Societal Expectations in the Time of Beowulf, Lanval, and Sir Gawain

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Across time and cultures, societal expectations for people have evolved greatly. In older English writing, we can see the difference in the way people were expected to present themselves over the years. For example, the warrioribased community that was prevalent in Beowulf which was set in the 8‘“ century is different than the medieval feudal system of stories like Lanval and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The Norman Conquest of England had an effect on these communal changes. The conquest brought on a constructed government and defined a separation between classes. In the time of Beowulf, tribes of warriors roamed the lands. A good king was described as being one who attained great deeds and conquered tribes and excelled in battle.

While warriors were able to make a name for themselves with heroic deeds, family lineage was also an important factor, Warriors were often referred to as sons of their fathers, for example, “Beowulf, son of Scyld.” The king Hrothgar built the great mead hall for all the members of their society to eat, sleep, and socialize in, and the duties of the warriors were to protect and defend the members of their community. In comparison to the later stories of Lanval and Sir Gawain, there is a less civilized and more animalistic culture apparent in the time of Beowulf. When it came to the way warriors treated women, there isn’t really much to observe from the poem, Beowulf’s era was one of a largely patriarchal society where men were warriors and women were not important enough to make it into the script.

The only main character in this writing that was female was Grendel’s mother, Obviously she was a monster and one noticeable detail was the way that Beowulf decided to bring back Grendel’s head as a trophy versus his mother’s. Females were considered on a lower level and as more disposable in my opinion. In the time of Lanval, you can see a distinct change in the way people act. At the very beginning of the poem, the author lists out Lanval’s attributes. These include valor, generosity. beauty, and prowess. Right after it describes his qualities, it says that many were jealous of him for these reasons. meaning that these were the ideal assets ofa knight in those times. Lanval was greatly unappreciated despite maintaining the ideal knightly characteristics by King Arthur and by his peers.

Although he continued to be talked down by the other knights and shown no attention by the king, he remained knightly and rarely abandoned his manners. When it came to hygiene. the reader is able to tell from the way he washes his hands and dries them with a towel that he is living in a more cleanly time period than that of Beowulft As for the way the knights of Lanval’s day treated women, Lanval is the model candidate for the way he treats his love. He even treated her attendants with great respect and stood up to greet them as was customary as King Arthur repeated later in the poem. He speaks to her kindly and lovingly and thinks about her when she is not there. He remains faithful to her even with the option of Queen Guinevere, who offers herself to him. When Lanval insults her after she throws herself at him by telling her she is no comparison to his love, Guinevere is so insulted that she lies to Arthur about the encounter.

Lanval is brought to court over the accusations, and this is the one time he acts out of order. However, by the way the other knights and people of the kingdom acted when Lanval said such things to the queen, the reader can tell that it is socially unacceptable in those times to speak to a woman that way. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Gawain demonstrates how a knight is to properly avoid the advances ofa woman. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was another piece of medieval literature. “Valiant men were bred there” according to the text. and throughout the story the reader can tell that Arthur’s knights live by a code of chivalry, and Arthur was considered the noblest of all. At the beginning of the story. it is the holiday season and the entire court is celebrating and enjoying the festivities.

Arthur is the epitome of the perfect host, waiting until others are served until he eats and being in the best mood of all. This characterizes him as being the ideal king and leader with his polite manners and positive personality. And even when the Green Knight bursts into his castle, Arthur is most generous and welcomes him politely into his home despite him being described as “terrible.” As for the knights, Sir Gawain obviously would be considered the bravest and most valiant of the court for courageously taking the Green Knight’s challenge in place of Arthur in order to eliminate the risk of the king being hurt or killed. Gawain shows his pristine manners through his valiant speech to the court explaining why he should take Arthur’s spot. He talks down about himself and describes himself as not being an asset to the kingdom and explaining that it would not be a burden if he were to not survive the challenge.

This was considered proper of the medieval time. Another way that the societal customs changed were the way that people behaved towards one another. There is a clear importance after the time of the Norman Conquest of hospitality and the way that hosts received their guests. Gawain is received readily and graciously by a lord he does not at all know, the lord gives Gawain an expensive robe to wear and prepares cushions for him to sit on. The knights of Arthurs court are famous for their fine manners, noble speech, and good breeding. This proves that manners in the medieval times were considered high class and crucial. The men of the castle were all very impressed by the wonderful valiance and manners that Gawain demonstrated.

When it came to the way that Sir Gawain behaved with women. he also for the most part was chivalrous. When the Green Knight made his entrance at the beginning of the poem, he asked Queen Guinevere for permission to stand up as he is sitting next to her. This is a great evolution from the days ofBeowulf when manners were not important enough to be written about. Later in the poem, after Gawain meets the lord who takes him into his castle, the lord’s wife comes to Gawain’s room with her old attendant. In this situation. Gawain displays the politest tactics and treats the ugly old attendant with the same respect as the young beautiful woman, Gawain interacts with the two of them with the best etiquette.

When the lady makes advances on Gawain. he jokes with her merrily and turns down her advances in the politest and respectful way possible as not to offend her. He claims himself unworthy of her in attempt to have her reconsider her efforts to sleep with him, yet ends up kissing her after some convincing on her part. When she offers him expensive gifts he denies them, but takes her sash after learning its usefulness especially with his dangerous task he has yet to face. These two slip ups cause Lanval much guilt when he learns that the green knight set him up in these situations. Although these may seem like small mistakes, Gawain completely discredits his accomplishment of defeating the Green Knight’s challenge. In his eyes. Gawain feels as though his gallantry is at stake because he holds himself to the highest standards.

In conclusion over time there is a clear evolution of societal expectation of the upper class. In Beowulf’s time, manners and etiquette were not important. Warriors had customs but not really social interactive manners that they were expected to follow, On the other hand. the knights of Lanval and Gawain’s time were held to a higher standard in the way they interacted with each other. women. and strangers as welli One thing that the two had in common were the heroic deeds that were held in high regard in both culturesi Arthur’s knights were famous for their valiant and courageous deeds and Beowulf was renowned for his killing of the monsters that terrorized his people. Time has a clear effect on the changes in societies but some values are upheld for many years.


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Societal Expectations in the Time of Beowulf, Lanval, and Sir Gawain. (2023, Jun 27). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/societal-expectations-in-the-time-of-beowulf-lanval-and-sir-gawain/

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