Warrior Culture Exemplified in English

The course description on the CSUN website describes English 258 as: Major English Writers. The premise of the course is, “completion of the lower-division writing requirement. Study of works of major English writers from the middle-ages to Samuel Johnson, with attention to literary movements and backgrounds.”(CSUN.edu) As a professor of this course, I believe there are three eras that have the most importance of being taught. The Anglo-Saxon, Medieval, and the Early Modern era. The corresponding readings should be Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and Hamlet, respectively.

These three readings are staples of English Literature and exemplify the evolution of warrior culture through the change of time.

Beowulf actively uses polyphony, multiple voices at the same time, and this allows different perspectives of warrior culture in the Anglo-Saxon era. The men in the story are Beowulf, Hygelic, Hrothar, Headred, and Wiglaf. They all represent a facet of warrior culture, they are strong men tasked with fighting wars and monsters.

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Beowulf fought two monsters, became king of his homeland, and fought a dragon (who ended up killing him.) The following quote describes Beowulf’s first fight with the monster Grendel, “Beowulf was granted the glory of winning; Grendel was driven under the fen-banks, fatally hurt, to his desolate lair.” (817-820) This scene shows the warrior aspect of Beowulf during one of many of his fights. Warrior culture would typically be associated with men, but in Beowulf, there are many women alongside the men. Some of the women are Grendel’s mother, Hildeburh, Wealhtheow, Freawaru, and Hyd and we are able to see perspectives as a part of the story.

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Grendel’s mother, a monster herself, comes to fight Beowulf and his knights as she fulfils the archetype of revenge. Though she is the only woman shown fighting, we are able to see a female perspective of the male warrior culture from the other women in the story. As the men fight we can see that the women stay home the women are portrayed as strong individuals. Each of them has a specific role, some women are cup-bearers and gracious hostesses of the mead halls, Wealhtheow and Hygd, while others, Grendel’s mother, have the role of a monstrous trespasser. This shows that women did not sit at home helpless as their husbands and sons were off fighting. They had roles to uphold and had their own roles to fulfill. The warrior culture of the Anglo-Saxon era focused on the strength of a man which corresponded with war, monster conquering, fighting, and status.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a Medieval era tale of chivalry and fighting. This piece is the epitome of the warrior culture ideals of the time period. The poem opens with a large party that is crashed by a green knight who challenges anyone willing to strike him. The knight, Sir Gawain is very modest about himself amongst the partygoers. He states ‘I am the weakest, I know, and the dullest-minded, So my death would be the least loss, if truth should be told; Only because you are my uncle am I to be praised, No virtue I know in myself but your blood.'(354 – 357) His modesty shows that he does not think to put himself above others. Sir Gawain takes the Green knight up on the offer of the duel and fails to mortally wound him. The knight makes Gawain promise that he will take a blow from the knight on a later date. This interaction shows how important chivalry, honor, and loyalty mean to the men. Main points of this reading are chivalry, bravery, generosity, honor, loyalty, and jousting. All of these epitomize warrior culture as it was seen by the men in the poem. Gawain’s quest is a right of passage, he keeps his word to the knight and allows knight to strike him. His promise puts his honor at stake, so he must uphold it in order to prove his worth. The values of warrior culture in the Medieval era focused on honor, chivalry, and status.

Hamlet is an abnormal revenge tragedy that portrays the struggle of a man as he attempts to avenge his father. The play shows the transition of the Medieval era to the Early Modern era through the main character, Hamlet. The author of Hamlet, Shakespeare, chose to create a character that is obviously different from the other male characters in the story. Characters such as Laertes, Claudius, and Polonius have characteristics typical to the warrior culture ideals of the medieval era. They have high status, are eager to fight, and care about aspects like that of revenge and honor. At the beginning of the play Hamlet’s father visits Hamlet, as a ghost. He requests that Hamlet avenges him and Hamlet replies by saying Haste me to know ‘t, that I, with wings as swift As meditation or the thoughts of love, May sweep to my revenge (1.5.35-37) He takes until the final act of the play to avenge his father and this is because he is an intricate and diverse character who is forced into a role that does not suit him. That role is one of a Medieval era warrior. He is expected to play the hero and soldier, and to take his rightful place as king. To not desire these things is something unheard of for the prior Medieval era. To be more focused on art, education, and to be in-tune to one’s emotions were aspects of a more modern way of thinking, such as the Early Modern Era. Being staples of the renaissance, these traits show that Hamlet was stuck in an era where medieval values were being forced upon him. This was a warrior culture that Hamlet didn’t fit in to. The warrior culture of the Early Modern era still dealt with one’s status and honor, but allowed for renaissance type characteristics.

I chose these three readings because they truly show the growth of warrior culture through multiple time periods. Being a professor for English 258 means choosing what is best for the students to read in order to gain a thorough understanding. Via Beowulf, students can learn the Anglo-Saxon era focused on the strength of a man which corresponded with war, monster conquering, fighting, and status. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight teaches that the values of warrior culture in the Medieval era focused on honor, chivalry, and status. Hamlet examines how the warrior culture of the Early Modern era dealt with one’s status and honor, but allowed for renaissance type characteristics. In real life, these three time periods came back to back and the literature produced is the best way to understand what was expected in society and how it evolved.

The three readings, Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and Hamlet, are staples of English Literature and exemplify the evolution of warrior culture through the change of time. The dictionary definition of a warrior is “one who is engaged aggressively or energetically in an activity, cause, or conflict.” (google dictionary) Each main character in the three stories can be categorized as a warrior. Beowulf kills a giant, a giantess, becomes king of his land, and is ultimately killed by a dragon. Sir Gawain is challenged by a knight and is compelled to uphold his honor by fighting the knight and allowing himself to be stricken. Hamlet is requested to avenge his father and takes actions that lead to every character in the play, but one, getting killed. Through the passage of time the definition of a warrior seems to stay the same, while the expectations associated with warrior culture fluctuate.

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Warrior Culture Exemplified in English. (2021, Sep 13). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/warrior-culture-exemplified-in-english-essay

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