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The Lessons of Morality in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Beowulf

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Grendel is one of the main antagonists in Beowulf, a descendent of Cain. Cain, in the Bible, is full of jealousy and envy and kills his brother, Abel; Grendel is a projection of this envy. Unferth is an important minor character in the poem. He is always trying to prove himself and is jealous of Beowulf. In the Middle Ages, the word “wraecca” means exile, or a thane without a master. Both Grendel and Unferth represent the wraecca through their independent jealousy and actions against Beowulf. This is an obvious flaw against their wergild system. “Wergild” means man-price, and that everyone is worth something. This is apart of an arrangement based upon feuding in those times, where if someone kills a person then their family has the right to kill them back because the price evens out. Grendel never pays wergild to Hrothgar for the men he killed in Heorot, and Unferth never actually kills anybody, which shows his lack of commitment to slay Grendel as the man-price for his fallen friends.

“Wyrd” is the Old English term that means fate. This entropy exists in the belief that this world exceeds another. The dragon is referred to as a wyrd worm because it is hoarding treasure from a past life. As Beowulf says he is going to fight the dragon, he leaves his life up to fate. When the dragon kills Beowulf, the people build a funeral monument to recognize and honor him. In the next life, the people will see this pyre and understand the way their entropic system exists and not see it as tragic, but rather admirable like the treasure hidden by the dragon in this life.

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Gawain’s armor was described in detail before he rode off to find the Green Knight. Gawain’s shield was scarlet red with a golden star covering the front. This star was known as a pentangle, a symbol of eternal faithfulness in five ways, which include virtue, loyalty, kindest, truth, and nobility. Gawain’s character was proportionally represented through his shield: perfect senses, actions, faith, joy, and friendship. Throughout the poem, the knight portrays each of these qualities through his interactions with the lord and his wife, by keeping his promises of the trade game, and the final battle against the Green Knight, where he is brave in confrontation and is called faultless.

The old woman at the end of Gawain and the Green Knight is Morgan le Fay, a sorceress related to King Arthur. The Green Knight explains that she lives at his manor. There, through her magic, brought the Green Knight to Camelot to test the Knights of the Round Table, mess with their heads, and essentially have Guinevere die from the tragic event. This destabilizes the entire tale by showing the forces behind the Green Knight’s actions as Morgan’s attempt to cause trouble in Camelot. The author of Lanval is Marie de France. Little is known about this poet, but she is figured to be a highly educated noblewoman, so she is familiar with court life. She is thought to be not the true originator of these stories, but more of a cultural anthropologist of the tales at court. Her character, Lanval, is a knight so he is also familiar with court life. He is an outcast, as Marie would be as a woman poet at that time.

Human sexuality is for whom you express feelings for and to what extent of emotion. Milun, a Breton Lai, written by Marie de France is one of the first poems where female empowerment is at play in courting. The lady in Milun hears of this great knight and starts to fall in love with him. She writes and seeks him for marriage, a role normal to males. After she is pregnant, she also decides what to do with the baby. This presents human sexuality with more of a woman’s role in a relationship as opposed to other poems and life of this time period.

The fairy kingdom described in Sir Orfeo can be seen as paradise. There are castles and hundreds of towers with rivers, forests, green grass, flowers, and clear blue skies. With the royal halls and jewels of the kingdom, one could compare this scene to a Disney fairytale land. The characters in the fairy kingdom are the fairy king, a group of ladies, the lost wife of Orfeo, and Sir Orfeo when he arrives. The fairy king rules the area and sits on a throne, while Orfeo’s lost wife is sleeping under a tree as he enters the kingdom. I believe the fairy king collects people from the human world to satisfy his need for human followers and his beliefs. He provides this beautiful kingdom for them, but has a problem with obtaining human citizens to rule, so he forces the wife to go. This satisfies his need for subjects while also believing that his world is better than reality.

After interacting with the fairy king for the first time, Heurodis tore her clothes apart and scratched herself until she bled while she cried. This event shows how powerful the fairy realm is to make the harm self-inflicted instead of physical torture by the king. The violence shows Heurodis’s transformation of an ideal queen to one of almost hysteria, opening up her body to the fairy realm.

Immoral people are most certainly capable of formulating moral lessons. The pardoner in the poem has poor morals and is a hypocrite with his sermons, however, he can inspire people to give him money through a moral story. The pardoner is a bad person, but utilizes his role to make money. In a real world example, think of any leader like a president. The president might be a horrible person, but be good in rallying people for a cause because it is his job. The pardoner is doing his job very well by collecting money for himself and the church, because why else would the church allow someone to pardon sins? He just happens to be a bad person, making him immoral and a hypocrite because of the religious setting.

One moral lesson that can be picked from the overflowing tree of this tale is hypocrisy. The main character, the pardoner, has the authority to collect money in exchange to pardon sins. He himself does not care about their salvation, rather just the money coming to him. On top of that, the only sermon the pardoner preaches is about greed. The greediness of the pardoner makes him neglect the spirituality of his job, so he does not “practice what he preaches.”

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