Imagery in Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

English 2000
Agnes Juhász-Ormsby
Liam Éirinn Parsons
Outline for:
Images of nature in Beowulf & Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Beowulf is thought to have been written at the end of the Anglo-Saxon period around the year 1000. It is the first great epic poem in the English language. Its authorship is unknown but is attributed to an unnamed scribe, working in a monastic centre somewhere in the south of England. The work is a peculiar hybrid, an infusion of pagan Germanic history that is overlaid with a decidedly Christian commentary. It is at once a nostalgic, celebratory account of a an Anglo-Saxon man, a hero who faces extraordinary challenges, as well as a continual reminder, perhaps the Christian element coming into play, of the transitory nature of this life. The author continually reminds the reader that there is an inevitable end — that change and reversal come to even the greatest of people, and the most preeminent of men. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, whose authorship is also unknown, dates from the 13th century and like Beowulf, is also a hybrid. It is an amalgam of elements stemming from the Arthurian romances and French courtly romances. The resulting product that has come down to us are tales in which legendary heroes from history navigate tricky cultural negotiations within chivalric culture. In this way, Sir Gawain is a re-interpretation of heroic values. The story retains themes of courage, honour and loyalty, however the challenges move from external, physical conflicts to internal, moral ones. Although written in different time periods, Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight have some remarkable similarities. For one, the poems share ideas such as the type of qualities that heroes possess such as bravery, honour and truth. Beowulf the warrior king and Sir Gawain the knight are both in possession of such qualities as they each rise up bravely to meet the challenges that are put before them — they are both willing to face mortal...