Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Comparison
Unworldly characters such as beautiful fairy with her wise mind and magical wand, hideous monster craving for blood with its horrifying fangs, and mysterious elf luring children away from their parents often add a magical aroma to the stories. Readers are enthusiastic to learn how their heroes encounter with these marvelous creatures, whether receiving a powerful golden sword as gift or putting on a life or death fight for his loved ones.
These unworldly characters help the readers to perceive the story in a more in-depth way; they make readers bringing up different question for their appearance, purpose, and the idea they symbolize. Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, two of the earliest great stories of English literature, do not disappoint the readers and present us with Grendel, Grendel’s mother, the Dragon, and the Green Knight. The two poems similarly describe the protagonists’ encounters with these unworldly characters in three patterns, Beowulf’s three great battles with the monsters and Sir Gawain three nights at the Green Knight’s castle.
The progression of these three patterns and different stages appear in Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight influence how the readers view the stories; Beowulf’s three battles represent the progression of violence where as Sir Gawain’s three nights focus on human value and weakness. Beowulf’s first battle with Grendel in the Heorot Hall marks the first stage of violence as Grendel represents pure human evil. A banished demon descended from Cain, Grendel is outlaw by God because of his sin for the killing of Abel the Eternal Lord. Already in the beginning of the poem, Heaney introduces Grendel as a Christian sin of killing.
When the beast comes around to the Heorot, seeing men in their festive celebration, Grendel is driven by jealousy and madness and feasts on human flesh, terrorizing the Heorot Hall of the Danes. The evil being that invades the human society is described with horrifying images as he attacks a warrior, “bit into his bone-lappings, bolted down his blood and gorged on him in lumps” (Heaney 51). At last, Grendel is confronted with Beowulf, who fights with great courage and strength, and Beowulf rises as a victor against the pure evilness and threat to society that Grendel represents.
The next progression and the second stage of violence takes place when Grendel’s mother, the root of evil, comes for her son’s revenge. Unlike Grendel, who fights recklessly, Grendel’s mother possesses more sinister and darker qualities and attacks with a plan. She strikes when the country celebrates, takes King Hrothgar’s most beloved advisor, and lures Beowulf back to her cave, where she has a more advantage of winning. When she enters the story, readers are able to discover that this is not just another battle for Beowulf, but a continuous fight following the previous one as she represents the origin of evil.
Grendel’s mother is by far more challenging and threatening than her offspring. The place that the monster inhabits is described with gruesome image; it is a swamp that “infested with all kinds of reptiles…writhing sea-dragons and monsters slouching on slopes…and serpents and wild things” (Heaney 99). It is in the epic battle against Grendel’s mother where Beowulf finds a match to his great strength. Compare to the battle against Grendel, Beowulf takes down the monster with great efforts and finally slays her with a mighty sword that he finds by chance.
The progression from the protagonist’s first battle to his second one has increased in difficulty and threats. Fortunately, Beowulf and the society manage to survive this direct confrontation against the source of pure evil. As the story proceeds to the third stage of violence, Beowulf’s great final battle, the Dragon stands as the greatest personification of evil and the loss of social value and honor. The Dragon’s rage is first intrigued by a thief’s selfish desire for its treasure, a desire and flaw in human character.
The destruction that this monster brings is far more massive and damaging compare to the two previous evil beings; he would “leave nothing alive in his wake” and “reduced forts and earthworks to dust and ashes” (Heaney 157-159). It is by far the most powerful evil being and requires Beowulf’s own life for defeating it. When Beowulf faces the Dragon, he is accompanied by young soldiers, who flee at the sight of danger and in the protagonist’s time of need, “No help of backing was to be had…that hand-picked troop broke ranks and ran for their lives…” (Heaney 175).
Only one remembers the generosity that Beowulf shows to him goes to his assistance. The honor and social values that is once emphasized so much and Respected have vanished. The corruption and the lost of social value and honor are also represented by the Dragon, which Beowulf fights to his own death in order to defeat it. The progression of the three battles underlines the violence behind each monster and presents the readers a symbolic view on evil and how it develops throughout the story.
Similar to the method of pattern of three in Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight explores human value and weakness using Sir Gawain’s magical three nights at the castle. In his journey to fulfill his agreement with the unworldly character, Sir Gawain becomes a guest to the Green Knight, who disguised as the host, and is presented with a simple game; during his three nights at the castle, the host and Sir Gawain promise to exchange any gain they receive either in the hunt or within the castle wall.
In the absence of any monster, Sir Gawain perceives the upcoming three nights as enjoyment but fails to foresee the major test to his value and weakness. The presence of the pattern of three helps to clue the readers in to the tricky connection between this middle “interlude” and Sir Gawain’s confrontations with the Green Knight at the beginning and end of the poem. The host’s wife intrudes Sir Gawain’s first night; she plays well at his own game, eloquence, and tries to seduce him. The lady’s seduction and the game itself do not seem as dangerous as monster at first sight, but readers are not fooled by appearance.
The challenge of resisting the temptation and also pleasing the lady are overwhelming and make the lady as dangerous and threatening as any monster. The lady at last changes method questioning Sir Gawain’s knightly “politeness,” which he values the most, and successfully gives a kiss to Sir Gawain (Armitage 107). At night, the Green Knight exchanges his gain of the deer and is pleased with Sir Gawain’s honesty and knightly values so far. The second night, the difficulty of the game progresses like the monsters do in Beowulf. Sir Gawain is confronted with greater temptation, and the host faces the giant and more dangerous boar.
Readers can see the increasingly challenging value and weakness test through the progression of simple seduction and the prey. The game comes to a climax at the third night. Seeing Sir Gawain unmoved by her love request, the lady presents him the green girdle, which promises the safety of a man “against those who seek to strike him” (Armitage 143). Encountering the sake of his own survival and displaying fear against death, Sir Gawain accepts the lady’s offer and hides this gain from the Green Knight. Readers are able to interpret the meaning of the green girdle as a failure to the hidden value test and a sign of Sir Gawain’s human weakness.
Furthermore, through the pattern of three, the unfitting tricky fox on the third hunt let the readers connect to Sir Gawain’s untruthful and deceiving behaviors back in the castle and understand the reason for its appearance. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight similarly presents the game and test against human weakness in three patterns and stages as Beowulf does with its unworldly monsters. The presentation of these unworldly characters and the heroes’ confrontations with them help the readers view beyond the story.
The hidden meanings of plot and character serve as helpful tools for understanding the story’s message. The three patterns in Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight allow the readers to see the progression of violence through Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the Dragon and the test to human value and weakness in Sir Gawain’s magical three nights at the Green Knight’s castle. Heaney, Seamus. Beowulf. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. , 2000. Print. Armitage, Simon. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. , 2007. Print.