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Amy Mazzola English 7 Professor Pigliacelli Essay #3 Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight In both, Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the main characters were heroes. Although they are two different kinds of heroes, they have very much in common. Beowulf, is what is known as a epic hero. While Sir Gawain, is called a chivalric hero. And, they also both confront an impressive enemy or foe of their own in each story. There are a few similarities between each of these stories. In both, the main characters were males of noble birth. They had both lived in kingdoms, where neither one of them were really valued for much. And they both set out on a journey to somewhat prove themselves to their families and their court. And, in the end I feel that both of them did just that, and proved how much they were worth in bravery, courageousness and chivalry. In the end, I feel that Gawain, although he took the wager for a good reason, ended up straying and did not hold up the characteristics of a chivalric hero, but in the end, I think that he came back around to his roots. And he learns a lot while doing that too. There were also a lot of differences in each of the stories. In Bewoulf, we know from the beginning, that he will die and it was foreshadowed throughout the whole book. This was not the case in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Foreshadowing of death is definitely a part of being an epic hero. I think it is so because then you know that you


Mazzola 2 only have until the end of the book to prove that you character has what it takes to be a real epic hero. And, Beowulf decided to help Heorot on his own, Gawain made a decision to take a journey in the moment that the Green Knight waged a gauntlet. And, they were also different because of the fights that they had to endure, Beowulf’s were pretty much strictly physical things. But Gawain, had to deal with more imaginary things, that can’t be seen or touched, like the seduction. But, they were both considered heroes. Beowulf and Gawain had to fight very different things if you look at them side by side. Beowulf had to overcome Grendel, Grendel’s mother and a dragon. Those are all very physical things, although they may not be considered “real” or “scary” by today’s standards, they were very much real and fearsome where and when the story takes place. These were very hard things for the other people in the story to tackle, which is why Beowulf needs to step in and eventually come out on top. While Sir Gawain had to face, the wager as well as the seductions. These were not things that he had to battle with physically, they were much more of an imaginary struggle between what is good and right and just and what is not. After he took the wager, he went to find the Green Knight because it was the right thing to do, to stick to your word and not step down. And while Lady Bertilak while seducing him he had a constant fight between what was good and what was not. He gave in to the “bad” side in the end, but he revealed his true self when he met with the green Knight again after all.


Mazzola 3 In Beowulf, translated by Seamus Heaney, Beowulf was considered to be an epic hero. Being an epic hero means many things. In the case of this story, the hero is a male character, whom is born into a noble family. This hero’s character traits mirror important ideas of his time. And, this hero must perform a courageous and brave pursuit that will mirror the values of the time and his actions determine the fate and destiny of his people. In Beowulf, the main character, and our hero Beowulf takes a journey, from his own kingdom, with his men to another kingdom to help them out with a problem that they have been having for years and that no one can solve. “So Grendel ruled in defiance of right, one against all, until the greatest house in the world stood empty, a deserted wallstead. For twelve winters, seasons of woe…Sad lays were sung about the beset king, the vicious raids and ravages of Grendel, his long and unrelenting fued, nothing but war; how he would never parley or make peace with any Dane nor stop his death-dealing nor pay the death-price (p. 13, 144-156)”. When Beowulf arrives he is thrust right into solving the problem and he soon decides that he will take Grendel on all alone and that he will use no weapons. The Geats wait for Grendel to attack and when he does, they unleash Beowulf on him. Beowulf kills Grendel on the first night that he sets out to do so. After Grendel is defeated, his mother sets out to get revenge for her son’s slaying. Beowulf sets out to kill her, and she captures him, and his sword fails to the work he wishes it would. A fight ensues and ends with and attack by Beowulf. “…A resolute blow that bit deep into her neck-bone and severed it entirely, toppling the doomed house of her flesh; she fell to the floor. The sword dripped blood, the swordsman was elated (p. 109, 1765-1569)”. Beowulf takes her


Mazzola 4 head back to Heorot and displays it in the hall. This scene shows us that Beowulf is an epic hero, because he doesn’t just stop at killing her, he lops off her head and brings it back to Heorot for everyone to see, - to show them that he killed her all by himself. Bewoulf leaves Hrothgar’s kingdom and returns home to his kingdom in Denmark. Time passes by and Beowulf is the king of the Geats for fifty years. And we hear of Beowulf’s last conquest, the dragon. “He ruled it well for fifty winters, grew old and wise as warden of the land until one began to dominate the dark, a dragon on the prowl… (p. 151, 2208-2212)”. Someone inadvertently steals some of the dragon’s hoard, and after that the dragon seeks out to wreak havoc on the land. “Everywhere the havoc he wrought was in evidence. Far and near, the Geat nation bore the brunt of his brutal assaults and virulent hate… he had swinged the land, swathed it in flame, in fire and burning, and now he felt secure in the vaults of his barrow; but his trust was unavailing (p. 157, 2316-2323)”. Beowulf goes to kill the dragon with his men, at a point all the men except Beowulf go ahead and fight the dragon. But, when Wiglaf sees that he is in trouble, he can’t bear to stay behind, and goes to help his king. Beowulf kills the dragon, “Once again the king gathered his strength and drew a stabbing knife he carried on his belt, sharpened for battle. He stuck it deep into the dragon’s flank. Beowulf dealt it a deadly wound (p. 183, 2702-2706)”. Very, very soon after that scene where he kills the dragon, Beowulf dies. Before that, he tells Wiglaf to find the dragon’s hoard and bring it back to the kingdom. While he is gone, Beowulf dies. “The furious heat on the pyre would assail him. His soul fled from his breast to its destined place among the steadfast ones (p. 191, 2818-2820)”. This


Mazzola 5 scene also shows us that he is an epic hero because he just kind of dies, he doesn’t make a big deal out it, he knows that it’s his time to die, and he just goes with it. He was comfortable with everything that he had done in his life up to that point and he was ready and wiling to let that speak for him in the end. In, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, translated by Simon Armitage, our chivalric hero is Sir Gawain. A chivalric hero can be described in many different ways, but the most important aspect of them is that they bide by the chivalric code. The chivalric code is a series of five important traits: generosity, fellowship, purity, courtesy and chivalry. This is different than an epic hero, because an epic hero is all about the glory, which a chivalric hero is about doing the right thing, and doing things for the right reasons. I think an epic hero is more about doing things for your own self, to prove yourself, and being a chivalric hero is more about becoming a better person. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, we follow Sir Gawain through a journey. It all starts on Christmas Eve. A knight comes into King Arthurs court, who is completely green, and wages a challenge. “So at Christmas in this court I lay down a challenge: if a person here present, within these premises, is big or bold or red blooded enough to strike me one stroke and be struck in return, I shall give him as a gift this gigantic cleaver and the axe shall be his to handle how he likes. I’ll kneel, bare my neck and take the first knock. So who has the gall? The gumption? The guts? Who’ll spring from his seat and snatch this weapon? I offer the axe- who’ll have it as his own? I’ll afford one free hit from which I won’t flinch, and promise that twelve months will pass in peace, then claim


Mazzola 6 the duty I deserve in one year and one day. Does no one have the nerve to wager in this way? (p. 39, 284-300)”. Gawain decides that he will take the wager. He asks his uncle to let him have a try. He says that he is not the best knight, and the only reason why he is valuable is because he is King Arthur’s nephew, so it should be him instead of someone who is actually a skilled and valuable knight. King Arthur allows him to step forward and take the wager. And he knocks the Green knight’s head off with the axe, and it goes rolling about the floor. The headless body then walks over to pick up the head and holds it by the green hair and it says that they will meet again in a year and a day. Time passes by and Gawain finally leaves on All Saint’s Day, November 1st of the following year. He sets out to find the Green Knight and the Green chapel. While he is searching for them he encounters animals, which he must defeat. “Here he scraps with serpents and snarling wolves, here he tangles with wodwos causing trouble in the crags, or with the bulls and bears and the odd wild boar. Hard on his heels through the highlands come giants. Only diligence and faith in the face of death will keep him from becoming a corpse or carrion (p. 69, 720-725)”. After he travels for a while he comes across a kingdom, and he stays there for a few days before he sets out to find the Green Knight again. They welcome him greatly at this new kingdom. The King treats him superbly, and lets him stay with him. Gawain stays for three days, each of the days the King goes out hunting in the morning. Gawain and the King have an agreement that they will give each other whatever they have at the end of the day. The 1st day the King goes on a deer hunt, while he is hunting, the King’s wife is in


Mazzola 7 Gawain room seducing him. The next day, he hunts a boar, and the seducing becomes more intense. And the last day, he hunts a fox, and the seduction hits a pinnacle. On what would be Gawain’s 4th morning in the kingdom, he is getting ready to leave and go find the Green Knight. The Lady gives him her green girdle, and he puts it on. When he finally meets with the Green Knight again, it almost seems like he is surprised that Gawain came to see to his end of the pact. Then Gawain assumes the position with his neck sticking out, and the Green Knight swings the axe and as it is coming down Gawain tenses and shrugs. And the Green Knight misses his neck. The second time, he misses again. And the third time, he only cuts one side of Gawain’s neck, not a fatal blow. “Be a mite less feisty, fearless young fellow, no insulting or heinous incident has happened beyond that game we agreed on in the court of your king. One strike was promised- consider it served! From any lingering loyalties you are hereby released. Had I mustered all my muscles into one mighty blow my axe would have dealt you your death, without doubt. But my first strike fooled you- a feint, no less- not fracturing your flesh, which was only faur in keeping with the contract we declared that first knight, for with truthful behavior you honored my trust and gave up your gains as a good man should. Then I missed you once more, and this for the morning when you kissed my pretty wife then kindly kissed me. So twice you were truthful, therefore twice I left no scar. The person who repays will live to feel no fear. The third time, though, you strayed, and felt my blade therefore (p. 177, 2338-2357)”. All in all, I think that both Beowulf and Gawain are great heroes. Both, to read about and to look up to. I think that each of them has desirable characteristics, and not so


Mazzola 8 desirable ones. But there is a lesson to be learned from each of them. From Bewoulf, we can learn that although glory is important, it is not everything. And from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, we can learn that no one is perfect, and you should be able to accept your mistakes and move along with your life. From both combined, we learn the most important lesson, to be yourself, and through that you will gain respect and everything that you deserve.


beowulf and sir gawain