Beowulf

Throughout Old English literature, the themes of loyalty and pride have played a large component in the narratives of the protagonists. While Beowulf was written after the Anglo-Saxon tribes had been Christianized the pagan elements of the past still dominated the culture. The retention of these themes within Beowulf reflects the landscape of England at the time, because even though it was Christianized, England still had many pagan elements such as pride within its culture. Conversely, even though Lanval was written at a later date when pagan elements subsumed with Christian elements the concept of chivalry had arisen thus the poem is still tinged with the themes of loyalty and pride. From observing the themes of loyalty and pride in Beowulf and Lanval we can discern the nature of these protagonists, and therefore in turn be able to analyze the importance of these tenets in both cultures.

Pride is said to be the deadliest of all sins yet, in Beowulf pride is profoundly valued amongst the Germanic tribes. In Beowulf, the theme of pride arises throughout the poem and allows us to see the human faults of a virtually immortal man. The concept of pride is woven throughout the story from Beowulf’s boasts to his actions when fighting Grendel. However, the greatest display of his pride is found at the conclusion of the poem when Beowulf’s pride comes to a fatal crux as he battles the dragon. The timeworn Beowulf that we observe fighting the dragon is much different from the young heroic Geat; he has even come to descend into bouts of anguish when the dragon ravages his kingdom (2324-2329). Even though Beowulf shows more contemplation over a situation, he remains unchanged in the fact that he does what he has to do to defend his kingdom. Nonetheless, he still takes a prideful stance towards his final fight as Beowulf proudly states “this fight is not yours, / nor is it up to any man except me/ to measure his strength against the monster” (2532-2534). For Beowulf being prideful is to affirm to all that he possess formidable strength and is a heroic individual who will save his kingdom without any doubt or fear within his heart. Even for all of Beowulf’s strength his pride secures his death as he fights the dragon and is dealt a fatal blow. Even though pride seals his casket for Beowulf pride is profoundly embedded within his culture, and it is within his nature to uphold the values of his culture until his final breath.

Similarly, Lanval like Beowulf falls victim to pride as he retorts against Queen Guinevere’s accusations. Lanval’s pride is very different from Beowulf’s as it comes from spite and not out of assurance in oneself. Unlike Beowulf, Lanval is unpretentious at most times, however; he is driven over the edge by the queen’s ridicule as she questions his sexuality. For Lanval, Guinevere’s insult wounds his pride and like most of mankind, he seeks to restore his pride as he retorts with great “spite” that “I love and I am loved by/ one who should have the prize/ over all women I know” (293-295). For Lanval, the consequences of his pride were not as great as Beowulf’s as he didn’t perish in the process of upholding his pride. However, Lanval’s pride made him subject to the scrutiny of the court until his beloved lady appears and confirms that Lanval was indeed justified in his prideful remarks. Looking at Lanval one can understand the reason for his pride as his beloved truly was more blessed in beauty than the queen; however unlike the Germanic culture of Beowulf the culture within Lanval views pride as a vice not a virtue. In Lanval pride is culturally considered to lead to unwanted confrontations and potentially deadly circumstances. The cultural situation of pride leading to unfortunate events is present in the story of Lanval and while his pride is warranted it could have ultimately led to his death much like Beowulf.

Loyalty has permeated the nature of man since the beginning; however culture tends to influence greatly the degrees of loyalty to which one will be willing to conduct. Within both Lanval’s and Beowulf’s culture, loyalty is viewed as one of the most honorable qualities that a man can have. Lanval’s loyalty to another is demonstrated as he pledges loyalty to his lady in the fashion of a feudal oath to a king as he promises “I shall obey your command; / for you, I shall abandon everyone” (127-128). While Lanval remains a loyal and honorable man in most situations he severs his loyalty to his beloved by telling of her existence in a rather “spiteful” manner to Queen Guinevere in order to save his pride from being shattered (289). Even though Lanval fails to keep his loyalty to his lady, there is great importance in the oath that he took as it shows that his beloved trusts his words wholeheartedly. In addition, Lanval would have most likely not have broken the oath if it were not for his already outstanding oath as a knight to remain loyal and true to his king no matter the cost. Lanval’s undying loyalty to his lord is clearly evident as he states “never for love, and not for you, /will I do anything to harm my lord (273-274), when the Queen offers to have an affair with Lanval. Further displaying his loyal character, Lanval can simply clear his name by denying the accusations that he made about his beloved under an oath. However, Lanval firmly refuses to deny the truth about his lady under oath because of his reverent sense of loyalty. In this aspect, Lanval closely follows the epitome of French courtly love as he respects, is loyal, and honors his lady well enough not to speak an untruth about her to simply escape punishment.

Loyalty is not simply an honorable quality in Germanic culture but is serves a way of life for Beowulf. Throughout the poem, Beowulf’s actions are supported by loyalty and from the start his loyal nature is evident. Beowulf’s sense of loyalty is so great that he goes back to pay off his father, Ecgtheow’s, debt to Hrothgar. This is due to the fact that Hrothgar gave shelter to Ecgtheow when he was exiled from Geatland, also Hrothgar, “healed the feud by paying” so that Ecgtheow could return home (470). As the poem progresses even Beowulf’s final moments are tinged with his loyal nature as he bravely states that he “will not shift a foot” against the dragon, for Beowulf breaking his promise to his people is the most disloyal action he could commit as a warrior in Germanic culture (2524). Even Beowulf’s most loyal warrior Wiglaf understands how intricately loyalty is interconnected to being a Germanic warrior and to one’s reputation, he reaffirms this concept rather bluntly when he says, “A warrior will sooner/die than live a life of shame” (2890-2891). From Beowulf’s actions and nature, it is obvious that to survive and prosper in the Anglo-Saxon culture, it was absolutely necessary to be loyal.

As we observe the radical differences between the cultures present in Beowulf and Lanval we can examine how the differences between Christian and pagan values affected the cultural outlook on these heroes. In accordance with pagan values Beowulf’s pride and loyalty were viewed as one of the most important qualities that a Germanic warrior could possess. For Anglo-Saxons, pride was viewed as a virtue, not as a vice and it was admired in men to be prideful as it solidified their power and position in society. However, in Lanval only loyalty is regarded as a virtue, as pride is regarded as a vice. In accordance with the cultural values of the time when Lanval was written pride was the deadliest of sins and could lead to the downfall of men. By analyzing the tenants of pride and loyalty within the characters of Beowulf and Lanval we have gained a better understanding of these values within each culture.

Source: Essay UK - http://ntechno.pro/essays/english-literature/beowulf/


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