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Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: Comparing Portrayal of Concepts of Chivalry and Reputation

In the Old English poem Beowulf, the warrior culture is centered upon the heroic codes. These who are members of Hrothgar’s court are ranked primarily based upon the identities and reputations of their ancestors. It can be said that the armor of these warriors, as it has travelled from generation to generation and warrior to warrior, is emblematic of the really reputations these warriors consider most crucial. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, also, armor plays an critical part. It is representative of the virtues Sir Gawain is challenged to uphold, and, on a larger scale, is also symbolic of the test to which the entire chivalric system is place. Hence, the two poems, despite the fact that diverse in plot and some general cultural traits, include a motif of armor that opens up the doors to themes with regards to the value of ancestry and reputation as nicely as the themes of knightly chivalry and Christian morality, respectively.

As Beowulf is fundamentally a record of heroic deeds, the identities and reputations of those who have performed and will carry out these acts are clearly central to the interpretation and understanding of the poem. In the opening passages, the reader actions into a world in which each male figure is identified as the son of his father. Characters consistently refer to lineage when identifying themselves and discussing their backgrounds. The presence of this prominent concern with ancestry in the Geatish and Danish warrior cultures can be attributed to the poem’s central concentrate upon the bonds of kinship. Males take pride in ancestors who have acted courageously and obtained a praiseworthy status amongst their kin. Furthermore, these guys are provided with a set of requirements to live up to that are primarily based upon the functionality of the aforementioned ancestors.

Upon additional examination of the values of the warrior culture in Beowulf, it is evident that armor supplies a historical hyperlink that is analogous to the ancestry of these men. In a way, the history of a warrior’s armor parallels and reflects the history of the warrior himself – not only in the specifics of its craftsmanship, but in the results of its performance. Merely put, “…the troops themselves had been as good as their weapons” (40). Hence, the historical elements associated with armor in Beowulf straight correspond to the theme of the importance of a warrior’s reputation.

With armor comes the history of its efficiency from generation to generation, and this history opens up the theme of the reputation of he who owns the armor. Whilst the heritage of a warrior does supply models of heroic and noble behavior and helps one particular to establish their identity among kin, it is shown by way of the text that a very good reputation is the key to solidifying one’s identity. As the narrator so astutely remarks in the poem’s prologue, “behavior that is admired is the path to energy amongst folks everywhere” (34). Beowulf boasts of himself as a excellent warrior and then backs up his claims by defeating Grendel he is then celebrated and received among the warriors as a hero. Unferth, in comparison, boasts emptily, in the end proving himself unwilling to fight the monsters. Therefore, though boasts of heroic capabilities are crucial in the all round construction of warrior culture, it is a hero’s actions that define his reputation. Take, for example, Shield Sheafson. Orphaned at a young age and hence without having a father to contribute to the establishment of his identity and warrior reputation, he is left to form his own identity by performing many valiant deeds for which he will acquire fame and be remembered. He makes use of his outstanding overall performance to contribute to the formation of his reputation, and eventually becomes the originator of the Danish royal line.

It is also crucial to note the weaponry in relation to its aesthetic particulars. Appropriate from the beginning, the reader is shown the significance of armor by means of the detailed descriptions offered by the poet. When the Danish watchman finally delivers to lead the Geats to Heorot, the reader is shown the “boar-shapes” that “flashed/ above their cheek-guards, the brightly forged/ operate of goldsmiths, watching more than/ those stern-faced men” (40). The boars that are embossed on the helmets give the warriors an additional type of protection, and it is nearly as if the animal is with him as he marches into battle. Furthermore, when the warriors arrive at Heorot, they are introduced as seemingly worthy of interest, because “from their arms and appointment, they seem well born/ and worthy of respect” (41).

The role of armor in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is somewhat equivalent, though it operates to bring about the theme of knightly chivalry a lot more than the themes of reputation and heritage. Even so, it could be mentioned that adherence to knightly ideals contributes to the establishment of one’s overall identity and reputation. In this poem, Gawain’s shield is with no a doubt the most crucial piece of armor that has been introduced hence far. The center of his protective gear, the shield is the perfect symbol of the virtues and ideals Gawain aspires to: generosity, courtesy, friendship, chastity, and piety. The pentangle on Gawain’s shield represents the formation of the endless knot. The side of the shield that faces towards Gawain when he wears it has the face of Mary, one more crucial aesthetic aspect. The shield as a result represents not only the profound heavenly protection of Christianity that was central to knightly culture, but also the protection from earthly harm by way of the safety of Mary, a maternal figure whose womb signifies a place of safety.

Even though it is clear that Gawain’s adherence to these virtues is tested all through the poem, it is really attainable that there is more beneath examination than basically his individual virtue. Ultimately, Gawain’s shield is symbolic not only of the test he personally endures, but a test of the chivalric technique as a entire. King Arthur’s court depends heavily on the code of chivalry, which seems to worth appearance and symbols more than actual legitimacy. Arthur is introduced as the “most courteous of all,” a clear indication that folks in this court are ranked according to their obedience of a particular code of behavior (163). The 1st time the values of this chivalric code are brought into question is when the Green Knight challenges the court, ridiculing its knights for getting so apprehensive of mere words. This suggests that maybe words and aesthetics hold also significantly power over the knights of King Arthur’s court.

On his quest for the Green Chapel, Gawain travels from Camelot, land of the one chivalric code he has ever recognized, into the wilderness – a place where he is forced to abandon these familiar codes of chivalry in order to locate the signifies of physical comfort that are needed for his survival. Once Sir Gawain prays (to Mary, notably) for aid, he is right away rewarded with the sudden appearance of a magnificent castle. Upon getting into this new and heavily fortified castle, Sir Gawain learns about a new kind of chivalry, 1 that is primarily based a lot more firmly upon the values of truth and reality. The individuals that comprise Bertilak’s court are firmly connected to nature, as is visible in the way Gawain is greeted by servants who kneel on the “naked earth” (179). The value of this, then, is to note that the people in this castle center their chivalrous ideals upon the reality of the all-natural globe. It is crucial to preserve in thoughts how diverse this chivalric code is in comparison to that of Camelot and King Arthur’s court.

When Gawain is subjected to this distinct type of chivalric code, his virtues are challenged in techniques he has not skilled before. Through these tests, he learns that despite the fact that chivalry does offer a excellent set of ideals towards which to strive, he should keep in mind that he is in the end a human, and as a result requirements to don't forget his own capability for error and weakness. His shield, then, is a gateway to this revelation.

In sum, the motif that performs to give way to the themes of reputation and ancestral significance in Beowulf, and to open up on to the theme of knightly chivalry in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, is that of armor. In Beowulf, armor helps to shed light upon the history of its owners, who define themselves primarily based not only on their personal actions, but also upon the performance and reputations of their ancestors. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, armor serves to aid Gawain in discovering that whilst it is essential for him to strive for knightly ideals, he must hold in thoughts that he is a human and as a result capable of failure.

Performs Cited

“Beowulf.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Middle Ages. 8th ed. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton & Business, Inc., 2006. 29- 100.

“Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Middle Ages. 8th ed. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton & Firm, Inc., 2006. 160-213.
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