Sir Gawain and Beowulf

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Updated: Apr 15, 2021
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Sir Gawain and Beowulf essay

Beowulf is a poem about a knight that hears of a monster terrorizing King Hrothgar’s land. Beowulf travels there to take on the monster named Grendel. He successfully kills Grendel and is praised for doing so. Grendel’s mother is enraged by her son’s death and kills one Aeschere. Seeking revenge for Aeschere’s death Beowulf swims into Grendel’s mother’s cave where he kills her. He is once again praised for his brave act and then returns home. He later becomes king of Geatland where he runs for a very long time. Knowing that his death is near he wants to fight one last fight and takes on a dragon. Beowulf is not his youthful self he once was leading him to being bitten by the dragon causing him to die. Some background on Beowulf is that it “[Beowulf] is an epic poem composed in Old English consisting of 3,182 lines… and is considered one of the oldest surviving poems in the English language.” (Fiorentino). Although it is one of the oldest surviving poems in the English language the author is unknown. The poem is considered to take place in “different parts of Scandinavia over the course of the 6th century CE.” (Fiorentino). Beowulf is from Geatland and sails to King Hrothgar’s kingdom in Denmark to fight Grendel and his mother. The date of when the poem was written is still being debated “Arguments have been made for as early as the 7th century CE and as late as the 11th century CE.” (Fiorentino).

Sir Gawain and the Green Giant is a story about Sir Arthur’s round table otherwise known as his knights. The knights have a bad reputation because some view them as not needed because all they do is sit around. The Green Giant is the one that rebuts this thought by challenging one of Arthur’s knights. The one that takes the challenge is Sir Gawain. The Green Giant enters the room by asking if one knight would like to compete in a Christmas Challenge. None of the knights was to accept the challenge until Gawain steps up. The Green Giants challenge is one chop to his neck with his axe and in a year and a day the Green Giant will have a swing at Gawain’s neck. Gawain accepts the challenge and cuts through the Giant’s neck, unfazed but what has happened the Giant picks up his head and gets back on his horse and rides away. After many months have passed it is now time for Gawain to fulfil his end the bargon. He travels for a long time until he reaches a castle, unknowing of where he is going he stops at the castle to ask where the Green Knight’s castle is. He then meets the king of the castle and he says that Gawain should stay a while and then one of his knights will take him there. Gawain happily accepts the offer. Gawain’s host offers him a deal that whatever they receive they will give to each other.

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On the next day the host goes out to hunt while Gawain stays at the castle until he is approached by the host’s wife. The lady goes into Gawain’s room and attempts to seduce him, however she only manages to get a kiss. When the host returns Gawain is given a doe and the host receives one kiss. The second day comes around and the host brings Gawain a boar and Gawain gives his host two kisses. On the third day the host kills a fox and the lady gives him three kisses accept this time she wants something to remember him by, a toten of love. Gawain has nothing to give but the lady mentions she has a green sash that gives immunity.

However the sash only works if the person wearing it is completely faithful and honest. When the host returns they exchange gifts, Gawain receives the fox and the host receives the three kisses. However Gawain does not mention the sash. The host does as he promises and sends a knight with Gawain to Green Knight’s Castle. The Green Knight approaches Gawain and proceeds with his end of the bargon. The axe only cuts Gawain’s neck a little. The Green Knight then tells Gawain his name; King Bertilak who was the host of Gawain. The reason he did not kill Gawain is because Gawain had proven himself because he did not fall into temptation of the lady. This story is like Beowulf because the author is unknown as well as when it was published. However it “is thought to have been composed in the mid- to late fourteenth century.” (Jokinen). This being said the two stories have that in common however they both have bravery, honor, and morale.

Beowulf and Sir Gawain have many examples of bravery throughout both stories. Bravery is a very important part to a knight because that is what a knight is built on. Knights should protect people and both of the stories display that perfectly. Beowulf shows bravery in many different parts of the poem, it is most noted that Beowulf traveled to fight Grendel. He could have just sat back and watched from the outside and done nothing. However he chooses to take on the challenge because he wants to display bravery and prove how strong he is.

Beowulf not only takes on Grendel but he then dives down into Grendel’s mother’s cave to take her on. This is another example of bravery because many would have take the rewards given to him after he defeated Grendel and left but Beowulf chooses to take on his mother. After that happens some time goes on before he can prove himself again. His next act of bravery was when he took on the dragon. He was nearing death however he did not see that as a barrier of why he should not take on the dragon but instead took it on like he would have in his youth. Nagelsen describes Beowulf’s bravery the best by saying “He suggests that Breca would never have survived this kind of an assault; it was Beowulf’s own bravery that saved him.” (Nagelsen). Sir Gawain has proven his bravery at the beginning of the story. Not only did he ultimately accept the Green Knight’s challenge but he was also a knight on Arthur’s round table. This shows that there has to be some bravery in order for a man to join the knights.

The Green Knight enters the room searching for a knight in Arthur’s round table to ask if he wants to compete in his Christmas Challenge. No one responds to the offer and it is at this point that Sir Gawain approaches the Green Knight. Anyone that accepts a challenge from a magical green knight unknowing of what the challenge is, is very brave. The Green Knight goes on to tell Gawain what it is he will be competing in and it is a blow for a blow at each others necks with an axe. When Gawain is escorted to the Green Knight’s castle the knight escorting him tells him that he would not tell anyone if Gawain did not complete the challenge. However Gawain choose to continue on his quest that he chose to complete because he is brave and he got himself into this. Bravery not only affected both of these men, honor will also play into both of these stories.

Both men display honor because they are both honored in what they do. One must display honor in order to be apart of Arthur’s round table. Sir Gawain is apart of the round table thus giving him some honor. However once the Green Knight arrives he will gain a lot more honor due to him accepting the challenge. The Green Knight entered the hall with challenge although the knights did not know it was to prove that the round table was made up of honorable knights. Gawain would ended up gaining honorability not only for himself but also for his fellow knights. He had to go through not being seduced by the lady in order for King Bertilak to recognise him as honorable along with his fellow knights. Not only did Gawain prove himself to honorable but he also has to have honor according to his chivalry codes.

These codes showed how a knight should act towards a lady “Chivalrous conduct – qualities idealized by knighthood, such as bravery, courtesy, honor, and gallantry toward women.” (Alchin). Gawain even showed honor in not falling under the temptation of the lady. Beowulf was young and did not have much recognition before the fight with Grendel and his mother until after he fought them. After that his story would be told around Hrothgar’s kingdom. This is best displayed after Beowulf first defeats Grendel, when he returns to the Hrothgar with Grendel’s arm, Hrothgar showers him in gifts and rewards him with many treasures. Thus leading to his gain in honor through how the kingdom. After the fight with Grendel’s mother, Beowulf cuts off the of Grendel to return to the king, thus leading to more honor because he not only defeated the monster that was reeking havoc on the kingdom but also the mother of the monster. After all of the fighting was over Beowulf returned to his kingdom where he would give the king the new treasures he had obtained following the fight. This act raised his honor in his own kingdom because it showed he would fight not for the rewards but for the good of the fight.

The morale behind both characters is different, one is trying to make a name for himself throughout the story while the other is trying to protect his name and the names of his fellow knights. Beowulf is relatively young, although he is strong he is still young and does not have much credibility. However over the course of defeating the monsters he has quickly made a name for himself. This is ultimately his morale or the reasoning for what he is doing. He wants to make a name for himself while also protecting people. Gawain on the other hand has already created an image for himself. He is name is apart of the round table, the reason he has “sir” in front of his name. He goes on the quest to prove that he and his knights are not what people make them out to be, useless.

After everything he has been through in King Bertilak’s castle he has proven to everyone that he is noble. The two characters morale ultimately define how they will be in the story. Gerald R. Lucas describes both of the characters perfectly, “The pre-Christian Beowulf is ultimately concerned with glory, while Gawain’s concern lies with his immortal soul.” (Lucas). He explains that both characters had different morales, one was doing it for personal gain in order to better his name while the other was doing it for the greater good.

The overall plot of the stories is very similar, if you compare both in a timeline sequence you will notice that they both have three main plots. Beowulf has to fight Grendel, Grendel’s mother and finally the dragon, while Gawain has to fight temptation three different times from the lady, the first being subtle about it, and as the days go one she becomes more aggressive. Both main characters have to go through difficult times proving they are both brave and honorable. They also have very good morales behind them, they are not doing to for the riches but to either make a statement or prove to everyone that they are not useless.

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Sir Gawain and Beowulf. (2021, Apr 15). Retrieved from