Beowulf and Sir Gawain
Anglo-Saxon and Romance heroism have salient features that characterize them. On the one hand, in Anglo-Saxon literature the hero is depicted as a courageous warrior. These warriors give key importance to glory and are capable of fighting to death to defend their people and reach such glory. Undoubtedly, the perfect example of Anglo-Saxon heroism is described in the epic poem Beowulf. On the other hand, in a romance, chivalrous knights are usually the heroes. They are often pure in heart and soul, although very much tempted by the deceits of beautiful women.
These heroes undergo a process of self-discovery in the course of their adventure, which enables them to reincorporate into society as a better version of themselves. In this sense, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight accurately represents the romantic hero. In this essay, I will compare and contrast both heroes, describing this divergent configuration of heroism. xfaBeowulf and Sir Gawain have similar virtues. They both have the qualities of valor, military prowess, skills in battle and honor.
More important, they are brave and courageous to fight Grendel, the monster, or the giant Green Knight. For example, in line 433 Beowulf says: “Therefore, to heighten Hygelac’s fame And gladden his heart, I hereby renounce Sword and the shelter of the broad shield, The heavy war-board: hand-to-hand Is how it will be, a life-and-death Fight with the fiend. ” Here, talking to Hrothgar, the hero states his intentions to fight bare-handed with Grendel and by doing so, not only he proves his audacity but also he expects Hygelac to win fame and glory.
As regards figures of speech, we can notice the use of kenning “war-board” making reference to a shield, and the use of antithesis “life-and-death” which contributes to the significance of the battle. Similarly, in line 335 Sir Gawain claims: “That I have you for uncle is my only praise; My body, but for your blood, is barren of worth, And for that this folly benefits not a king, And ‘tis I that have asked it, it ought to be mine, And if my claim be not be comely let all this court judge in sight. ”
In this fragment, showing bravery and determination, Sir Gawain expresses King Arthur his desire to take the King’s place and be himself the one who accepts the Green Knight’s challenge. The use of anaphora “And, And, And” not only creates a driving rhythm by the recurrence of the same sound, but also makes the reader focus on Gawain’s noble reasons for taking the challenge. Even though Beowulf and Sir Gawain share some similarities, these heroes can also be contrasted. For instance, Beowulf has superhuman qualities.
In line 1495 it is stated that “It was the best part of a day before he could see the solid bottom” which means that it took Beowulf all day to get to the bottom of the lake. Moreover, in line 1561 “but so huge and heavy of itself only Beowulf could wield in in a battle” makes reference to the giant sword, he grabs to kill Grendel’s mother, which no human can lift. In these fragments, the use of hyperboles reinforces the hero’s power and strength. Unlike Beowulf, Sir Gawain is not a God-like hero. Like a human being, he has flaws.
For example in line 1941 the romantic hero lies, when telling the Lord “Since all that I owe here is openly paid” as Sir Gawain does not give the Lord the girdle Lady Bertilak had have him. He does this for selfish reasons, as he wants the supposedly ‘magic? girdle to protect him against the Green Knight. What is more, in line 1855 it is stated: “Then the man began to muse, and mainly he thought It was a pearl for his plight, the peril to come. ” This fragment proves that Gawain does not fully trust in Virgin Mary’s protection, an attitude that does not fit a Christian knight, another of Gawain’s flaws.
Another difference between these heroes is that, in Beowulf the hero must fight only for the survival of his people and to gain prestige and glory. In line 194 it can be read: “When he heard about Grendel, Hygelac’s thane was on home ground, over in Geatland. He announced his plans: To sail the swan’s road and search out that king, The famous prince who needed defenders. ” This fragment illustrates what Beowulf wants to do about Grendel’s attack. He feels a defender; it is his duty to protect King Hrothgar from the monster.
Oppositely, Sir Gawain not only fights to defend his people but also to prove himself worth it. Unlike Beowulf, Gawain goes on a quest, facing both external and internal conflicts. The main external conflict is the Green Knight’s challenge Gawain accepted to protect his king and the court. Among his internal conflicts, it is his struggle to restrain his physical attraction to the lady, as he has to follow the chivalry codes. For example, in line 1276: “You are bound to a better man”, Sir Gawain kindly refuses the lady’s sexual innuendoes.
While Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’s heroes have similar virtues they also have some differences. Beowulf is portrayed as a flawless superhuman and Sir Gawain as a more human figure who has imperfections such as selfishness. These heroes also differ in their purpose for fighting, the epic hero only fights to defend his people and gain glory, while the romantic is involved in a more complex conflict. He has to fight for his king and at the same time prove his value always sticking to the chivalry code.