Herois Tradition Throughout British Literature Essay, Research Paper
Throughout British Literature, there are many instances of heroism. To be considered a hero by others in the time period of 449 to 1625, you must be, “noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose: especially, one who has risked or sacrificed his life” (Morris 618). Four characters in British Literature that portray heroic traits are Beowulf, Sir Gawain, Macbeth, and the Knight of The Canterbury Tales. Beowulf shows himself worthy of the title of being a hero when he leaves his country to help a neighboring country, Denmark and rid them of the long lasting fear of a malicious monster known as Grendel. Sir Gawain is considered a hero by many because of his loyalty to King Arthur. He even risks his life so that King Arthur would live and participates in the Green Knights challenge. Although Macbeth has got a few more faults than other heroes have in British Literature, his name is still synonymous with “hero”. Aristotle says “the tragic hero has to fall from grace … after being on top” (Chui 1). Before the three witches tell Macbeth the false prophecies, Macbeth is in held is high accord, yet afterwards, his ambition tears him down and he does anything it takes gain the role of King. The Knight, from The Canterbury Tales, excels beyond all others when it comes to being a hero. He is the most loyal and is admired by the other characters for his courage, bravery in battle and his exploits in war. He is on a religious pilgrimage not to make money or any other avaricious deed that the other characters are on the pilgrimage for, he is on the pilgrimage to worship God, which is also honored by his peers as being heroic. All four characters mentioned have heroic traits and they all are considered heroes. Although they might gain their title in different ways and for the wrong reasons, they are truly heroes. In British Literature, many stories have been influenced by the heroic traditions of their time period. The characters, although in different stories, all portray the heroic tradition in British Literature.
The character Beowulf, “a man of great strength and bravery” (Magill 388), is a hero in the way he defends his neighboring country, Denmark. When the word that a hostile creature, known as Grendel, was killing tons in Denmark, Beowulf set sail to help defend the people and rid them of the hideous monster. When he arrives, he is taken to Hrothgar, King of Denmark, and presents his proposal of assisting them in killing the monster. Hrothgar agrees and they feast in honor of the deed Beowulf has proposed the do. Beowulf, with neither sword nor shield, destroys Grendel. He goes without using these tools to exaggerate to others how great of a hero he is. The next night Grendel’s mother terrorizes the kingdom and forces Beowulf to also kill her. He swims to the bottom of her home in the marsh and destroys her with a magical sword hung on the wall. Many people now look up to him. Many years later, he is called back to battle yet again, although this time is his last. He has to kill a dragon that is terrorizing his kingdom. After killing the dragon, his warriors discover treasures form the dragon’s home but his people have him in such high regards, they bury him with the gold. Although Beowulf does his many heroic deeds for the reason of fame and glory, he is overall a hero because he does do them and his people are safe from any harm.
Sir Gawain is also a major heroic role in British Literature. He “begins his rise to greatness when, he takes a challenge given by an ominous figure known as the Green Knight”(Sera 1). Sir Gawain is at King Arthur’s hall dining when the Green Knight approaches and presents a challenge. The challenge consists of any one in the dining hall chopping of the Green Knights head only then to return in one year for the Green Knight to do the same upon the first player. When none of King Arthur’s men agree to participate, King Arthur, himself, agrees. Only then does Sir Gawain’s character get revealed. Sir Gawain stands up and “asks Arthur to allow him to take the challenge” (Sera 2). Sir Gawain does not allow his king to take the challenge because of his chivalry and knighthood. He does not think it is right for King Arthur to have to do it and he goes through with the challenge although he really does not want to.
“His takening of the challenge is seen as a deed of selflessness and not one of pride. This combined with fact that none of the other knights are willing to take the challenge causes Gawain to be seen as the greatest of all knights”( Sera 2).
After he swings his blade at the Green Knight, the knight merely picks up his head and reminds him of the bargain and that he must show up in one year. When it is time for Gawain to face his destiny he “travels on horseback in his armor and never turns back. This, in itself, [shows] his perseverance and dedication”(Sera 2).
“The character of Macbeth is a classic example of a Shakespearean tragic hero”(Macbeth- tragic hero 1). Macbeth’s personality is one of much ambition, “which drove his desire to be king” (Macbeth-tragic hero 1). Other than his faulty ambition, Macbeth is “a noble man, a man admired by all who knew him – and destroy him,
not only physically and emotionally … but also morally and intellectually” (Scott 276). Through Macbeth’s downfall, he “degenerates from a noble man to a violent individual” (Macbeth-tragic hero 1). The witches’ prophecies, Lady Macbeth’s manipulation, and Macbeth’s “long time ambition” (Macbeth – tragic hero 1), all contribute to his tragic downfall. The prophecies “aroused Macbeth’s curiosity of how he could be King of Scotland” (Macbeth – tragic hero 1). This started his downward spiral and “psychological turmoil” (Bloom 24). Then, Lady Macbeth introduces to him the idea of murder to gain his and her much desired throne. In addition, Lady Macbeth manipulates Macbeth to actually perform the murders. “If not for Lady Macbeth, his ambition would not have been intensified enough to drive him to obtain and maintain his title of King of Scotland no matter what it took, even if it meant murdering” (Macbeth – tragic hero 1). For these reasons, Macbeth fulfills Aristotle’s definition of a hero. Thus, the prophecies, Lady Macbeth’s influence, and his ambition all contributed to his downfall. “Therefore Macbeth’s character displays strong signs of a tragic hero, making him the ideal classic example”(Macbeth – tragic hero 1).
“The most likely image to spring to mind at the mention of the word ‘chivalry’ today, is one of the perfect gentleman, an impeccably mannered individual who displays gentle and courteous behavior, especially toward women” (Neilson Internet 1).
In The Canterbury Tales, the Knight portrays these features. “He was a very perfect gentle knight” (Malcolmson 30). The knight is also “devoted to military service, especially in the cause of Christendom” (Malcolmson 29). In these quotes, the
Knight seems to be a hero by definition. He is on this religious pilgrimage to show
his devotion to God. He “undertook the pilgrimage to show devotion to his religion through the sacrifice of time and energy that the journey required” (Joyce 64).
“The portrait of the knight emphasizes the devotion of a lifetime to the ideas of chivalry”(Owen 51). The Knight is admired by the stories readers and the other characters in the story because he,
“Is of course the dominant figure, and his character defines itself in the chosen companions of his pilgrimage as well as in his own qualities and attainments own greedy – his gentleness, in the freedom given his son in matters of dress and action; his effectiveness as a soldier, in the neat competence of his yeoman-retainer; his dignity and sincerity, in the very absence…”(Owen 51).
Through the Knight’s sincerity through God, and his multiple brave exploits in
battle, the Knight is admired by all who are associated with him. He is true to himself and does what he knows is right and it does not matter what others are doing. He is one of the only people on the pilgrimage who is truly on there for its sole purpose, which is to worship God. While others are on the trip for the fun of it or for their rapacious needs and wants, the knight has a purpose for the pilgrimage, to better himself so that he can be a better knight. According to the definitions listed, the Knight from The Canterbury Tales is most definitely beyond all others a hero.
In conclusion, Beowulf, Sir Gawain, Macbeth, and the Knight can definitely be classified as heroes of the time period 449 to 1625. Each of their stories are different but they all are motivated in some manner to become a hero. They all meet the requirements of being a hero by definition according to Aristotle and Morris. Although they each have minor flaws in their characters, they are triumphant in the end because they over come their problems which in itself makes them a hero. Which is the definition Lou Holtz gives as a leader. He says,” Leadership is the ability to define a goal that is accepted by the entire group and then develop a plan to achieve it”(Holtz 6). Not one character was perfect by no means, but what makes them distinct characters are their ability to define the goal and then develop a plan to achieve it. In example, Beowulf wanting fame. He knew what he wanted and decided to kill the monsters with no armor or weapon just to appeal to the other warriors. Or Sir Gawain wanting to be loyal to King Arthur so he takes the challenge only then to face his fate. Macbeth wants to be king and although wrong, murders people to gain his position but in the end was destroyed. The Knight wanted to make himself a better person so he participates in a religious pilgrimage. It is hard to actually define a true hero but according to definition and personal decision, the four characters Beowulf, Sir Gawain, Macbeth, and The Knight are all truly heroes.
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