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My thesis aims to explore certain links between literature and society in the portrayal of courtly society in a group of alliterative texts: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Awntyrs off Arthure at the Terne Wathelyn, Morte Arthure, Wars of Alexander and the Gest Historiale of the Destruction of Troy. The thesis will look at the social function of the texts and how they affect their audience. I will suggest that the particular style and content of the poems encourages aspiration to a material courtly culture and that they also give moral instruction on how to live nobly. I will suggest that the audience for these poems consists of provincial gentry and lower nobility, not overly familiar with the ways of the royal court, and so in need of instruction into the ways of courtly culture. Therefore these poems have been written in a way which is specially adapted to the social needs of their audience.
In the introduction I will outline the development of the court in the late Middle Ages, the possible audience for the poems and the descriptive style of alliterative verse. In chapter one I will look at descriptions of personal appearance and clothes in the poems and how these descriptions are both materially aspirational and morally instructive. In chapter two I will examine how the different types of court buildings in the poems convey particular ideas about the nature of the court. Chapter three consists of a discussion of the ideal feast which was bacsed on opulence, but also moderation. In chapter four I will look at how the poems conveyed the political aspirations of the gentry and provincial nobility in regard to their king.