The Similarities Between the Epics Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Beowulf

Last Updated: 31 May 2023
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In "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" and "Beowulf," we encounter single heroic men, under a great king on an adventurous quest for recognition, and honor. Hard to imagine that though so much alike, they differ in category. "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," contains very similar aspects of an epic poem, which creates vast similarities between sir Gawain and Beowulf. Both of the famous writings entwine lineage, the warrior code, and mysticism to enhance the adventures of our heroes.

There are many examples that emphasize the similarities, but the first aspect of both these stories that was recognized was lineage. In the epic as we will call it King Arthur and his kin are brought out to be the decedents of the great and treacherous knight Aeneas. Though "King Arthur was counted most courteous of all, (25-6)"kings his lineage is brought out to be from ancient Rome. Sir Gawain is the king's nephew and one of his most trusted knights, and at the feast sits with the king at his table with only a few other knights, which indicates his closeness to the king and queen. Later on we find out that it is actually Sir Gawain's aunt, Morgan Le Faye (Arthur's half-sister) that has fixed to test the honor and authenticity of the round table and Arthur's court. By having the Green Knight (Bercilak) play the beheading game with Sir Gawain, she is able to observe her objective.

Beowulf, is also King Hygelac's nephew, and we learn that when Hygelac's son, Heardred dies Beowulf becomes king. But in the beginning of the epic, Beowulf mainly goes to help the Dane's king Hrothgar, due to a favor that Hrothgar had once done for Beowulf's father, and for the sake of recognition. This like many other instances can be compared to Sir Gawain, in which they (Sir Gawain and Beowulf) are thrust into certain adventures due to loyalty to their kings and loyalty to their name in a sense, their renowned fame, their lineage to great warriors which they much not let down. The second aspect of these epics that are similar are the warrior codes, loyalty, honor, courage, respect, noble cause, wealth, modesty, and dignity.

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When Sir Gawain, takes the kings place in chopping the Green Knight's head, he is acting out of loyalty to his king. Modestly stating that he is the weakest of the knights, courageously stepping before the Green Knight and accepting his challenge. But his honor is jeopardized by Bercilak as he tells Gawain to sleep in while he is hunting, and Bercilak's wife steps in and plays the "temptress (1874)." Gawain wins by not succumbing but by the third day he is caught off guard and gave into accepting the green girdle.

And accepting of that was not for love or desire but for the fact that he was told it would keep him safe from death. His courage and loyalty is also tested when he is heading to the Green Chapel and the guide begs him not to go, because the Green Knight will kill him but he ignores the pleas, and keeps his word. This Bercilak / the Green Knight recognizes when he arrives that he did keep his word. But when Gawain flinches his courage is tested once again, and the Green Knights halts the ax midway, and teases the knight. But later we realize the game was to test Gawain, and in the end we see that he harbors much regret and pain in his choices.

Similar is Beowulf, with much courage and pride he arrives in Denmark to kill the fiend Grendel, and Grendel's Dam, not with a weapon though but with his bare hands. His prowess and skill cause him recognition of his peers, but in one aspect we see that after killing Grendel and his dam pride strikes Beowulf. Hrothgar, points it out to him in a fatherly talk, that too much pride is a weakness and a possible threat. Similar is Gawain when The Green Knight tells him of his faults.

Material wealth is also prominent or wealth in general is important because a warrior if he is renown and of good lineage than he must be well dressed. This is also mention with much detail in both the epics. In Beowulf it was the intricate chain-metal that was of woven gold that saved him from the creatures in the sea. And of Sir Gawain from line 566-589 his dress is explains with such intricacies that one imagines it perfectly in ones mind. So new are reminded of their wealth their valor, courage, faith with the picture of the Virgin Mary on the inside of Sir Gawain's shield. These are only the few things that were mentioned and proved to be a part of the warrior code as well as both of these epic poems.

The next major theme in these stories was mysticism. From the beginning to the end certain numbers, sorcery, mystical creatures and mystical beings are a part of both these stories. For instance the number three was involved in both the tales, in "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" it was the number of times the king went hunting and the number of times Gawain was tempted. In "Beowulf," it was the number of obstacles that were put forth for Beowulf to overcome. In both cases though the third trial was not over come easily. In Gawain's case he was talked into taking the green girdle, which cost him a scratch because he lied.

In Beowulf's case the third obstacle was the dragon in which his neck also got bit but he died with the venom of the dragon. The whole aspect of the neck being scratched and the neck being bit and the head being chopped off is very similar in both of these stories. Grendel, his dam, the dragon, The Green Knight all the terrors that Gawain faces before he reaches his destination, these are all aspects that are added to add depth and imagination to the story. It causes us to realize that our hero is facing a monstrous danger. But no matter what faces him our hero comes out more courageous and stronger than he was before.

In a Medieval Romance, there is usually a love interest, a chivalrous Knight who woos a fair maiden, an adulterous affair that is hidden from the world. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Gawain does not woo anyone he mentions in lines 944-5 that Bercilak's wife exceeds Guinevere's beauty, but when she comes to seduce him he does not want to get involved with her. Our Knight is more concerned with his quest and with his life and word than he is with romancing. The outline of this story and the outline of Beowulf almost seems identical from the example previously given that it would be hard to believe that they are not of the same family. And yet it would not be surprising if the same author did not write this one as well, which is probably impossible but they are similar.

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The Similarities Between the Epics Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Beowulf. (2023, May 25). Retrieved from

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