Bravery was one of the most popular themes in British literature, especially from the Anglo-Saxon period to the Elizabethan period. England went through many changes during the Anglo-Saxon period and the Elizabethan period such as: wars and disputes to determine the ruling group of England and the rising of kings, queens, and knights. These factors had a huge impact on the theme of bravery, emphasizing the victory of the brave ones and encouraging bravery among people. However, British writing with the theme of bravery did not only deal with physical bravery, it also dealt with mental, emotional, and verbal bravery. Either directly or indirectly, British authors expressed this theme in many different ways, sometimes linking it with other themes and morals. Such themes were illustrated in the epic of Beowulf, The Pardoners Tale, and in Sonnet 130.
In the epic of Beowulf, it is quite clear that the character Beowulf was a courageous, brave man who was highly praised by his people and others. Beowulf would have best fit in the category of physical bravery, because he was full of strength and power because the Lord was with him And Beowulf was ready, firm with our Lords High favor and his own bold courage and strength (Beowulf – Act I, p.14). However, his physical bravery was just a small portion of his real, sincere bravery. His real courage was obvious when Beowulf decided take on the responsibility of the poor man -who had stolen the jeweled chalice- and fight the dragon to protect his people, The Geats deserved revenge; Beowulf, their leader and lord, began to plan it (Beowulf – Act III, p.27). This true bravery of Beowulf poured out from his love and passion for the Geats, and was well revealed during the fight with the dragon, for he was willing to risk his own life for the Geats.
Beowulf was not successful in fighting the dragon because he was severely injured and was about to face death, But fate had decreed that the Geats great king would be no better for any weapon (Beowulf – Act III, p.30). Although he was a few steps away from death, he still hadnt lost his bravery for he was not afraid and accepted death. Also, he didnt blame anyone for his death, didnt blame the poor man who stole the jeweled chalice. He was acting very bravely even knowing he was going to die, which is something very hard to do. Anyone would be scared to death if they knew they were going to die soon, but the great man Beowulf was different. He expressed his acceptance of death to his people by saying, Have the brave Geats build me a tomb, when the funeral flames have burned me, and build it here, at the waters edge, high on this spit of land, so sailors can see this tower, and remember my name, and call it Beowulfs tower, and boats in the darkness and mist, crossing the sea, will know it (Beowulf – Act III, p.32). This was a compromise between Beowulfs solid heart and his people, saying that because Beowulf himself accepted his own death, his people should accept it, too, and show their acceptance by building a memorial of Beowulf. Moreover, Beowulf wanted to remain in the heart of his people as a brave hero Beowulf, in which what the tower became to represent. Beowulf indeed was a symbol of true bravery, being brave both in the outside and inside or physically and mentally.
Similar to the epic of Beowulf, the three rioters in The Pardoners Tale were also very brave, but the theme was partially different from that of Beowulfs. The theme involved in this tale was a fake bravery that didnt even last long and ended as soon as it encountered greed. In the beginning of The Pardoners Tale, the three rioters were reflected as brave, bold men. There were no direct words that showed they were brave men, but if close attention were given while reading this tale, it would have become obvious that they were brave. When one of the rioters said, Huh, Gods arms! Is he (death) so fierce to meet? Ill search for him, by Jesus, street by street. Gods blessed bones! Ill register vow! Here, chaps! The three of us together now, hold up your hands, like me, and well be brothers in this affair, and each defend the others, and we will kill this traitor Death, I say! (The Pardoners Tale, p.92) it gave an image of bravery. He was being brave with words, and to others, he would have appeared brave and courageous. In addition, when the rioters cried out, If we can only catch him, Death is dead! (The Pardoners Tale, p.92), a sense of unification and promise was visible and this bond that existed in them made them look extremely brave.
The three rioters had a solid, courageous idea and were determined to find and kill death. They also believed that they were brave enough to confront death Not even Death, alas, will take my life (The Pardoners Tale, p.92) and thought nothing would tackle and interfere in their way to do so. However, they were proved to be wrong. Even before confronting death, they were tempted by greed – money, No longer was it Death those fellows sought, for they were all so thrilled to see the sight, the florins were so beautiful and bright, that down they sat beside the precious pile (The Pardoners Tale, p. 93). Therefore, in the presence of money, the three rioters bravery slowly deteriorated and became cowards. The reason was because the three rioters were emotionally brave for having a strong determination and acting upon their belief, but they werent brave enough to keep up with their promise. In contrast to Beowulf, the rioters werent able to keep up with their courage and boldness while Beowulfs bravery lasted even after his death. In addition, the ironic part was that the rioters faced death (which was the opposite from their original plan) and worst of all, they were the ones who killed each other Why make a sermon of it? Why waste breath? Exactly in the way theyd planned his death they fell on him and slew him, two to one (The Pardoners Tale, p. 96).
The last form of bravery was present in Sonnet 130, written by William Shakespeare. The male lover in this poem was a brave man who confessed that his sweetheart was not so perfect and had flaws. He knew his sweetheart was nothing compared to the beauty of nature such as the sun and rose. Therefore, he made comparisons that were not sweet, not making the right comparisons a man would have usually made to his lover. Instead of praising his love he had commented, My mistress eyes are nothing like the sun; coral is far more red than her lips red; if snow be white, why then her breasts are dun; if hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head. (Shakespeare, p. 137: lines 1-4). He also stated, I have seen roses damasked, red and white, But no such roses see I in her cheeks (Shakespeare, p. 137: lines 5-6). This statement would have easily offended any woman so it probably took a lot of courage for the male lover to say that. Normally, it is very difficult to insult a lover, but furthermore, being honest with a lover is harder because sometimes honesty can hurt both lovers. But the male lover in Sonnet 130 was brave enough to do both of these, even if it was painful for him to say those brutal words to her.
Bravery shown in Sonnet 130, came from the passionate love the male lover felt towards his sweetheart. Because his love for her was so strong and real, he decided to be honest with her and tell her his true opinion about her. In a way, he meant to imply that even though he had said those brutal things about her, his love was as strong as those who expressed love with false comparisons. Evidently, at the end of them poem when he said, And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare as any she belied with false compare (Shakespeare, p. 137: lines 13-14) he strongly claimed his love was real and even though she had flaws and was not a perfect human being, he still loved her for who she was and because he loved her so much, he even loved her flaws.
To conclude, the theme of bravery in British literature was introduced in many different ways, sometimes even tying in with other themes such as love, greed, and heroism. There are many different ways a writing can be interpreted and if deep analysis is involved, its obvious that in most of the British writings from the period of Anglo-Saxon to the Elizabethan age, the theme of bravery was present either as a theme of the whole story or just one character. Similar to British literature, the theme of bravery still plays a significant role in modern society. Many novels, movies, childrens stories, and other literary works still deal with the theme of bravery, which are also expressed in different ways and give courage and strength to people. Finally, since the theme of bravery has existed from early British literature until now, it is most likely that in the future, the theme of bravery will continue to be a dominating theme in all types of literature.