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The Heroes Of The Middle Ages English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2137 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The Anglo-Saxon period and the Middle Ages period were two major historical sections of English history. These two periods have very distinct aspects of literature. The hero has evolved from one period to the next. The epic hero was during the Anglos-Saxon period, and the romance hero was during the Middle Ages. These heroes have similar qualities, but the evolution from the epic hero to the romance hero is very evident. Heroes played an important role in British Literature during the Anglo-Saxon period and Middle ages and set values and characteristics for many warriors and knights of the time period.

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The Anglo-Saxon hero is also known as the epic hero. He or she is typically a warrior who shows no mercy and fights for his or her country. This is the type of hero that is usually portrayed in ancient wars. This hero is ruthless, however, very obedient. Courage and loyalty defined the epic hero. For example, he or she will do anything to protect the lord. This hero performed his or her duties with little emotion, often performing grueling and gruesome tasks without any complaint. He or she did whatever it took t perform the duties. Beowulf is a great example of an Anglo-Saxon hero. The comitatus can be defined as an agreement lords made with their warriors. The epic hero was true to the comitatus. Warriors fought for their lord; warriors provided protection, while the lord provided everything else the warriors needed. This relationship was crucial for the survival of everybody. No one has a place to live without the land from the lord, and no one has protection from the enemy without the warriors.

A major part of being an epic hero was showing respect to your own family members. In Beowulf, Unferth killed his own brother. Beowulf, being an epic hero, related Unferth’s actions to being a coward. Beowulf describes Unferth as a coward for killing his own brother. This is one of the greatest crimes in the Anglo-Saxon period. Families and tribes are held in such high regard that for someone to betray his or her own family member is one of the worst possible crimes. Beowulf supports his success with stories involving fighting sea-monsters, while he discredits the worthiness of Unferth. Beowulf says, “Breca has never- nor you either- done a deed so bold and daring…though you became your brother’s killer…for that you needs must suffer punishment in hell.” Beowulf talks about the lack of Unferth’s achievements, and he mentions the wrongdoings of Unferth. Unferth killed his own brother, and Beowulf points out that Unferth’s actions have made him unable to be a hero. Family always comes first, and a good hero always protects his or her family, and certainly never harms his or her own family member.

Anglo-Saxon heroes also avoided showing emotion. Sadness only gets in the way of the task at hand. the warrior must focus on his or her objectives, and not succumb to his or her emotions. These feelings only cloud the thoughts of the warrior. This would hinder him or her from doing the best job. A warrior must ignore his or her feelings to avoid death. Every action must be perfect. War is no place for someone to think twice or feel bad about anything. A warrior needs to have a way of not thinking about the action, but performing it with deadly accuracy every time.

Fate and courage play a large part in Beowulf. Beowulf says, “Wyrd often spares an undoomed man, when his courage endures.” It was believed that the gods had control over fate. If a warrior shows courage, he will be spared. Courage is detrimental if the warrior wishes to survive. Courage plays an important role in fate, and it comes to play in everyday fighting. Courage will simply help a warrior survive, disregarding fate. A courageous warrior will attack his enemy when he or she needs to and make the decisions promptly before it is too late. Before battle, a warrior must mentally prepare. He or she must build up the courage to fight through any obstacle that comes in the way. Also, before battle, a warrior must free his or her mind of any negative emotions, such as fear or sadness. These negative emotions will only cloud the warrior’s mind, making it a little bit harder to perform every task. Being emotional in battle could kill a warrior. Good warriors always hid and controlled their emotions during battle.

Epic heroes were known for their respect, ruthlessness and lack of emotion. However, like any other hero, they sought fame. Beowulf says, “let him who can bring about fame before death- that is the best for the unliving man after he is gone.” Warriors were not doing everything for the good of their country or lord. These men and women were also famous for their feats and accomplishments on the battlefield. Death was always a possibility every time a warrior went to battle. The Anglo-Saxons did not believe in heaven or anything after life on Earth, therefore, life on Earth was to be lived to the fullest. People held nothing back, all glory and fame was earned during life; there was nothing to look forward to after death. Therefore, a warrior’s greatest achievement was to succeed on the battle field. After Beowulf dies, he is described as “the mildest of men and the most gentle, the kindest of folk and the most eager for fame.” This shows that desiring fame was completely acceptable in the Anglo-Saxon period. People strived for fame and honor. In the Anglo-Saxon period it was not enough to just be a good warrior, that warrior needed to be known for being a good warrior.

A romantic hero must possess an understanding of his inner-self or inner-world.  He must also understand the value of his experiences through emotions, intuition, and feelings rather than logically reasoning.  The audience must also be able to emotionally connect with the romantic hero on some level of emotion so that no matter the experience of the hero, the audience will relate to his experiences. A romantic hero transcends society; birth and class are unimportant. The battle the hero takes part in is internal, and the hero makes his or her own rules. Unlike the great warrior, self knowledge is valued more than physical strength or endurance. This hero is more intellectual than the epic hero. However, this hero is moody, isolated and introspective. Also, his or her loyalty is to a community.

The earliest accounts in which Arthur appears portray him as a historical hero who comes to assume national importance.  By the Twelfth Century he has been transformed by courtly writers from a historical and national hero to a hero of romance.

After the Anglo-Saxon period, the Middle Ages period took over. The epic hero transformed into the romance hero. King Arthur is one of the famous romance heroes of his time. King Arthur has been described as “the leader of battles,” who slaughters many pagans. He was a hero and a king, commonly referred to as the savior of Britain. Many stories about King Arthur have been transformed around myths, legends and scattered and contested facts. He was based on many historical figures. The legend of King Arthur was first mentioned in The Gododdin in 600 AD. The text praises a certain warrior but says “he was no Arthur.” Arthur is known as an extraordinary warrior. The Welsh did not describe him as a king but as a war leader. His legacy was quickly spread after 1138 when Geoffrey of Mummouth wrote the first full biography of King Arthur. This quickly spread of Europe and allowed Arthur to become a figure of romance. However, this biography has not been proven to be factual. This further leads to the idea that much of what is known about King Arthur today is based on fictional stories. During the Middle Ages, John Hardyng and Robert Mannyng accepted the legend of King Arthur as real; however, William of Newburgh thought of Arthur as a fictional character. Also, in the Decline and Fall, written by Edward Gibbson, he stresses the reality behind King Arthur’s tale and believes it to be a true story (Ashe vii). Arthur’s character has been filled with many virtues and few flaws, each varying from text to text. He has been described as compassionate and generous. He rarely acted in ways of wrath or pride; he was the Romantic hero of his time period. He is well known for being faithful to his knights and his queen. Jacques de Longuyon made of list of heroes, and among this list of many notable characters from Julius Caesar to men of the Bible was Arthur. He was a symbol of glory, valor and virtue.

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Arthur was first put into literature in the French romances. These were of Celtic and Welsh origin. His claim to royal leadership was the Sword in the Stone from Robert de Boron’s Merlin early in the thirteenth century. Arthur was the only man who was able to remove the sword from a slab of rock. King Arthur’s stories have many origins to Celtic stories such as the hunt of the white stag and journeys to enchanted castles and forests. Elements of his stories include abduction and loss of Guinevere, battle of Camlan and the death and return of Arthur.

He led his armies to battle with a religious purpose similar to the epic hero, however, those religions were very different. King Arthur had the image of the Virgin Mary on his shield, and his battle cry was the name of the Mother of God. During one of his many battles, legend says that King Arthur kill 960 men in one day by himself. A welsh writer wrote, “Arthur, having carried the cross of Christ on his shoulders for three days and three nights, was victorious in the Battle of Badon.” Myth and truth always surround the legends of King Arthur. It has become difficult to differentiate between what is true and what is false. Arthur transformed from a historical figure to a figure of mythic proportion. This is primarily because most of his stories and legends were only transferred by word of mouth. This provided a lot of room for exaggerations and fairy tales inside of the stories of King Arthur.

The courtly entourage was a necessary step to transition King Arthur from a local chief to a great king. This was something new about the romance hero that the epic hero did not have. King Arthur had incentive to succeed in battle from a woman, and King Arthur’s bravery and nobility would reciprocate back to the woman and be incentive for her to be pure. King Arthur is described as “more courtly and less barbaric, as possessing other than marital attributes and abilities.”

Courtly love was established during the Middle Ages and greatly emphasized in the legend of King Arthur. In this time period, knights devoted themselves to a single lady. In principal, courtly love was purely emotional; no physical actions were to take place. Therefore, whether the lady was married or single, courtly love was accepted as a normal cultural action. The Art of Courtly love was written by Marie’s chaplain Andreas in 1175, and this laid the laws of courtly love in this time period. This piece explained how to approach a lady the proper way and address his desires of courtly love. This piece also explains how to communicate to one of a lower class, for example, a nobleman may address a man of the middle class because the nobleman is of a higher class. Although courtly love was intended to be purely emotional, physical relationships were started because of courtly love. Many knights and their respective ladies went passed courtly love and took part in physical actions usually leading to adultery.

In the Wedding of King Arthur, he said, “This fair lady is more than welcome to me, for I have loved her since I first saw her and the hundred knights and the Table Round please me more than any riches.” This statement is a great example of his courtly love and chivalry. He is not the epic hero from the Anglo-Saxon era; he focuses more on love and chivalry. He cares about his lady and his knights. Love and honor are more important to King Arthur than riches and fame.

Overall, the epic hero and romance hero were similar warriors, but their supporting characteristics were very different. The epic hero was more ruthless and focused on battle and his army, while the romance hero was very different. The romance hero focused more on love and relationships outside of battle. Courtly love played a large role in the romance hero but was not a part of the epic hero. However, the epic hero did place a lot of respect on family and respect. These heroes of the Anglo-Saxon period and the middle ages played a large part in much of the British literature of these time periods.


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