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Gawain, Arthurian literature, textual analysis


When Gawain enters the great hall of Bercilak's castle, he is welcomed and made to feel at home with a fine meal and fresh garments, and the lords and ladies, learning that he is Sir Gawain of King Arthur's court, say to one another:

'In menyng of manerez mere

þis burne now schal vus bryng,

I hope þaat may hym here

Schal lerne of luf-talking.' (924-927)

"Luf-talking" is Gawain's most famous attribute, and the adjectives and adverbs lufly, luflych, luflyly appear with the second highest frequency among adjectives and adverbs in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, twenty-one times altogether. The highest frequency belongs to good, fifty-six times, with goodly appearing six times. Cognates of lufly appear three times: louelych twice and louely once. The general neutrality of the meaning of lufly makes it a highly manipulative word, a word which the poet can place in a variety of contexts. It becomes a chameleon word, taking color and variation from the immediate context to mean different things. Louelych and louely retain the same meaning as their modern English descendent, lovely, and there is no ambiguity or variation in their meanings. Other words appear in the poem with some frequency, for example, pris occurs thirteen times as noun and as adjective, but the poet does not manipulate them in original ways. Nouns occur with the greatest frequency of all, the synonyms for man or warrior at the top of the list, and show no variation in their meanings.