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The Periodical Elements in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Beowulf

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In both Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Beowulf, mead halls are used as a community space where the king, his warriors and servants can settle down and plan battles. They can also partake in some casual hobnob and enjoy a honey-based drink called mead. While similar on paper, these two buildings are vastly different in their structure and size – one being a castle and the other, a central “hub” with auxiliary buildings around it. Heorot, the mead hall in Beowulf, was built during a simpler yet viler time period. In the book, we find that the mead hall was built under the strict supervision of Hrothgar. “So his mind turned to hall-building: he handed down orders for men to work on a great mead-hall…” (Beowulf 67-68) It, similar to Camelot, is extremely well and meticulously built. Hrothgar wanted Heorot to be used primarily as his throne-room but also to host feasts and a safe haven for his warriors to plan their battles.

There is a sense of gloominess and grittiness surrounding the whole hall, which is largely connected to the brutal life that the warriors led during the Dark Ages. Grendel’s arm is ripped off and nailed up, with is head paraded all throughout the hall. Death and violence at every corner meant that no man could ever truly put his guard down. Camelot, as portrayed in the tale, is a castle that served as the seat of government. The tale, taking place in the Middle Ages, portrays Camelot as a more civil environment when compared to Heorot. During the beginning of the book, Camelot and its guests are enwrapped in the Christmas festivities. Everybody is singing, caroling, being merry and enjoying life. While the common folk is being entertained by the festive activities, the knights take part in jousting, which was extremely popular in the Middle Ages. King Arthur and his knights are surrounded by good food and fair ladies while sitting at the Round Table. “This king lay at Camelot at Christmastide: Many good knights and gay his guest were there, Arrayed of the Round Table rightful brothers, with feasting and fellowship and carefree mirth. There true men contended in tournaments many, joined there in jousting these gentle knights…” (Gawain 37-43).

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They were surrounded by costly silk curtains and a wide variety of food which indicates a higher standard of the time when compared to Beowulf. While both structures are huge in size, we can envision Camelot as whole castle, where, one part was used as a hall that people visit and can always feel welcome. It shows community and unity was valued above all else and the need to celebrate life no matter the circumstances. This is a somewhat unreal perspective of the Medieval time period, during which, many a battle took place. Heorot on the other hand, has a sense of realness and less of the “fairytale” aspect of Camelot. The danger is out there, full of monsters (real and symbolic) just waiting to attack. This is why a structure such as Heorot, was much more likely to actually exist.

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