Pride in Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

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Literature in rich in stories where the pride of the otherwise flawless hero inevitably becomes their Achilles heel. While pride in medieval culture sometimes had negative connotations, it was an aspect that was necessary for power and survival. In looking at two influential works from Old English and Middle English, Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, respectively, we begin to understand the importance and the context of pride in those times. Although distanced by hundreds of years, the Old English epic poem Beowulf and the Middle English verse of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight are similar within the context of pride. And as much as they are similar in this respect, they are also some very important differences in the way that the protagonists of these two stories deal with their own mortality and pride. In the story of Beowulf, one of the main characteristics of Beowulf is his unwavering pride, most often highlighted by one of his friends or sometimes by the narrator. It is Beowulf himself, however, that seems to like to demonstrate to those around him how important and valuable he is. In this case, his pride is seen more as a case of just presenting the facts; he is certainly the best man for the job of finding and killing Grendel and proves it with his retelling of amazing feats and accomplishments.

When Unferth challenges Beowulf’s qualifications as the hero that can kill Grendel , Beowulf recounts the story of his swimming match against Breca in a boastful manner. This was a necessity as everything rested on reputation and honor. Beowulf defends his honor by stating that during the swim he killed nine sea monsters and so it is concluded that Unferth has no room to speak. “The fact is Unferth,” he begins, “if you were truly as keen or courageous as you claim to be Grendel would never have got away with such unchecked atrocity, attacks on your king, havoc in Heorot and horrors everywhere.” Boasting was not only a necessity in...
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