In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the Green Knight challenges the knights to an exchange of blows with an axe; to which Gawain offers to accept. (Tolkien 33, lines 343-360) The speech he gives, in lines 343-360 offering to take the challenge for Arthur gives insight on his character; it shows he is chivalrous in loyalty and love to the King, brave in accepting the challenge, and humble in claiming he is the least of the knights. (33)
Also, Gawain is much beloved by others, who weep for him when he leaves Camelot. (37, lines 672-685) While seeking out the Green Knight, Gawain fights many creatures, animals, and bitter cold. This part of his journey shows in his actions, that Gawain is brave and strong in enduring hardships, and that he is steadfast in God. (38, lines 720-724) Gawain also proves his pure and chaste nature when refusing the advances of the woman of the castle that he stays at. However, his honesty fails when he doesnt tell his host of the green belt he receives from the woman. (study guide, 27) When Gawain faces the Green Knight, his character is again tested.
Despite showing bravery leading up to this point, when the Green Knight swings his axe at Gawain, Gawain flinches. (39, 2268) While these trials show that Gawain is less than the perfect ideal knight that would face his apparent beheading with staunch acceptance, his failures bring out another important aspect of his character.
Gawain is vastly ashamed, feeling he has displayed a great act of poltroonery. He swears to wear the belt, that token of the troth-breach for the remainder of this days. ( 40, 2507-2510)Gawain falls short of the perfect, chivalrous knight. But his reaction to his failure proves that he is honest about his failures, that he is yet humble in admitting them. By wearing the belt, his character takes on more depth, proving that where he falls short, he would learn, and strive all the more to meet the model of chivalry.
Beowulf is also characterized as a heroic ideal of his time. When Beowulf heard of the monster Grendel’s attacks, he set out to aid the King Hrothgar. (Sullivan & Murphy 7, lines 170-175) Like Gawain, a part of his character is revealed by his words. In lines 365-385 for instance, he tells of his own greatness, his strength, and feats as a warrior. (10) Unlike Gawain, he does not show a modest humility, but rather, he boasts of his deeds to gain fame and glory. (Study guide, 17)
Furthermore, Beowulf proves that he is true to his word; when he fights Grendel, he remembers his promise to the king and grabs the monster tighter. Also, similarly to Gawain, Beowulf shows faith and dependence on the power of God; He stated his victory over Grendel’s mother would not have been “had the Lord not looked after his life.” (17, lines 1462-1465) And lastly, it’s not just Beowulf that considers himself great; his companions show admiration for him too. When he dies, for example, they mourn and praise him, calling him “great among kings, mild in his mien, most gentle of men, kindest to kinfolk yet keenest for fame. ” (19, lines 2795-2802)
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