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Heroes in Medieval Literature

By eooooooo Jan 16, 2014 710 Words
Medieval literature is filled with tales of perilous adventures and valorous heroes. Many pieces of medieval literature are satirical and usually contain a message. Characters in medieval literature are often knights, kings, or queens, such as in Chaucer's, The Canterbury Tales, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Many supporting characters in these stories are one-dimensional and defined by there role in society. Main characters in medieval literature, however, exhibit signs of individuality and are not solely defined by society's expectations. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Sir Gawain is also a knight. He belongs to King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table, a very prestigious position at the time. Knights were expected to be honest, brave, and chivalrous. When the Green Knight enters and proposes his challenge, Sir Gawain is brave enough, as a knight should be, to step up to the challenge. He agrees to the terms the Green Knight lays down; that Sir Gawain, upon beheading the Green Knight, will travel to his castle after a year and a day to receive the same fate. After cutting of the Green Knight's head, the Green Knight rides away and reminds Sir Gawain of his promise. Sir Gawain, while somewhat apprehensive, intends to keep his promise to the Green Knight. When it is almost time to meet the Green Knight, Sir Gawain heads on his way. During this journey, he stays at a castle. He comes to an agreement with the king to exchange whatever they receive. Holding true to his word, Sir Gawain exchanges the objects he obtains with the king except for the last thing, a green girdle. It is here that Sir Gawain does not hold true to his word, as a knight should. Sir Gawain is told that the girdle will protect him from harm. Even though he is a knight, he is also human. The many poets who contributed to the story recognized this and included his human instinct to protect himself. If Sir Gawain was solely defined by his role, a knight, he would not exhibit any other traits than a knight would display, thus indicating that characters in medieval literature exhibit signs of individuality. Sir Gawain, however, was almost a perfect knight. In the end, he admits his wrongdoing and regains his valor. Another knight, however, was not as good a knight as Sir Gawain. In The Wife of Bath's Tale, the main character, a knight, raped a woman. This action violates the moral code a knight should have. This knight blatantly violated that code willingly. Sir Gawain was just tryingto protect his life. The immoral knight graciously receives a temporary pardon from the queen. In order to keep his life, he must figure out exactly what women want, within a year and a day. He travels everywhere trying to find the answer. He then meets an old woman who agrees to tell him if he does whatever she requests. He agrees and informs the queen of his answer that women want to be equal to men. She finds no fault with it and grants him his life. The old woman tells the knight he must marry her. While he is absolutely appalled by the thought, he agrees. When they are together, he berates her in every imaginable way. He calls her ugly and evil. Such words and actions should not be spoken by knights. This knight's actions show much disregard to his title as a knight. Sir Gawain and this man were both knights, but extremely different to say the least. Each knight is unique in their response to challenges as well as how they perceive their roles in society. Sir Gawain holds his stature highly, as he should. Even though he makes mistakes, he fights to regain is name. The other knight does not appreciate his stature and blemishes the reputations of all other knights. In conclusion, main characters in medieval literature are multi-dimensional and unique. While some characters share traits and beliefs, each is still an individual. Every character in medieval literature that is human displays human characteristics but is unavoidably influenced by the title they bear. These characters are not solely defined by their role in society, but exhibit signs of individuality, subtle as they might be.

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