back into the discourse. We return

to the description of Gawain, as if no contradiction exists or is even possible:

Now alle ]esefyue sy)ez, for sofe, were fetled on is kny3t,
And vchone halched in ofer, Pat non ende hade,
Andfyched vponfyue poyntez, patfayld neuer,
Ne samned neuer in no syde, ne sundred nouper,
Withouten ende at any noke I oquere fynde,









Whereeuer pe gomen bygan, or glod to an ende.
Perfore on his scene schelde schapen watzpe knot (Gawain lines 656-662).


When confronted by this sign, this "fabulously over determined semiotic weight"

(Russell 63), we tend to ignore the gaps in its representation, and assume that Gawain is a

true man. Moreover, we also quickly forget that, like the Green Knight, the Pentangle

knight has more than one symbol about him; the significance of the other parts of his

attire, the image of the Virgin Mary, or the embroidered parrots and turtle-doves and

love-knots on his clothing and saddle7 have all been overshadowed by the emphasis on

the pentangle.

As a result of this construction, we accept the poet's conclusion that he must be

"i i'n 'e" for the same reason that Gawain does not choose the holly branch as a weapon

earlier in the poem-the ambiguity of the situation is occluded by an argument that pre-

empts disagreement. The poet makes a case that uses probable premises in the pretense

of developing a 'true' argument. The argument, as a whole, only considers certain aspects

of the semantic system in an attempt to mask its internal contradictions and present its

own point of view as the only possible conclusion.8 As Stephen J. Russell argues,

"Readers are duly assured that the shield mirrors Gawain's inner virtues but the scene

presents them otherwise" (65).




7 The Turtledove, according to medieval bestiaries and iconography, signifies fidelity and true love. "The
turtle dove does not think of revoking its first vows of fidelity, because it knows how to preserve the
chastity which it pledged at its first meeting" (Bestiary 163-164). The image of the Parrot among the love-
knots might likewise refer to true love and fidelity. However, a secondary meaning of the parrot
(emblazoned as a popinjay in heraldry) might modify the meaning of restraint and fidelity suggested by the
Turtledove; "[the parrot's] head is so strong that if you have to teach it with blows while it is learning how
to speak to men, you have to strike it with an iron rod" (Bestiary 129). Thus, although the general reading
of these signs is one of true love, the character of the parrot suggests a more ambiguous meaning.

8 See Eco, A Theory ofSemiotics 3.5.1, 191










As a result of this formulation, the qualities of Gawain, conceptualized by the

geometrical organization of the pentangle, become the basis for what we can gauge as

trawfe in both objects. In fact, it is difficult to envision Gawain as "true" with the simple

meaning of "honesty, or integrity" that one finds in Gower' s Confessio Amantis, or even

the many meanings of truth that Burrow sees within it.9 The mental image of the

pentangle is so connected to the image of Gawain that it might even be said to function,

semiotically, as a livery badge, since thinking of one icon necessarily suggests the other.

As many critics have noted, the pentangle is never directly mentioned after its

introduction; whatever organization and definition it may have offered disappears into the

background of the narrative. However, even when the pentangle itself is no longer

overtly mentioned, the iconic experience continues to influence us, and we may be

tempted to read every reference in terms of a highly over-idealized concept of trawfe,

rather than a simple ethical principle. Gawain is referred to as the "fe segge trwe" and

"Pis trwe kny3tez" throughout the narrative, and generally seems to display the qualities

that we associate with the pentangle, even during subtle moments when his behavior

suggests otherwise.10

Once the poet has made the association of Gawain with the pentangle, it is not an

easy connection to forget. As with signs of kingship, in this context, the iconic sign of



9For the Gawain-poet, Burrow explains that
To praise a man for his "truth" might mean (a) that he was loyal to people, principles or promises,
(b) that he had faith in God, (c) that he has without deceit, or (d) that he was upright and virtuous.
These various meanings [were] of course, closely related to one another; but they leave room for a
certain amount of semantic maneuvering, and the Gawain-poet exploits this to the full in his
exposition of the pentangle (43-44).

10 Mary is mentioned several times throughout the narrative, and Gawain's prayers to her while stuck in the
middle of Wirral (line 737-759) suggest that he is using her image to sustain his courage. Although he is
understandably afraid in the wilderness, he is hardly living up to his reputation as "faultless" in these
moments.









trawfe operates because it covers up its emptiness and presents a false image of power.

A belief in the amazing power of the iconic sign sets up a fiction that exists at the basis of

every enunciation about the iconic figure-a secret comparison between the iconic figure

and all other knights. In our minds, we imagine Gawain as the "Pentangle Knight"-a

man truer than all others-and we expect him to behave accordingly. This belief will

persist even though that conception hinges on a simulated, iconic projection.11 Thus,

what is occluded, and nearly elided by the iconicity of the pentangle, is the nature of

Gawain himself, as a knight, and as a man.

It is difficult to understand the poet's motivation for presenting Gawain in this

way. As Eco suggests, in arguments of this type, it may be that the "attitude is

deliberately and cynically adopted" in order to deceive the reader into seeing some

greater truth about the sign, or that the poet is "simply the victim of his own one-

sidedness" (A Theory of Semiotics 3.5.1, 191). One might assume that the latter case was

accurate, if the pentangle was the only sign that existed in the text. However, at key

points, the poet deliberately demonstrates instances where the sign is not one-sided, but

extremely fluid and unpredictable, capable of achieving many meanings.

Gawain's iconic relationship to the concept of trawpe may initially blind us to the

ambiguity, and finally, the emptiness of his own icon. However, the unpredictability of

the sign is evident with regard to the Green Knight, in which physical characteristics,

heraldic emblems, and abstract qualities become increasingly and obviously muddled.

As Putter notices, Gawain




11 In the political sphere, this comparison can take the form of a unconscious judgment about the King's
greatness above all other Sovereigns. According to Marin, this comparison is generated by the conception
of the King's extraordinary grandeur through his iconic representations (Marin 66).









asks the country yokels of Wirral in vain whether they have ever set eyes on a
"knyzt grene" belonging to a 'grene chapel.' The Gawain-poet only reports their
response indirectly, but in their multiple negations ("Al nykked him with nay, bat
neuer in her lyue/bay seze neuer no segge ") and in the unexpected stress which
the alliterative metre forces on the word such[. .]we may nevertheless hear their
incomprehension; no, they have certainly not heard of a green knight. Now, we
cannot be sure how they understand Gawain's question.. it is posed in a way that
allows them to... refer simply to the color of the knight's arms...But the
possibility that they take it this way[... ]only increases one's sense of the absurdity
of what Gawain knows to be the case: that somewhere in England there dwells a
knight who is green all over (49-50).

In this instance, some of the inhabitants of Wirral may assume that Gawain is referring to

the Green Knight's armorial bearings and heraldic emblems because they cannot imagine

that a green man exists. Others may assume that Gawain is referring to a knight who is

literally green, and likewise claim to have never seen such a man. The vagueness of

Gawain's question necessitates an interpretative act, a decision to understand "green" as a

descriptor of a man, his heraldic arms, or both. The multi-layered significance of the

adjective "green" creates fluidity in the representational framework and allows for more

than one truth to emerge among the townsfolk; even if the audience may assume that

Gawain is asking for the knight who is "green all over" and not the knight who carries a

green shield.

One might argue that, in the first part of the poem, there is little danger of

confusing Gawain's identity in this way. To ask if anyone has seen a "pentangle knight"

would invariably yield a single answer: Gawain. However, when we ask about the Green

Knight, identity is not clear by iconic signs or even physical characteristics. Even when

the poet presents us with a situation that should signal the identity of the Green Knight,

we do not automatically recognize him as such:

Gawayn gly3t on pe gome Pat godly hym gret,
And u3t hit a bolde burne bat be bur3 a3te,









A hoge hafelfor Pe nonez, and ofhyghe eldee;
Brode, bry3t, watz his berde, and al beuer-hwed,
Sturne, stif on le strylfe on \ /ial ,,i th schonkez,
Felle face as le fyre, andfre of hys speche;
And wel hym seemed, for sofe, as le segge lu3t,
To lede a lortschyp in lee of leudezful gode (Gawain 842-849).

Putter notices a striking resemblance between the congenial but imposing host of Castle

Haudesert and the figure of the Green Knight. He is "immensely tall, outspoken, has a

big beard and walks around briskly on stout legs" a detail which recalls the Green

Knight's gait as he runs to recapture his decapitated head (Putter 83). Even more telling

is the description that he has a "face aslefyre"-an image which should likewise remind

us of the intense fire-red eyes of the Green Knight. Nevertheless, despite the similitude

of the Green Knight and his host, Gawain simply regards his host as a man well-suited to

be a lord of such a Castle.

It seems that this similarity between Gawain's (as yet) unnamed host, Lord

Bertilak, and the Green Knight himself causes something interesting to happen: his query

about the Green Knight's whereabouts gains tremendous specificity:

Forly, sir, Pis enquest I require yow here,
Pat 3e me telle i/ ith trawbe ifeuer 3e tale herde
Of e grene chapel, quere hit on ground stondez,
And of fe kny3t at hit kepes, of colour of grene.
Per watz stabled bi statut a steuen vus bytwene
To mete Pat mon at at mere, 3ifl my3t last;
And offat ilk Nw 3ere bot neked now wontez,
And Iwolde loke on bat lede, if God me let wolde (Gawain lines 1056-1063).

In this passage, Gawain is careful to explain that he is searching for a Green Chapel,

which is occupied by a man who is a knight, a wild man, and the color green. The careful

description of the Green Knight creates a contrast between him and the host, a man who









is a knight, but clearly neither green, nor wild. This distinction allows Gawain, and the

reader, to ignore the oddity of his host's unspecific response:

Penne la3ande quop pe lorde, 'Now leng be byhoues,
For I schal teche yow to Pat terme bi pe tymez ende,
Pe grene chapayle vpon ground greue yow no more (Gawain 1069-1070).

The host does not respond to Gawain's question as directly as one might expect. With a

dubious laugh, he explains that he will take Gawain to his foe, and that he should not

concern himself with the Green Chapel at present. Then he makes a promise that

increases our suspicions about the host's identity, and his connection to the Green

Knight. On New Year's Day, instead of the Lord himself guiding the way to the Chapel

as he suggested a few lines earlier, "someone" will guide Gawain: "Mon schalyow sette

in waye, Hit is not two myle henne (Gawain 1068-1079). At least two explanations for

this discrepancy are possible. He may mean to take Gawain to the Green Chapel

indirectly by procuring a guide for him, or, more likely, his laughter and his assurance

mean that he will guide Gawain to his foe because he is the Green Knight. Gawain could

not recognize this however, since without the clear sign of his identity-his greenness-

the Green Knight can masquerade as a provincial lord. This results in the narrative even

though his host's physical form and characteristics do recall the aspects of his alter-ego in

a nearly recognizable way.

As Shoaf points out, the Gawain-poet shows us that identification is indeed

structured by "relativity and relationships" and not by the constant adherence of iconic

signs to their likenesses. For this reason, when signs of association recur, their meaning

is unrecognizable without an interpretation of their identity or significance from the poet.









Nowhere is this made more explicit than in the final temptation scene, where Lady

Bertilak offers Gawain two very different tokens of her affection. First,

Ho ra3t hym a riche rynk of red golde werkez,
Wyth a starande ston stondande alofte
Pat bere blusschande bemez as pe bry3t sunne;
Wyt 3e wel, hit watz iI ,/ lh wele ful hoge.
Bot e renk hit renayed (Gawain 1817-1821).

The ring, of rich red and gold design, mirrors the colors of Gawain's shield, but, lacking

the pentangle it does not signify "truth" or seem to naturally belong to Gawain because of

some shared likeness. In the hand of the lady, this ring presents itself as just a ring,

without any attached meaning. Why Gawain should reject the token that clearly

corresponds to his own colors is not fully explored by the narrative; we are told that his

refusal is on the grounds that he cannot "repay" the gift. Lady Bertilak gives an added

meaning to this response; she claims Gawain rejects the ring, not because he cannot

reimburse her with a gift, but because the ring has a value exceeding what Gawain can

compensate. Consequently, she offers Gawain a less valuable and also more suspiciously

colored token instead of the ring:

'If 3e renay my rynk, to rychefor hit semez,
3e wolde not so hy3ly halden be to me,
I schal gifyow my girdel, Pat gaynes yow lasse.'
Ho la3t a lace ly3tly Pat leke vmbe hir sydez,
Knit vpon hir kyrtel vnder be clere mantle,
Gered hit watz i i/th grene sylke and i/th golde shaped,
No3t bot around brayden, beten 1 iithfyngrez;
And at ho bede to e burne, and blyfely biso3t,
Pa3 hit vnworpi were, Pat he hit take wolde.
And he nay Pat he nolde neghe in no wyse
Nauper golde ne garysoun, er God hym grace sende
To acheue to be chance Pat he hade chosen Pere
(Gawain lines 1828-1838).









The girdle, although supposedly less expensive than the ring, is nevertheless made of

green silk, patterned in gold thread and encrusted with precious gems. If the ring's color

recalls Gawain's own sign, then the description of the girdle is surely a repetition of the

colors in the Green Knight's own armor. However, like the ring, the girdle has no

apparent attachment to the Knight apart from its coloration. In this discourse, both

objects have been evacuated of the significance that they might have possessed earlier in

the poem, leaving Gawain with a choice between two seemingly harmless tokens of Lady

Bertilak's affection.

For this reason, the girdle can be easily distinguished from the pentangle; it does

not immediately present itself as an iconic sign. It may have associations, connections,

and meanings, but it does not function as an icon because it does not have an overt

physical resemblance to anything (or anyone) else in the poem. Although it may be

attached to the Green Knight, as we will eventually discover, its signification is not

bound up with his identity. It is, therefore, an arbitrary sign-a sign with no stable

meaning. Shoaf writes:

The knot that the green girdle as sign ties with what it signifies is not permanent,
fixed, or geometrically perfect. The green girdle, as the poem is careful to
emphasize, is apure token (2398) -- its token-ness, if you will, free of all
prescription and proscription (Poem as Green Girdle 75).

Although Gawain cannot refuse the green girdle for the same reason that he might have

refused the ring, he is reluctant to take it because it, literally, means nothing to him. It is

only when the Lady gives it a meaning that Gawain is ready to consider taking the token.

She tells him:

'Now forsake 3e Pis silke sayde pe burde benne,
'For hit is symple in itself? And so hit wel semez.
Lo! so hit is littel, and lasse hit is worby;









Bot who-so knew pe costs Pat knit ar perinne,
He wolde hit prayse at more prys, parauenture;
For quat gome so is gorde i i/ih Pis grene lace,
While he hit hade hemely halched about,
Per is no hapel vnder heuen tohewe hym Pat my3t,
For he my3t not be slaynfor sly3t vpon erfe.'

After Lady Bertilak's explanation, Gawain is immediately attracted to the girdle:

Pen kest pe kny3t, and hit come to his hert
Hit were ajuelfor e joparde Pat hym iiig,'dJ were:
When he acheued to pe chapel his chekfor tofech,
My3t he hafslypped to be vnslayn, pe sle3t were noble (Gawain lines 1845-1858).

The girdle becomes attractive to Gawain because it offers, through magic, the one thing

that he does not possess-indestructibility. Although the pentangle itself may be the

endless knot, Gawain, despite his identification with the pentangle, is not eternal, and so

he is attracted (and understandably so) by the possibility of emerging, unkilled, from his

confrontation with the Green Knight. The ring, and the pentangle itself, cannot offer the

same merits as the girdle.

Despite the many qualities reflected in the pentangle, all of which Gawain seems

to possess, his bravery may fail upon occasion. In these cases, he has apparently needed

additional signs, such as the Virgin Mary inside of his shield, to help him keep his

promises and his courage in battle. Such signs are not icons-they are personal items

which hold special meaning for Gawain alone. However, in order to preserve the icon as

a representation of truth and, by implication, Gawain as the "man most triewe" these

signs must lie concealed behind or within the description of the pentangle. Perhaps this is

why Lady Bertilak:

... bere on hym pe belt and bede hit hym swyfe --
And he granted and hym gafe i iih a goud wylle --
And biso3t hym, for hir sake, disceuer hit neuer,
Bot to lelly layne fro hir lorde; Pe leude hym acordez









Pat neuer wy3e schulde hit wyt, iwysse, bot pay twayne
for no3te (Gawain lines 1860-1865).

This process, would uphold the pentangle as an impervious iconic sign, but it would only

do so through duplicity. Since he accepted the girdle, his own sign of the pentangle must

be lacking in a crucial respect, but he cannot declare this openly. This results in a

paradox; disclosing his acceptance of the girdle to Lord Bertilak will demonstrate the

emptiness of the pentangle as an icon, even if it ultimately proves that Gawain is truer

than that sign. Concealing the girdle might preserve the appearance of the icon, initially,

but Gawain's vntrawfe will be apparent. Either way, the fact that Gawain's identity has

been tediously predicated on a fraudulent icon will be revealed. He will cease to

resemble, even partially, the sign which supposedly resembles him the most.

This tension between the organized, supposedly unchangeable pentangle with the

fluid, circular shape of the green girdle comes to the foreground in the final moments of

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. We know which course of action Gawain chooses,

and, to save himself, not only his life, but also his identity as the pentangle knight, he

conceals the girdle. Prior to the battle, he "Lays vp pe luf-lace pe lady hym ra3t,/Hid hit

ful holdely, Per he hit eftfonde" and on the morning of the battle

Bi he hade belted e bronde vpon his bal3e haunchez,
Penn dressed he his drurye double hym about,
Swyfe swepled vmbe his swange swetely Pat kny3t
Pe gordel offe grene silke, Pat gay wel bisemed,
Vpon Pat ryol red clope Pat ryche watz to schewe.
Bot wered not pis ilk wy3e for wele Pis gordel,
For pryde offe pendauntez, pa3 polyst ay were,
Andpa3 Pe glyterande golde glent vpon endez,
Botfor to sauen hymself (Gawain lines 2032-2040).









When Gawain wraps the girdle around his waist, we can see that the girdle has already

overtaken the iconic sign of the pentangle. It is the last item described in this arming

scene, and it is described in great detail. The pentangle is not described, but we infer that

it is still there, even though the red cloth where it might show is literally covered up by

the green cloth of the girdle. The poet again makes it clear that Gawain's intentions are

not to deceive, but to avoid certain death, even though by concealing the girdle, he is

obviously engaged in an act of deception.

As long as the girdle remains hidden, the truth of the icon, the pentangle cannot

be questioned. This allows the reader to maintain that secret comparison, perhaps even as

an unconscious assessment, that Gawain is truer than other knights; he, unlike all others,

can claim to own the significance of the pentangle because they are both icons of the

same object. However, ironically, the duplicity of the icon is revealed by Gawain's own

duplicity-in showing his own vntrawfe, we must assume that the icon of the pentangle

is also an untrue representation.

This demonstration, within the poem, calls the validity of Gawain's iconic sign,

and, also his identity, into question. When Gawain shrinks a little from the impending

blow of the axe, the Green Knight refers to the qualities earlier attributed to the pentangle

to criticize Gawain:

'Pou art not Gawayn,' quof pe gome,
'at is so goud halden,
Pat neuer ar3edfor no here by hylle ne be vale,
And now pouflesforferde er boufele harmez!
Such cowardise of fat kny3t cowbe I neuer here.' (Gawain lines 2270-2274).


The Green Knight claims that Gawain cannot be the same challenger before him, because

by reputation, he is too brave to flee from an enemy, or flinch from a blow. This directly









contradicts his identity as it is expressed by the pentangle; instead of being a man who is

like the pentangle, recognizable as Gawain and therefore unlike all others, the Green

Knight recognizes a man who is precisely like all others. His iconic sign and his identity

are disavowed in one simple observation.

In other texts, when the emptiness of the sign is revealed, the narrative simply

ends on the notion of emptiness, and a need to adhere to better signs, or to make better

ethical choices. The Gawain-poet, however, does not end the narrative here. After the

final strike of the axe nicks Gawain in the neck, the Green Knight explains that

'For hit is my wede Pat ou werez, Pat ilke wouen girdel,
Myn owen wyfhitpe weued, Iwot welfor sofe.
Now know I wel y cosses, andpy costs als,
And e wowyng of my wyf- I wro3t hit myseluen.
I sende hir to asay be, and vai/,ly me Pynkkez
On e fautlest free ]at euer onfote 3ede;
Asperle bi e quite pese is ofprys more,
So is Gawayn, in godfayth, bi ofer gay kny3tez.
Bot here yow lakked a lyttel, sir, and lewtd yow wonted
(Gawain lines 2359-2368).

This speech confirms what we might have guessed before-the green girdle is the

property of the Green Knight, who was also Gawain's host, Lord Bertilak. And, as a

result of Gawain's deception, he can no longer resemble the pentangle with exactness.

Instead, although he is nearly the truest knight, he does lack, a little.

However, rather than accepting his lack, Gawain hurls the girdle at the Green

Knight, blaming it for his misfortune. Instead of accepting the relatively positive notion

that he is nearly faultless he proclaims, "Now am Ifawty andfalce, andferde hafben

euer/Oftrecherye and vntrawfe: bofe bityde sor3e/and care!" It seems that he still

thinks of his identity in purely negative terms, and that he is trapped by the emptiness of

his own iconic sign. As Shoaf argues









what [Gawain] does not know, however, and what he deliberately confuses, is the
right relationship between the green girdle as sign and what it signifies. For him,
the girdle, a piece of cloth, has become identical with his life, lewtP and trawpe.
But this relationship of identity between the green girdle and what it signifies is
arbitrary and, in Gawain's case, wholly subjective; and this he ignores (Poem as
Green Girdle 67).

Gawain seems truly ignorant as to any alternate significance the green girdle might have,

and, when the Green Knight cleanses him of any guilt in the situation, Gawain

immediately blames the woman who gave him the girdle for his own misfortune. His

fixedness on the pentangle remains evident in his reference to Solomon: instead of having

a token of truth from Solomon, Gawain discovers the deceit connected to his token,

claiming to have been deceived "ii yifele sere" (Gawain 2390-2417).

In spite of Gawain's acceptance of a certain (and seemingly inalterable) meaning

for the girdle, its arbitrariness is explicit in these last moments. It may symbolize

disloyalty, misfortune, and vntrawfe for Gawain, but it also has a host of other meanings.

Shoaf summarizes these meanings very nicely:

As we have seen, it is called a "'syngne of surfet'"; it is also called a "'pure
token'" (2398), a "'token ofvntrawbe'" (2509), and, finally, Gawain wears it "in
tokenyng he watz tane in tech of a faute" (2488; emphasis added)...For the Green
Knight, it signifies "'be chance of be grene chapel at cheualrous kny3tez'"
(2399); for the Lady it signifies, as her gift to Gawain, her great affection toward
him; for Gawain, again, finally, in the moment when he takes it from the Lady, it
signifies no less than life itself ("Syngne of Surfet"155-156).

The meaning of the girdle is therefore only arbitrary, and its meaning will ultimately

depend on a contractual agreement. It acts as a pessimistic sign, associated with shame

and a warning against cowardice and covetousness, and it is a positive sign, associated

with chivalrous champions and friendship.

Gawain, however, is hurt the most by this knowledge of the arbitrariness of signs.

His own iconic sign, the pentangle, has been seen as untrustworthy, and he seems unable









to recover his own identity from the wreckage of that sign. On his return home, Gawain

wears the girdle, now a baldric, bound at his side, and tied in a knot. When he shows the

lace to his fellow knights, he articulates only one meaning, introducing it as the symbol

of his shame and vntrawpe:

"Pis is pe token of 'vii In t hepat I am tanne inne,
AndI mot nedez hit were wyle I may last,
For non may hyden his harme; bot vnhap ne may hit,
For per hit onez is tachched, twinne wil hit neuer" (Gawain lines 2509-2513).


However, the Knights of the Round Table reject Gawain's imposition of meaning on the

girdle. Instead, they all laugh lovingly and then they choose to adopt a similar sign, worn

in the same fashion, for Gawain's sake. The agreement to transform the girdle into a

baldric-a liveried sign-robs most of the signifying potency from Gawain's

characterization of it as disgraceful, and gives it a new significance. All the knights who

wear the baldric are to be "honoured... euermore after" (Gawain 2520).

The Gawain-poet, beyond simply being conscious of the ways in which iconic

signs lose their significance, seems to possess an acute sense of the arbitrary nature of

signs. Gawain cannot exist in absolutist terms as a man of either trawpe or vntrawfe; the

way in which his sign will be read is arbitrary. As a result, instead of retaining the iconic

sign to be a "true" knight, or completely rejecting it to become the "untrue" man he can

exist simultaneously as both-as Jill Mann has suggested, the girdle is "a badge of honor

as well as shame" (Mann 115).

Although we can never know definitively, it does not seem outlandish to suggest

that, for the Gawain-poet, trawpe was not found in icons, signs, or proscriptions, but in

our will to keep our promises and remain true to our obligations. If this were the case,






87


unlike his contemporaries, he would not have wished for the sign to arise from a "true"

basis so that we could act upon it with rightness. Instead, he might have believed that

right action or good intentions would provide a basis for the sign's significance, and,

once established, this sign could never be untrustworthy, but would retain its meaning

forever, in the best books of Romance.















CONCLUSION

Throughout his reign, Richard II would rely more heavily upon iconic signs than

any of his royal ancestors. His fixation on signs may have sprung from the

overwhelming symbolism of his coronation-an elaborate iconic display designed to

prove Richard II's suitability as King to the populace. Within the larger framework of

the coronation scene, signs were introduced to legitimize his reign, each infused with

religious and conventional meaning. For example, the golden coronet he received on his

coronation day was not merely decorative; it was an iconic sign that carried with it an

invisible and immaterial confirmation of his power as king. The Bishop of Wells, in

1436, expresses the iconic significance of the Crown:

In the figure of the Crown, the rule and polity of the realm are presented; for in
the gold, the rule of the Community is noted, and in the flowers of the Crown,
raised and adorned with jewels, the Honor and office of the King or Prince is
designated.1

The rhetorical implication of this concept, and of other similar methods of defining the

king and Crown create an "image [that is] reality at the same time." Thus, the coronation

ceremony would undoubtedly have impressed Richard II with the power of signs, and

presented him with the theoretical language that inextricably connected him to the

pageantry of his kingship. Throughout his reign, Richard II would seek to affirm, and

reaffirm his royal powers through elaborate demonstrations; he seems to have continually


1 Quoted in Kantorowicz, 363.









exploited the visual impact of the coronation symbols in an effort to keep his image as

unquestioned sovereign intact.

In fact, Richard II seems to have been so impressed by the iconicity of his

coronation, that he used similar iconic displays whenever he could to bolster his own

image. He delighted in spectacle, appearing in his coronation regalia during some

political functions, and he appeared in dazzling, expensive array during most others. He

created a court life centered on the constant exhibition of himself as sovereign; his was a

world that was "over-consciously gay with its fine feasts and joustings" (Mathew 13).

He also redefined the terminology used in the royal address to make himself a "prince"

rather than a king, a gesture which was part of the larger agenda to increase the public's

reverence of him.

Richard II probably would not have conceptualized his program of kingship in the

same terms later explained by theoreticians like Pascal, or Peirce, or even his own

contemporary William of Ockham; however, their theoretical formulations mirror what

Richard II seems to have longed to accomplish by his distribution of liveried signs

throughout the country. As anointed sovereign, Richard II most likely believed that all

signs and badges both signified and reflected his own personal magnificence and that

these emblems could project the power of the king into the masses. Richard therefore had

a good reason to hold an unwavering conviction in his own badges as the "highest and

most powerful" in the kingdom: their owner was the ruler of England. This belief in the

unassailability of his icons seems to have persisted even though each of Richard's livery

badges (the Gilt Crown badge, and later the White Hart badge) were rejected by a large

part of the country.









In addition, Richard made several attempts to present a badge which affirmed his

authority, and he relied heavily on the iconic experience to infuse his badges with

meaning. For example, to create the White Hart badge-the badge which held the most

sway-Richard altered the arms of Kent (his mother's emblem), changing the hind to a

hart and adding a crown-collar. This last addition was presumably to link Richard's own

badge to the legendary moment when Charles VI of France supposedly captured a white

hart with a collar inscribed "Caesar hoc mihi donavit." He presented it to the public in an

outstanding iconic display at Smithfield-a gesture meant to affirm his own power and

that of the badge itself. This significance of the White Hart badge was also amplified

later, in the Wilton Diptych-a portrait which unmistakably conveys the idea that the

power of the White Hart badge comes from, and is supported by, a celestial source.

Through a series of successive attempts, Richard did secure this meaning of the badge,

but only briefly. However, Richard's unequal political favoritism, and his mistreatment

of the livery system would later work against him.

This political climate explains part of the new literary movement, which saw

more emphasis on the concept of trawme and more of a concern about the nature of icons.

Richard the Redeless and Piers Plowman reflect a keen awareness of the duplicity of

iconic signs and liveries. Such poets wish to explain how damaging empty signifiers can

be, and, consequently, express a longing for a sense of precision and attention to the

"truth" of signs. In addition, Chaucer, and Gower both suggest that the virtue of trawme

should be prized above all iconic images, and hope that their readers, including Richard II

himself, will maintain that desirable quality.









Even when signs denote and reflect the power of the King, the unpredictable and

often unlucky fortunes of mortal kings often influence their signification. Livery, as

Strohm has argued "does not serve a single master" (Hochon 's Arrow 179), and although

Richard had hoped to control his symbol, ultimately it controlled him. Once Richard's

own practices contradicted the image that he attempted to portray, the fraudulence of his

own iconic signs became apparent. Those subjects, like the Cheshiremen, who enjoyed

Richard's continued support, respected the authority of the badge, even though for the

rest of the country, the badge had become simply an empty signifier.

The parallels between Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and the reign of Richard

II can be observed, through their common link to livery and the problems of the iconic

sign. As a Cheshire-man, the poet of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight may have felt a

sense of ambivalence toward livery; during Richard's most troubled days his countrymen

remained loyal to the badge of the White Hart, even though the hatred for the badge was

steadily growing in other parts of the country. Regardless of the poet's own feelings

about the badge, he could not fail to be touched by the scandal of livery and the eventual

ruin of Richard's own iconic sign. Thus, although for the purposes of this study I have

used many theorists to explain the problems of the iconic sign, the Gawain-poet would

not have needed any such theoretical basis-Richard II's own whimsicality with livery

and iconic images provided him with a ready example.

Although many critics will not hesitate to agree that the Gawain-poet is

questioning the authenticity of signs, and their meanings, many would be reluctant to link

these concerns to Richard's livery campaign. However, reading the specific historical

conditions which surrounded the Gawain-poet, and reconstructing, insofar as it is









possible, his own response to the crisis of signification and iconicity at Richard II's court

can aid us in determining the driving force in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. From

this historical framework, we can suggest that the Gawain-poet, like his contemporaries,

was deeply apprehensive about the role of icons, liveries, and other associationall

forms"-to use Wallace's phrase-in society.

Undeniably, this anxiety about signification existed in many other facets of

fourteenth-century life, including, perhaps, the "crisis of chivalry" at Richard's court,

often seen as a major factor in Sir Gawain's composition, as well as the general

disintegration of trawfe in economic and theological spheres. However, the consequence

of the livery debate-hitherto under-explored-is that it presents an ideological matrix of

questions about the nature of allegiance and communitas as they are communicated

through signs. At the heart of Gawain's dilemma, we do not discover a civilization that

has "evolved away from Christian ideals," as so many critics have argued, or a meditation

on the abstract problem of trawpe. Instead, we are made to confront the real problem that

the Gawain-poet would have tackled through the livery issue-can a society based on

these types of signs and sworn obligations endure?

There is no easy answer to this question, and the poet of Sir Gawain and the

Green Knight seems to convey two messages at the close of the poem. The first is a sense

of the inherently uncontrollable nature of signs and their ability to upset the balance of

power within a kingdom-a position that can be immediately traced back to Richard II.

For, despite the acclaim that the White Hart badge received during the height of

Richard's popularity, eventually, the badge was revealed to be merely an icon, not a

guarantor of real authority, or even a reflection of it. For the poet of Richard the









Redeless, the icon of the badge is irksome because it is an empty but ubiquitous

signifier-it "pokes" into everyone's affairs, pretending to act as an agent of regal

authority when it really has no meaning.

The Gawain-poet, like the poet of Richard the Redeless, is also concerned with

the ramifications of iconic signs but his reaction to them is appreciably different. The

best example of an icon in Sir Gawain-the pentangle-is initially beneficial. It

demonstrates not only the identity of its bearer in a mundane sense (Gawain is

recognizable as the Pentangle Knight), and it also provides us with a description of his

unique and admirable qualities. However, the poet also recognizes that the pentangle is

an iconic sign; it only resembles the objects it represents (both Gawain himself and the

abstraction trawpe) and it "excite[s] analogous sensations in the mind" (Peirce 2.299; see

also 3.362). Therefore, although the pentangle might be said to resemble what it depicts,

the signifying force of the image lies in the spectacle of its iconic signification and not in

its direct correlation to any real object.1

Since there is not necessarily any real correspondence between the icon and its

object, a hidden danger exists. We may be seduced by the lure of these images into

believing they represent a real "truth" of an object when, in fact, icons never truly reflect

reality. As the Gawain-poet must have seen in his own government, if the likeness

between the icon and its object dissolves, it is because the meaning of the sign is altered,

or because the bearer of the sign proves dissimilar to it. In this instance, the sign, or the

bearer of that sign seems duplicitous, because a betrayal of the imagined meaning of the

sign has taken place. Consequently, we might be tempted to blame the choice of sign,


1 See Deacon et al. 188.










calling the pentangle "too idealized" an identity for any one person to sustain, or, we

might assign culpability to Gawain for falling to uphold his own icon.

While it is not my intention to argue that the character of Gawain was meant to

resemble Richard II directly, this response to the collapse of icons could have been

inspired by the behavior of the King himself. Gawain's aversion to confronting the

emptiness of his iconic sign resembles, fascinatingly, the fanatical way in which Richard

clung to the validity of his own iconic identity even when it was openly discredited.2

In Sir Gawain, although the loss of the pentangle does reveal the emptiness of the

sign, it does not, in the end, leave Gawain with a sense of worthlessness. The void left by

the icon of the pentangle is eventually filled by the new sign of the green girdle. With its

seemingly arbitrary signification, the girdle presents the opportunity for a redefinition of

the meaning of signs and the chance to set up a non-iconic sign which still has powerful

influence. Thus, at the end of the adventure, it is clear that Gawain cannot exist as a man

of either trawpe or vntrawfe only, but that his identity is contingent on his actions, and

on his words, not an iconic sign. His identity is not an absolute icon, and not matchless

in its unconditional perfection, and so the only "true" sign of his identity can only exist in

an arbitrary emblem-the girdle. By this chain of reasoning, the poet leaves us with the

sense that the only signs which are false in their meanings are those which seem, on the



2 Chronicque de la Traison et mort de Richart Deux Roy Dengleterre recounts Richard's attempt to defend
his reputation through personal combat: 'this will I prove, and fight four from the best of you, and there is
my pledge.' Gillespie claims that the fact that "Richard would offer such a challenge-or that he could be
portrayed as having made such an offer-is evidence of the vitality of chivalric values" in Ricardian
kingship. Although the reality of this scene can never be determined, it does suggest that Richard
maintained a belief in his own good "chivalrous" character until he met his end (120). This same reaction
to icons can be seen in other sources. Even Christine de Pisan remarks on Richard II's character, claiming
that he was once praised "For being preux, a true Lancelot/It was said of him, without fault, in matters of
arms and battle" but then quickly adds "Fortune greatly harmed him" and he was imprisoned. I have taken
the text of this poem from James L. Gillespie's article, "The Art of Kingship", pg 118. He cites the original
source as Oeuvres poetiques de Christine de Pisan, ed. M. Roy (3 vols. Paris, London, 1863-4).









surface, to represent only one meaning, or one image; for the Gawain-poet, the meaning

of a sign can be constantly in flux, always dissolving and forming new meanings.

As a result, the Gawain-poet goes further than many other authors of his time to

suggest that all signs are not dangerous; some signs, if agreed upon by consensus and in

the spirit of trawfe, can be helpful in maintaining social unity. A beneficial example of

communitas, in this case, arises. As William of Moerbeke suggests, it is

created by a bond of friendship and involves "a plurality of participants, with a
common aim pursued by common action, with full differentiation between its
members but without any relations of subjection or domination on the basis of it"
(qtd. in Wallace, 74).

No one "owns" the girdle, not even Gawain, and, so, no one can be dominated by its

influence. The green girdle is adopted in the spirit of friendship and solidarity, and so no

one can suffer its ill effects; moreover, once it is given a new meaning it can act as a non-

threatening type of livery. Moreover, this livery will always have a fluid meaning-it

represents different things to Gawain, Bertilak, the court at Camelot, and finally recalls

the motto of the Order of the Garter, Hony Soyt Qui Mal Pence, to whoever added it at

the close of the poem.

Through revising the historical conditions surrounding the poem's likely

composition date, we recognize, not only a repetition of the questions posed by the livery

debate but also an indication of how the Gawain-poet might have answered those

questions. The poet, who was probably a Cheshire-man, and certainly royalist, would

naturally have been ambivalent about Richard II's use of iconic signs. And yet, rather

than rejecting all signs or livery, on the grounds that they are treacherous or empty, he

chooses to remind his readers of the randomness of meaning in all signs-political or

otherwise. However, this does not amount to an espousal of iconic signs (even if they









belong to a sovereign)-in fact, the poet suggests that we must negotiate the sign's

capriciousness, by giving it a significance which is not iconic, unrealistic, or dominating.

In the spirit of William of Ockham, meaning can only be generated by "willed

agreements and connections, not on common natures and necessary connections" (Utz

21). Once a consensual agreement is reached within a society about the meaning of those

signs, we should remain steadfast and true to that meaning. It seems that only through

these actions can we avoid the traps of iconicity and maintain unity, both politically and

socially.