Beowulf vs. Sir Gawain
Many works of literature from the same era often have similar story lines and themes. In the epic poems of Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, both of these epic poems seem to have much in common. Each story seems to emphasize truth, honor, and heroism are the most important qualities a person can demonstrate. While both stories seem to have the similar qualities there are also many differences. All the qualities emphasized are exhibited differently. It seems that although heroism is emphasized in the two epic poems, the times and places shape the way heroism is perceived.
The heroic characters described in Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight correspond to in their attitudes, their heroic adventures, and their relationship to others in their society different moral codes, but each character has a set of standards and moral codes. Beowulf and Sir Gawain are such very different kinds of heroes that are heavily dependent on the time in which the heroic events took place. While Beowulf fights his battles to achieve fame and glory, Gawain battles the Green Knight in service to Arthur.
There personal characteristics determine the outcomes of the works. The greatest value of Beowulf is his bravery. There is no uncertainty that he is a great combatant. Beowulf’s heroism belongs to a different time than that of Sir Gawain. For that reason his bragging about his prowess might seem decidedly unheroic. When he tells Unferth “I count it true that I had more courage, More strength in swimming than any other man” (514-15 (41) it might be interpreted in a poor way. Nevertheless, bragging aside, Beowulf is undoubtedly a brave man.
When Beowulf sets out to kill Grendel’s mother he simply “donned his armor for battle, Heeded not the danger… ” (1328-29 60). When his sword fails him he uses his substantial strength: “On the might of his hand, as a man must do Who thinks to win in the welter of battle Enduring glory; he fears not death” (1420-23 62). Certainly he is in search of fame. Though this is true it must not discount his brave actions. He gains his fame truthfully by doing battle with menaces to society.
He does not lie or manipulate to achieve fame, he uses what is rightfully his, his bravery. Beowulf’s bravery carries the story. One because it details his rise to fame and secondly it also outlines his downfall. The honor of Sir Gawain is his best value, though he suffered a set-back. His honor is the means for what happens through the rest of the poem. First Sir Gawain respectfully asks to participate in the game with the Green Knight. He feels he is the person to act in the game as he is “the weakest, the most wanting in wisdom…
And my life, if lost, would be least missed, truly” (354-5 295). This surely is not true, but to Gawain the valor is necessary. It is also honorable as King Arthur had first accepted the challenge by the Green Knight. King Arthur’s possible death, as head of the state, would be devastating to the community. As Gawain tells King Arthur: “this affair is too foolish to fall you” (358 295). The rules of the game are set and Gawain swears to find the Green Knight again in a year. “Here is my oath on it, in absolute honor” (403 296)!
He proves his honor by setting out to find the Green Knight a year later; even though he does not know where he lives and is certain his death will come about form the meeting. The poem’s main theme is Gawain’s honor and it is tested. He basically keeps his honor even in the face of great temptation. As when the Lady of the house tries to seduce him. Nevertheless he falters in trying to protect his life. But he does redeem himself by admitting his duplicity to the Green Knight, and learning from his experience. Beowulf in contrast does not learn. That is why he finds himself battling a dragon in his advanced age.