Sir Gawain existed in late medieval England, whereromance and folklore was prevalent, while Beowulf lived in the times when the Anglo-Saxons migrated, hence the narrators visions both differed from what they believed constituted a true hero. “Beowulf” written as an epic poem, dictates the idea of a hero as someone who is viewed as a savior to his people. Beowulf has one duty: he must fight to win.
If he succeeds, he is a hero, if he fails he would be viewed a failure. The narrator illustrates a hero as a loyal, honorable, and courageous person, all of which Beowulf exemplifies. Beowulf risks his life countless times for immortal glory and for the good of his people. Beowulfs ability to put his people before himself, mark him honorable.
He encounters hideous monsters and the most ferocious of beasts, but never fears the threat of death. His power surmounts twenty men in one arm alone, additionally his leadership qualities make him a superb hero in the eyes of his fellow men. For example, when Beowulf is fighting Grendels mother, who is seeking revenge on her sons death, he is able to slay her by slashing the monsters neck with a Giants sword that can only be lifted by a person as strong as Beowulf. When he chops off her head, he carries it from the ocean with ease, but it takes four men to lift and carry it back to Herot mead-hall. This strength is a key trait of Beowulf’s heroism.
His loyalty and the ability to think of himself last, allows all to view him with the utmost respect. Beowulf ventured out to help the Danes with complete sincerity, an unusual occurrence in the time of war and widespread fear. He set a noble example for all humans relaying the necessity of brotherhood and friendship. His loyal and courageous attributes are what set him apart from someone who can merely kill a monster. In the final line, the narrator clearly acknowledges Beowulfs true kingship, “They said that he was of world-kings the mildest of men and the gentlest, kindest to his people, and most eager for fame.” Beowulfs ability to put his peoples welfare before his own exemplifies his strong belief in fate.
His belief is, if he dies in battle it is because his destiny was to do so. He always explains his death wishes before going into battle and requests to have any assets delivered to his people. “And if death does take me, send the hammered mail of my armor to Higlac, return the inheritance I had from Hrehtel, and from Wayland.” Beowulf is aware he will be glorified in life or death for his actions. He knows that when he fights an enemy like Grendel or Grendels mother he will achieve immortality as the victor or the loser.
Even with the enormous amount of confidence Beowulf possesses, he understands fate will work its magic and he could be killed at any point in his life. He faces reality by showing no fear and preparing for a positive or fatal outcome. Stated by Beowulf in the text, “Fate will unwind as it must!” In this line he realizes the dangers of battle, but fears nothing for his own life. In comparison the narrator in “Sir Gawain and The Green Knight” links heroism to chivalry, which includes bravery, honor and courtesy. Sir Gawain shows his bravery by shying away from nothing and no one. He proves his honor and courtesy to everyone he meets by showing respect to all whether or not he receives it back.
He in the end proves he is a “true” Knight. In medieval England the idea of fighting for others survival was no longer the primary focus, instead the hero fought for his own ideals, which is evident in “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”. Yet a romantic hero can be described almost as an epic one; he is loyal, honorable and courageous. The knight, however, must possess courtly skills and be careful not to be led into temptation by ulterior motives. His task can be looked upon, perhaps, as spiritual rather than physical, as shown in Beowulf, because Gawains setting implies a state of peace and harmony.
The knight never truly sets out to defeat another character. Each confrontation to Sir Gawain lies within himself, particularly when the wife of the Green Knight temps him with lustful notions. Sir Gawains bravery is first evident when the Green Knight enters King Arthurs Court. The Green Knight taunts the people with the question, does anyone dare to take his axe, but first allow him to give the brave soul an well-aimed stroke with it to the neck? Sir Gawain concerned himself with this burden and took the ax from the knight. Gawain knew by doing so he would have to find the Green Knight and receive a blow to his neck in return.
Many felt Sir Gawain would not return if he ventured forth and fulfilled his obligations. Gawain accepts this, knowing on his travel he more than likely will be put to death, yet he risked his final crusade with the greatest bravery. He accepts these terms and gives the Green Knight his axe without haste. As time passes, eventually Sir Gawain realizes he must begin his fated search and find the Green Knight and his chapel. In welcoming the Green Knights challenge he shows his honor to the whole court.
Though many adversities he faced, Gawain still went on. “And at that holy tide, He pray with all his might, That Mary may be his guide, Til a dwelling comes in sight.” (II, 736-739), all to fulfill his promise to the Green Knight. He felt his honor and faith would lead him to a castle. Gawain courteously asks for shelter and tells the castles court of his crusade. Gawain pleased, made companionship with the king.
The king fond of Gawain made an agreement with him. The proposed agreement to prove his honor was “Whatever I earn in the woods I will give you at eve, And all you have earned you must offer to me.” (II, 1106-1107) Sir Gawain is very courteous in all he does especially while in the company of the king. He is tempted daily by the kings wife. The lady was to be aggressive in order to gain Gawains love for her, but he had much control of the situation, yet still managed to give her everything she asked for in a courteous polite manner. Sir Gawain appears to be incapable and thoughtless at first, but slowly proves himself by his subtle actions. Sir Gawain represents loyalty along with an unclear purpose.
He must put his life before the kings and fulfill duties that are not always demanded of him. Sir Gawain is a hero only if he can face his failures. He demonstrates his heroism when he admits his mortality and imperfections in these lines: “I cant deny my guilt; my works shine none to fair! Give me your good will, and henceforth Ill beware.” The ages in which these stories were written plays a major part in the messages the narrators are trying to convey. Beowulf was probably written around 400 A. D. when the main idea was survival of the fittest.
The monsters Beowulf fought were actual monsters, and he battled against plague, disease, hunger, and thieves, who would stop at nothing. Being the story paralleled the Anglo-Saxon way of living they would have never been able to relate to Sir Gawain and his struggles internally. Sir Gawains time was by far less threatening. King Arthur was in charge, and every day seemed to be like one right out of a fairy tale.
They ignored and forgot monsters, dragons, or plagues; there were only noble men, and great feasts. With no obvious threat on Camelot, King Arthurs knights surely had to find some alternative way to prove their chivalry. In conclusion to the heroic traits of both characters everything Beowulf was for his time, Sir Gawain was for his. They both understood glory and at the same time, defeat.