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The ideals and culture of the two time periods were very different, but, while different, they also shared some of the same aspects. The way heroes were depicted in stories is a huge part of the cultures of the two periods. During the time that Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was written, it was believed that the characteristic of a knight, or warriors, included not only being physically fit, but knights also had to have spiritual qualities or characteristics to be a good knight. Markman says again that, "He is the very best knight who sums up in his character the very best traits of all knights who ever lived" (576). This statement shows that Sir Gawain is the greatest of all knights. Whether in the stories of Arthur or in the everyday life of 14th century people Sir Gawain's character is looked up to as the perfect example of knighthood and someone that every knight should aspire to be like. So what are the traits of a knight? Markman states that the physical and nonphysical qualities that are necessary for a knight are something like this: "Throughout the feudal age the armored cavalryman had to be skilled in the use of his weapons, and he had to be a good horseman; the non-physical qualities of the ideal knight which Gawain possesses are courage, humility, courtesy and loyalty." (576). It can be implied that because a knight must be skilled in weapons and horsemanship that a knight must be strong. Sir Gawain first shows his strength in the text by being able to lift the Green Knight's huge axe and then cuts off his head: "Gawain grasped the axe and lifts it up high, setting his left foot before him on the ground, brought it down swiftly on the bare flesh so that the bright blade slashed through the man's spine" (vv. 421-424). This line also shows his skill with a weapon. Another trait of a knight is endurance. Gawain shows his endurance during his trip to find the Green Chapel. The following lines describe the difficulty of that journey: "Had he not been valiant and resolute, trusting in God, he would surely have died or been killed many times" (vv. 724-725). Any less of a man would have died during this journey, proving that Gawain is a great knight. Had he been any less of a man, or perhaps any other knight, then he would not have been able to make the journey. Lastly, Gawain shows his agility in the following lines: "And when the knight saw his blood spatter the snow he leapt forward with both feet more than a spear's length, snatched up his helmet and crammed it on his head, jerked his shoulders to bring his splendid shield down, drew out a gleaming sword and fiercely he speaks" (vv. 2315-2319). Once the Green Knight had delivered his blow Gawain quickly got back on his feet prepared for anything that should happen next. In his speed, he shows that he has great agility. He shows his humbleness in not claiming glory when he returned to author's court. Gawain shows his courtesy by his conduct with the Lady of the Castle. Gawain also shows his courtesy and courage in the following lines:
"Then bowed the good Gawain: "I beg you in plain words to let this task be mine." Said Gawain to the king, "If you would, noble lord, bid me rise from my seat and stand at your side, if without discourtesy I might leave the table, and that my liege lady were not displeased, I would offer you counsel before your royal court. For it seems to me unfitting, if the truth be admitted, when so arrogant a request is put forward in hall, even if you are desirous, to undertake it yourself while so many brave men sit about you in their places who, I think, are unrivalled in temper of mind, and without equal as warriors on field of battle. I am the weakest of them, I know, and the dullest minded, so my death would be least loss, if truth should be told; only because you are my uncle am I to be praised, no virtue I know in myself but your blood; and since this affair is so foolish and unfitting for you, and I have asked you for it first, it should fall to me. And if my request is improper, let not this royal court bear the blame." (vv. 340-361)
In his speech, Gawain shows that he is a true noble. He shows complete courtesy in his request to take on the Green Knights challenge and in taking on the challenge Gawain proves his courage to face the unknown. He also shows that he is loyal to his king. Loyalty is the last and probably greatest attribute of Sir Gawain. He remains loyal to his Lord Arthur throughout the entire story. Even while staying with Bertilak he remarks that he must remain loyal to Arthur. Not only did he remain loyal to Arthur but he also shows loyalty to Bertilak while staying at his castle. Loyalty was a huge part of the culture during the time that Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was written. Markman states that "Loyalty was the keystone of the entire feudal structure: when lord and vassal were loyal to each other, society flourished; when they were not, society collapsed." (577). Gawain's character and physical attributes illustrates perfection of knighthood and the general idea of what a hero was supposed to be during the 14th century.
The Anglo-Saxon's had a somewhat similar culture when it came to their heroes. In Anglo-Saxon culture, to be a hero was to be a warrior. It is somewhat similar to the 14th century knights. The characteristics of the Anglo-Saxon warrior are quite similar to that of the perfect knight. A good warrior must have great strength; He must also have the courage to match his strength, and lastly a warrior must be humble and kind. All of these traits sound very much like the traits of a knight; however, one difference between the two cultures is that dying in battle was almost a necessity for a hero to achieve fame. The greatest fate a warrior could have was to die in battle. Beowulf himself died in battle when he fought the dragon. Beowulf is a great example of what a warrior during his time should be. For example, when Beowulf first arrives on the shore of the Danes, the coastguard remarks that "I have never seen a greater earl on earth than that one among you, a man in war-gear; that is no mere courtier, honored only in weapons, unless his looks belie him, his noble appearance!" (247-251). This shows that Beowulf looked the part of the warrior; his appearance was of a strong, noble warrior. Not only does he look the part of a warrior but he also has the strength of one. He shows his strength all throughout the story. The greatest show of his strength is in his fight with Grendle when he tears off his arm. Beowulf also shows his courage in many ways. His courage remained strong even when he faced great monsters. He fought sea monsters when he was younger, then he fought Grendle and Grendle's mom, and lastly he fought the dragon which ended in both their deaths. Beowulf himself speaks of courage in the following line: "Wryd often spares an undoomed man, when his courage endures!" (572-573). This line clearly shows the importance of courage in the Anglo-Saxon culture. Beowulf again shows his courage and his eagerness for battle in his announcement to the Danes. He says "I resolved when I set out over the waves, sat down in my ship with my troop of soldiers, that I would entirely fulfill the wishes of your people, or fall slain, fast in the grip of my foe. I shall perform a deed of manly courage, or in this mead hall I will await the end of my days!" (632-638). Not only does this who his courage, but it also is a proclamation of his willingness to succeed or die in his fight with the monster. Lastly, Beowulf shows that a hero must be humble and also loyal. When he defeats Grendel, and Grendel's mother, the Danes are overjoyed and give him an abundant amount of treasures. They also try to make Beowulf their king; however, he refuses kingship and humbly returns home. Once he is back in the land of the Geats he gives all of the treasures he received from the Danes to his King Hygalac. Giving up his treasures to Hygalac shows that he is eternally loyal to his king.
Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight have very different depictions when it comes to women in their tales. In Beowulf, there are a couple female characters. First, there is Wealtheow, Hrothgar's wife. In the story, she is well known as being a good host to Beowulf. Also, she gives the speech in Heorot after Beowulf kills Grendle about how even though Beowulf is great and should be honored, he should not be made king over her nephew and sons. Also in Beowulf, there is Grendle's mother. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight there are several female characters.
The shift from Old English to Middle English started gradually at first. As with all languages, it started to change over time. The language started to be simplified by its own people. However, the leading cause in the shift from Old English to Middle English was the Norman Conquest of 1066. This event introduced many Norman French words in the Old English language which completely altered it forever. By 1100, the Old English language had changed sufficiently enough to be classified as a "new" version of English, dubbed, Middle English. By the time Gawain and the Green Knight was written, Old English looked and was spoken completely different than the new Middle English. Here is an example of Old English writing from the opening lines of Beowulf: Hwæt. We Gardena in gear-dagum, þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon, hu Ã°a æþelingas ellen fremedon. (Beowulf 1-5). Now here is an example of Middle English from Sir Gawain and the Green knight: SIÞEN þe sege and þe assaut watz sesed at Troye, Þe borÈ brittened and brent to brondeÈ and askez, Þe tulk þat þe trammes of tresoun þer wroÈt Watz tried for his tricherie, þe trewest on erthe. (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight 1-4). A notable difference in the language can be seen. In the opening lines of Beowulf, none of the words look familiar to what the English language is today. However, in the opening lines of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, some of the words, such as sege for siege, assaut for assault, and Troye for Troy, can be recognized or even look somewhat familiar to the English of today.