• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

Compare and contrast images of heroism in these two poems.

Extracts from this document...


Derrick Matthews October 7, 2002 Engl 210 Heroism is a trait that we seem to have no problem identifying, yet when asked to define what a hero is a myriad of answers emerge. This phenomenon is not unique to today's society; the definition of a hero is something that is constantly under revision and debate. An example of this can be seen in two older pieces of English literature: Beowulf, written circa 750-900, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, written circa 1375-1400. These stories both have a main character that possesses heroic qualities, many of which are very similar. Gawain's identity as a hero is not clearly demonstrated, but when compared with Beowulf, who is demonstrated to be a hero, hiss merits earn him that title as well. Exactly what defines a heroic act, or a hero for that matter? Often times we dismiss the question due to its complex nature. But when confronted with an individual with heroic qualities we readily identify them as a hero. So what set of traits makes up this amorphous definition that we call hero? I would agree that the very definition is one that is dependent upon the time and society in which its context is being used. A person who shot someone to save the life of another may be viewed as a hero under the scrutiny of one culture, but in a different time or location the very opposite may be true. ...read more.


King Arthur at this point had already accepted the challenge, yet Gawain decided to take his place because he was aware of the danger and risk involved in letting the King fight. He admits just a few lines later that "I am the weakest, well I know, and of wit feeblest; /And the loss of my life would be least of any;" (lines 354-355) This indication that is ability to fight is low makes his decision to fight that much more heroic, and this is all done in the name of Arthur. Beowulf, on the other hand, does not have an issue of inferior strength, but quite the opposite- he seems to posses a sort of superhuman strength. Even so, his level of self restraint and wisdom prevents him from overthrowing Hrothgar despite his superior abilities. This amount of loyalty and service is a trait that helps develop his character even further as a hero. Both Gawain and Beowulf having been in similar instances serving a higher authority have shown heroic qualities although they may have differed. While the two main characters in discussion are being portrayed as heroes, they are still human and have fallibilities. It is the dynamic experience, the rise and fall of these characters which makes them real and human, that shows what they are truly made of. ...read more.


I'll concede that it was a cowardly thing to do, but then I'm forced to ask the rhetorical question, "What would you do?" Moments later, Gawain recomposes himself, doesn't flinch and gets nicked. Of course, one could argue that Gawain is a coward disguised as a hero because of his protest to the Green Knight claiming his debt is paid, and that he decided to use the green girdle. First of all, Gawain spends the rest of his days lamenting his decision to use the girdle, so he isn't ignorant of what he as done. Secondly, there is absolutely nothing heroic about dying without a cause, which is what would have been the case had the Green Knight carried out his threat. I see no harm done in preparing oneself for an encounter such as the one he went through. We often laude heroes for their cunning in wisdom, so why should those same traits in Gawain be looked upon negatively? While there are many more facets to declaring someone a hero, these are a few that both Beowulf and Gawain share. Beowulf demonstrates that its namesake is a man who is supposed to be regarded as a hero. This same intent is not made in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, but when the two are compared with each other, Sir Gawain is shown to be a hero, not a simple coward that he may initially appear to be. ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our AS and A Level Beowulf section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related AS and A Level Beowulf essays

  1. Marked by a teacher

    The English Patient

    5 star(s)

    He goes off into town every day to clear more bombs from the area and to bury fellow sappers who have died. Kip's job is extremely dangerous. He feels a strong attraction to Hana, and soon they become lovers. Asked about his past, the English patient begins to tell the others his story.

  2. 19th Century Mystery Stories Coursework

    He supported himself by a single crutch, eyes covered by a shade...lower lip, half averted, hung pale and pink from his decaying teeth," A description like this brings out the sense of fear a person seeing a character such as that would feel like. It gives you a zombie feel.

  1. An examination of the way that the downfall of a hero is presented in ...

    The similarities within the works despite the vast differences of culture and genre proves that Aristotle is a descriptive philosopher rather than a prescriptive one. Ethos dictates that it is best if the fallen hero is noble, and that is what the protagonists of the three books are, each in different yet similar ways.

  2. Dr Faustus and The Man Who Would Be King on Power

    Look closely at Faustus' first description of his book of necromancy, "Lines circles, schemes, letters and characters" (1:51). Isn't this just a specialized sort of writing and reading, one that gives its user access to power? Form: Blank verse in the main plot, unrhymed iambic pentameter, set in 13 scenes with a prologue, three internal choruses, and an epilogue.

  1. Compare and Contrast Two Stories in which the Title is an Important Element in ...

    This is used to great effect as when we first meet the man and women, the absence of names throws us directly into the middle of their quarrel. In this piece there is no need to build up the characters with a descriptive foreplay as it is not important to the story, making it more urgent.

  2. A streetcar named desire(TM)

    false pretences regarding culture and ethics yet she uncontrollably drinks, furthermore her unstable mental state and reproachful attitude towards her surroundings, saying only 'Edgar Allen Poe could do it justice!' goes a long way towards her being unwelcome in New Orleans society.

  1. Are Willy Loman and Oedipus Rex true tragic heroes?

    It begins to emerge that Oedipus has an unrelenting quest for knowledge, and is no pushover: 'But if you keep silent, if any man Fearing for self or friend shall disobey me' The audience glimpses of how impatient and inquisitive Oedipus actually is, as he poses a quick fire of questions towards Creon, e.g.: 'Where was he murdered?

  2. Sir Gawain shows chivalry by being loyal to his king. A mysterious knight shows ...

    He swore on his knighthood and being the true gentleman that he is, would not accept the gift from her. Bravery is chivalry in its finest form. A knight must be brave and courageous. Sir Gawain?s courage was most evident when he accepted the challenge of the Green Knight.

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work