Early British Literature Term Paper

Pages: 6 (2346 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Literature

¶ … British Lit

Legends, tales about heroes and their supernatural thrilling adventures have always attracted people regardless of the age. Heroes originate in the mists of time and myths. Morton W. Bloomfield states that "the original hero in early literature was probably based on a king who died for his people, the warrior who defeated the tribe's enemies...These men...were celebrated in song and story and...presented again to the people so that they could participate in their magic" (Bloomfield, p 30).

This outlook of the people who regarded the hero as the savior of his own kind dominates the early medieval epics such as Beowulf and The Song of Roland.

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Beowulf is the largest and most famous Anglo-Saxon heroic poem and due to its large proportions and dating back to the 8th century, it is considered perhaps one of the oldest and basic manuscript in any modern language. The poem, as we have come to know it nowadays, is a retelling of orally transmitted legends of a Christian audience. It was often assumed that the poem was written by a Christian monk, on the grounds that they were the only ones of the Anglo-Saxon society with access to writing materials. The plot centers on a 6th century warrior who fought the monster Grendel who had killed the men of Hrotghar, king of the Danes. Grendel's mother intends to avenge her son's death but ends up being killed by Beowulf. Returning home he is welcomed by his people and made king after his uncle's death. After fifty years his kingdom is again in danger, being invaded by a fierce dragon which he ultimately kills with the help of Wyglaf. His death will be honored by his people as he is laid on a great funeral pyre and buried together with the dragon's treasure.

In appearance the theme of the poem is fighting dragons but the author has in fact exalted the fights with fabled monsters into a conflict between the powers of good and evil forces.

TOPIC: Term Paper on Early British Literature Assignment

In order to understand better the historical background and its influence on the poem it's imperative to take into consideration the time in which the manuscript was written, a time when the society was in the process of transition from Paganism to Christianity. Due to obvious combinations between Christian influences and folklore and legends of Germanic tribes, it is justified to say that Beowulf stands upon the mixture between the Christian and Pagan influences. The pagan elements are in the characters superhuman personifications. Beowulf is depicted as a superhero and consequently in the battle with Grendel he uses no weapons but only his super strength. He is both a supernatural individual " who valuable gift-gems of the Greatmen carried as peace offering thither, that he thirty men's grapple has in his hand, the hero-in-battle" and an exponent of the human world as he ultimately faces his death, but in the same time unable to adapt to any of the two universes. The dragon is a much-used super-powerful adversary of the hero as in most pagan stories and the battles between the two protagonists are examples of epic folklore during Pagan times. While Pagan elements appear in the story, Christian overtones dominate, as many of the characters exhibit Christian characteristics. Beowulf has a Christ like behavior in his good-heartedness and he is ready to stand up for the Danes which are oppressed by the evil monster just as Christ knew of the oppression of the Jewish people. To free themselves from the monster the Danes need a savior and Beowulf, through his desire to disperse their suffering, comes to save them while facing his moment of truth.

In conclusion in mixing Pagan and Christian ideas the poet was able to emphasize the morals of his time and to enhance his characters with Christian and Pagan values.

In terms of social and cultural values with a great influence upon the heroes, Beowulf must be placed in relation to the structure of the society in those times. It was a Germanic warrior society in which the relationship between the king and his thanes was of great importance; the thanes defended the interest of the king in return for material provisions: weapons, armor, gold, drinks and food. It was an environment based on values like honor and respect in which the duty to revenge the death of someone close was a question of high morality. If Beowulf fights for saving his people, as he is aware of the fact that being commemorated in songs contains the only immortality a warrior from Beowulf's society could attain, in later medieval romances as " Sir Gawain and the Green Knight " the hero is no longer fighting for his people but for his ideals.

The Arthur stories prevalent in France, Germany, Italy and Britain are a "microcosm of European medieval culture emerging from the chaotic days (Dark Ages) in the centuries after the fall of Rome" (Cambridge History). The knights typically go out on adventures in order to face the forces of evil and what was important for the development and instruction of the society was the fact that they had to return to the court, report their actions so that the others might learn from their experiences. This is exactly what Gawain does when he takes the story of his humiliation back to court so that they all might learn from his mistakes.

The romance, written by an unknown author who is believed to be contemporary with Chaucer, deals with the weird adventure that befell Sir Gawain, son of Loth and nephew of king Arthur, the favorite hero of medieval romance especially in the literature of the west and northern parts of England.

Sir Gawain begins to rise to his greatness when he takes a challenge given by an unknown figure which called himself the Green Knight. Throughout the poem, Gawain is tested and is found to be trustful until he reaches the gift-giving game in which his flaw is revealed to the readers. Through the eyes of the characters in the poem we see Gawain as a noble knight, the epitome of chivalry who is noble, loyal, honest and above all courteous. These are the main features which dominate the protagonist and as the story progresses he is subjected to a number of tests some known some unknown to him. These tests reveal his character and the struggle he faces internally. In the end despite his values we realize that Gawain is not the perfect knight he strives to be. The turmoil he experiences thinking at his death makes him accept the girdle, so he remains true until he's overcome by his fears. All this proves that he is only human, yet Gawain sees that he has been inconsistent in upholding the chivalric code and this means failure to him. The Green Knight reveals himself to Gawain as the host of the castle knowing all that has taken place while recognizing his honesty and accepting his apologies: "That woven lace which thou weariest mine own wife wove it; I know it well; I know too thy kisses, and they trials, and the wooing of my wife; I wrought it myself. I sent her to tempt thee, and methinks thou art the most faultless hero that ever walked the earth. As pearls are of more price than white peas, so is Gawain of more price than other gay knights." It is this the time when Gawain faces his moment of truth, the lesson he learns as a result of the challenge is that, at a basic level,. he is just a physical being who is concerned above all with his own life. Chivalry provides a set of ideals towards one should strive but a person must above all remain conscious of his or her own mortality and weakness" The faults and frailty of the fresh perverse"(252)

In terms of social and cultural values the world of Sir Gawain is governed by well-defined codes of behaviour. The code of chivalry which shapes the values and actions of the hero derive from the Christian concept of morality underlining the tendency to promote spiritual ideals in a spiritually fallen world. In Sir Gawain the hero's task "is spiritual rather than physical" (Moorman, p61). These ideals are brought together in Gawain's symbolic shield. The pentacle represents the five virtues of knights: friendship, generosity, chastity, courtesy and piety. Gawain's adherence to these virtues is tested throughout the poem but what is really being tested here might be the chivalric system itself symbolized by Camelot.

The virtues of chivalric hero are similar to those of his epic counterpart. The most striking similarity between the two heroes is the presence of faith or Providence, the failures of the heroes to some degree and the way the epic and chivalric hero accept both their low moments and " their lots "as they stand up to insurmountable challenges: Beowulf and the dragons and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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