Beowulf vs. Sir Gawain

Throughout the last hundreds of years many epic and romantic tales have been told. Epic tales are those in which a warrior is deemed a hero, performs superhuman actions, and bravely saves a nation from a deadly fate. In a romantic tale phenomenal experiences and enchanting adventures usually take place. In the epic poem Beowulf, Beowulf is a heroic person whose bravery saves King Hrothgar’s people. He later becomes a very noble king. In the romantic tales of Le Morte d’Arthur and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Gawain is also a brave knight who shares qualities with Beowulf. Even though the stories featuring Beowulf and Gawain were written hundreds of years apart, they were not even told in the same era, they both still show how people throughout time have not changed the ways they tell of a hero. They tell of a hero with only the noblest of qualities; a hero who is perfect in the human mind.

In Beowulf and Le Morte d’Arthur revenge is sought out by Beowulf and Sir Gawain. Beowulf seeks revenge for King Hrothgar when a beast, Grendel’s mother, kills one of his closest friends. Beowulf ventures to the swamp where Grendel’s mother lives and kills her there with a sword. It is kind of ironic because Grendel’s mother only killed King Hrothgar’s friend because she wanted revenge for the death of Grendel. In Le Morte d’Arthur, Sir Gawain seeks revenge against one of the noblest knights in King Arthur’s court, Lancelot. Lancelot killed both of Sir Gawain’s brothers when his love for King Arthur’s wife, Guinivere, drove him to save her life. Sir Gawain’s brothers were keeping her prisoner and she was to be burned at the stake for betraying King Arthur’s love. So Sir Gawain sought out to kill Lancelot to justify the deaths of his brothers. Sir Gawain and Lancelot end up fighting each other to the death. Each time they fight one another Lancelot wins and does not kill Sir Gawain. This further infuriates Gawain, “Sir Lancelot, I still defy you. Make an end of me, or I shall fight you again!” (page 236). Lancelot is still a very noble knight because he will not kill Sir Gawain while he is not on his feet, so Gawain should not be so eager to kill him. Beowulf and Sir Gawain seek revenge for with the same intentions, only Gawain’s “justification” over his brothers’ death is not deemed noble or brave because of the qualities possessed by Lancelot. Beowulf’s revenge against Grendel’s mother is driven because of his nobility to King Hrothgar, whereas Gawain’s is driven by hatred.

Beowulf and Sir Gawain were both very brave and very noble men. Beowulf saved King Hrothgar’s people from Grendel when Grendel was continually terrorizing his people. Until Beowulf, nobody else had been strong or brave enough to defeat Grendel. Beowulf voluntarily came to King Hrothgar so he could save his people. Even in Beowulf’s final battle, he was still determined to be a strong warrior, “And Beowulf uttered his final boast: ‘I’ve never known fear, as a youth I fought in endless battles. I am old, now, but I will fight again, seek fame still, if the dragon hiding in his tower dares to face me’.” (Lines 606-611). In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the Green Knight challenges someone to cut off his head. Nobody will volunteer to do this, so King Arthur steps up to the plate to do so. Sir Gawain is fearful for King Arthur’s life, and only then does he agree to accept the challenge of the Green Knight. Part of the Green Knight’s challenge is to let the Green Knight attempt to cut off Gawain’s head in twelve months and a day. Sir Gawain shows his nobility and bravery when he goes back to fight the Green Knight at the end of the twelvemonths time. Even though he is afraid, he still stands still as the Green Knight attempts to cut off his head.

Though their tales were written hundreds of years apart, Sir Gawain and Beowulf both share noble and heroic qualities. Because Beowulf is an epic, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight a romance, the ways in which their qualities are expressed are not quite the same, but each character still possesses these heroic traits. Beowulf is an epic tale, so it only makes sense that in every aspect he seems only the noblest of men. Sir Gawain, on the other hand, does not appear to be totally perfect. He has his flaws, and he ultimately overcomes them. Seeking revenge to kill Lancelot was not a very noble thing to do. Even though Lancelot killed his brothers, Lancelot was still a very noble knight. Beowulf sought revenge against a monster, and Lancelot was no monster. Throughout history and even into the future people will continue to write of tales in which a hero possesses the qualities of being both noble and very brave.


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