Sir Gawain is presented as a noble knight who is the epitome of chivalry; he is loyal, honest and above all, courteous. He is the perfect knight; he is so recognised by the various characters in the story and, for all his modesty, implicitly in his view of himself. To the others his greatest qualities are his knightly courtesy and his success in battle. To Gawain these are important, but he seems to set an even higher value on his courage and integrity, the two central pillars of his manhood.
The story is concerned with the conflict between his conception of himself and the reality.
When Arthur’s court was challenged by the Green Knight, Gawain alone offered to take the cup from Arthur’s hands. He showed pride and courage greater than all – by coming forward. The poem is filled with opportunities in which Gawain inevitably was forced to face difficult decisions. During his travels he had every opportunity to turn around, especially when the rain and cold and desolation became fierce. Gawain, however, continued on his way. Three times did the lady tempt him and twice he managed to neither offend her with discourteousness nor accept her amorous advances and defile his chastity.
“In destinies sad or merry, True men can but try.”
Tests and decisions are as numerous in any man’s life as are the beats of his heart. The consequences follow him forever – he is judged by them and they affect his entire existence. However, judgement should not be passed on a man’s single decisions individually, but only by observing how he has chosen to live his life.
The circumstances under which each choice has been made should be considered as well. From the start Gawain was facing not only the ruination of his pride, his good name, and his spirit, but also almost certain death.
As a result, he learns an essential, inescapable fact about himself and human nature – there is no shame in being imperfect. The true test of Gawain’s bravery was to bare his neck to the Green Knight and finish their trading of blows. Even with his ‘magic’ girdle, Gawain flinched the first time. The second and third times he was able to hold steady and accept fate. After the ordeal the Green Knight ridiculed him for his weakness and fear.
Epic of Beowulf Essay – The Value System in Beowulf
The Value System Revealed in Beowulf
Beowulf is a deeply serious commentary on human life with the main characters embodying a pronounced and coherent set of values. They are also the representatives of the outlined code for conduct and behaviour of those times.
Honour, generosity and trust may seem to be the key words in the code. The protagonists reiterate in actions and words a belief in the importance of generosity of spirit and self awareness that make man a responsible member of the society. Beowulf secures the future of his thanes, in case of his death, not leaving them up to their own fate. He proves that in the warrior society, human relationships must be based on mutual respect and trust rather than subordination of one man to another. A warrior vowing loyalty to his lord becomes a voluntary companion more than his servant, taking pride defending him and fighting in battles. In return, he receives affectionate care and rich rewards – e.g. seen in Hrothgar’s attitude to Beowulf’s achievements.
The relationship between the relatives is also a part of the outlined characteristics of conduct – if a person was killed, a relative was obliged to kill the slayer or execute the wergild (“manprice”), even if the killing was accidental. In fact, the money was less important than the actual carrying out of the kinsman’s duty.
“It is better for a man to avenge his friend than to much mourn” – states Beowulf firmly, reiterating the weight attached to the moral responsibilities rather than attention drawn to the materialistic possessions.
They were valued highly – the treasure gained in battles improved the well being but it was more of a common factor spiritually uniting the warriors and allowing them to fully realise their potentials.
Still, family was the priority. King Hrethel (‘grandfather’ of Beowulf), however, may exemplify a clash in following the code and set values. One of his sons accidentally killed another; by code of kinship king Hrethel was forbidden to exact compensation from a kinsman, yet by the same code he was required to do one in order to avenge death. He was trapped in a situation without a moral way out and therefore Hrethel refused to face life any longer.
Marriage also appears to be a part of the general code. It was a form of alliance between the fighting tribes e.