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Comparing Sir Gawain and Beowulf

Sir Gawain and Beowulf are both tragic heroes in their respective works. Working with this idea, you can compare and contrast the two -- we have seen that they have many similarities and differences. For instance, do you see Sir Gawain as a coward? If so, contrast that with Beowulf's bravery.

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1. Sir Gawain and Beowulf are both tragic heroes in their respective works. Working with this idea, you can compare and contrast the two -- we have seen that they have many similarities and differences. For instance, do you see Sir Gawain as a coward? If so, contrast that with Beowulf's bravery.

Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight are each literary works possessing a clearly defined, heroic protagonist. In each case, he is plainly a human being, and not a flat mythological figure. In other words, both Sir Gawaiin and Beowulf are plainly human and not flat mythical figures, both imperfect in some way, making them both a sympathetic character. Both characters are not at all tragic, in that both Sir Gawaiin and Beowulf does triumph, or at least return to normalcy.

While Sir Gawain and the Green Knight takes place over the period of a little over a year, Beowulf follows its hero - Beowulf in this case, from his youth to his death. Beowulf was indeed courageous and longstanding,

Beowulf ruled in Geatland,
Took the throne he'd refused, once,
And held it long and well. He was old
With years and wisdom, fifty winters
A king, when a dragon awoke from its darkness...(92)

It is apparent that Beowulf is a universal story of life's journey from adolescence to adulthood to old age. The hero grows in wisdom about self and about the world through the pain and triumph of personal experience, that is, his encounters with the Sea Monsters, Grendel, Grendel's mother, and the dragon. Any deeds of his not directly related to those are passed over summarily.

Beowulf was adventurous, young and brash, crossing an ocean in order to fight for another king, for no reason other than to attain honor. It is true that, to his society, "fame after death/ is the noblest of goals," (67) an opinion that Beowulf retains throughout his life, so that his pursuit of honor is acceptable. But he does change in the extent to which he is willing to disregard the advice of his elders (until eventually he is an elder himself). Before his journey to Herot, for example, Beowulf had undertaken another task, which is remembered by the resentful Unferth:

You're Beowulf, are you- the same
Boastful fool who fought a swimming
Match with Brecca, both of you daring
And young and proud, exploring the deepest
Seas, risking your lives for no reason
But the danger? All older and wiser heads warned you
Not to, but no one could check such pride (39).
This is in contrast to Beowulf's expedition against Grendel. For whatever reason,
...None
Of the wise ones regretted his going, much
As he was loved by the Geats: the omens were good,
And they urged the adventure on (29).

Beowulf was somewhat 'foolhardy' because although he claims to have enough of ...

Solution Summary

In reference to two tragic heroes, Sir Gawain and Beowulf, this solution compares and contrasts the two men on various measures such being a coward or being brave. Supporting quotes are also provided.

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