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Beowulf and sir gawain and the green knight essay

Beowulf Sir Gawain And the Green Knight Christianity Mysticism Magic Paganism English Literature The introduction of Christianity to England in 597 established a structured, uniform faith among a people accustomed to different branches and pockets of polytheistic paganism. Over the next seventy-five years, the burgeoning country quickly grew unified under the tenets of Catholicism, transforming many of the practices of their ancestors into Christian traditions.

Remnants of pagan mysticism and magic blurred and interwove with themes from the Bible to create proselytizing legends. An Old English epic poem, Beowulf, draws on Christianity to rationalize some of its supernatural elements, turning the pre-conversion myth into a lesson on faith. By contrast, the Middle English romance, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, uses mysticism and magic to explore popular ideas and stories of the Catholic belief.

Despite their inverse approaches, these two narratives communicate the same message to the reader: By giving Grendel and his wretched fellow monsters a Biblical origin, the poet makes the mysticism of the myth more palatable to fellow believers.

The demons one must avoid are religiously threatening as well as physically. Faith in God can ward them off. Beowulf also relies on Christian beliefs to explain the happenings and situations of the plot.

God directs and enables the hero to deliver Heorot from danger. Similarly, the people of the poem believe God is responsible for punishing their offenses, not just rewarding their bravery.

His conceit is his undoing. This adage underscores the lesson Beowulf might have learned earlier: No one can fool God into escaping his own mortality.

The writing and story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight effectively convey this same message, but through an inverse manner.

A comparison of Beowulf and sir Gawain

The Green Knight, for example, in many ways represents God. While a quest for a Green Knight would be difficult for readers to copy, a spiritual pilgrimage to be closer to God is within the realm of possibility. The beautiful wife of Bertilak reads strongly of two Biblical women, bringing alive the stories of Adam and Eve and of the temptation of Joseph.

When she comes to Gawain the third time, she uses her body to seduce Gawain into sin: Eve, who wore no clothes in the Garden, spoke to her husband and convinced him to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Like Adam, Gawain cannot resist accepting her offer of the forbidden. When her husband was out working, the woman came to Joseph, her slave, and tried to entice him into her bed.

She pushes her body toward him as her servant while her husband is out. On the first occasion, she openly offers her body to him: Do you deem me so dull, or so deaf to such words?

On the third instance, she begins to ply him with objects of hers. Despite the symbols of perfection he bears, such as the Pentangle, Gawain is not as flawless as the Christ. He does not succeed in keeping above sin. He betrays his host with a kiss.

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The writer brings these Bible stories to life by dressing them up in the form of a romantic tale with new circumstances. Once Gawain presumes to avoid his own mortality, he breaks the covenants that he has so long protected and must forevermore live with the dishonor of the green girdle on his arm. They ironically take on the symbol of his badge of humiliation before the Lord, unknowingly bearing the sign of their own cowardice.

Thus the poet demonstrates that everyone fails to trust God enough to rely on His protection.

  1. Eve, who wore no clothes in the Garden, spoke to her husband and convinced him to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. He betrays his host with a kiss.
  2. More By This Author. On the third instance, she begins to ply him with objects of hers.
  3. These surviving texts still speak to modern audiences, encouraging the same faithful behavior of the current generation of readers.

The writers of Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight approach the theme of trust with two opposite strategies. Where one rationalizes the magical with the religious, the other enlivens and demonstrates the Bible stories with elements of the supernatural. These surviving texts still speak to modern audiences, encouraging the same faithful behavior of the current generation of readers.

The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Holman Bible Publishers, 2003. Cite References Print Beowulf. Mysticism and Christianity in Early English Literature: More By This Author:

  • More By This Author;
  • Before settling into Heorot to wait for Grendel, Beowulf asserts;
  • Beowulf is insistent on fighting his battles without aid to appear as heroic as possible, which the poet presents as the reason for his death.