Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Armor, Reputation and Chivalry in Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

In the Old English poem Beowulf, the warrior culture is centered upon the heroic codes. Those who are members of Hrothgar’s court are ranked based upon the identities and reputations of their ancestors. It can be said that the armor of these warriors, as it has travelled from generation to generation and warrior to warrior, is emblematic of the very reputations these warriors consider most important. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, too, armor plays an important role. It is representative of the virtues Sir Gawain is challenged to uphold, and, on a larger scale, is also symbolic of the test to which the entire chivalric system is put. Thus, the two poems, although different in plot and some general cultural characteristics, contain a motif of armor that opens up the doors to themes regarding the importance of ancestry and reputation as well as the themes of knightly chivalry and Christian morality, respectively.

As Beowulf is fundamentally a record of heroic deeds, the identities and reputations of those who have performed and will perform these acts are clearly central to the interpretation and understanding of the poem. In the opening passages, the reader steps into a world in which every male figure is known as the son of...

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