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ˇ Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

gawain-400.jpg This image was created by Tanya Joyce in 1980 for a traveling art exhibition, The Art of Chivalry, organized by the University of Texas, Arlington. Scholars preparing this exhibit found Medieval and Renaissance images of other knights, but no images of Gawain were discovered. Tanya was invited to create a picture of Gawain for the exhibition.

"The text of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight includes much more detail than I've shown here," Tanya says. "The key points for me are his pentacle, or pentangle, which is gold on a red background, and the birds and love knots embroidered on his knightly fabrics. I also wanted an image simple enough that it could be enlarged and reduced without losing information."

Tanya's depiction of Sir Gawain continues to attract attention. She recently received international email about the image. While modern portraits of Gawain proliferate, it seems Medieval and Renaissance depictions of this knight remain both elusive and fascinating.

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Tanya Joyce has a longstanding interest in Middle English. Stemming from her dual commitment to visual and verbal arts, she was attracted to Medieval books which combine text, illustration, and decorative elements.

During her sophomore year at the University of Vermont, Tanya created a frieze of Chaucer's Canterbury pilgrims. She studied Chaucer in depth at San Francisco State University with folklorist and historical linguist, Niel K. Snortum, from whom she also learned Old English.

At the time, novelist John Gardner was teaching in the same department. In Gardner's class, Tanya developed an abiding interest in the works of the Gawain poet.

Her goal was to read these works out load. "I expected this dialect would take a semester to learn," Tanya now says with a laugh. "That was in the mid-1960s!"

The complexity of the language plus the sophistication of the poetry combine to make Tanya's goal a long term effort.

"If I'm reading aloud," she says, "I want to know who I'm reading for. Who made up the Medieval audience? Where am I reading? Under what circumstances? What gestures do I use? How far and above what other sounds does my voice need to carry?

"I don't use answers to all these questions literaly in performance, but I want them in my bag of tricks."

Along the way to answering these questions for herself, Tanya has presented readings of excerpts of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and The Pearl at various schools, conferences, and public forums on the West Coast and in the Middle West. She has presented scholarly papers on a variety of topics having to do with Medieval manuscripts at the International Congress on Medieval Studies and at the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association of America. She has given informal scholarly talks at UC Berkeley, San Francisco State, and at Northern Illinois University.

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