The Nature of Heroism in Literature Essay

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  5
Wordcount:  1279 Words
Date:  2022-05-17

Heroism in a literary text describes the main character within a literary work. It portrays a protagonist or the main character who defeats adversity through the act of bravery and strength. In most events, the storyline in a text portray their actions and describe their time of adversity until when they acquire the heroic nature, unlike other characters who may take minor roles to ensure that the protagonist nature comes out. The paper is, therefore, premised on the commenting about the nature of heroism based on three literary works. These works include, "Beowulf, Sir Gawain, the Green Knight and Shakespeare's Othello.

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The text Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the green knight gives a case of two topical characters (Beowulf and Sir Gawain) who are both considered as heroes based on the qualities which they possess. Therefore, before delving to further discussions, it is significant to note that the definition of a hero goes hand in hand with the qualities that the character possess as will be noted in the subsequent commentaries. Beowulf is opined as a hero based on the opinions given by other people within the society whereas Gawain's case is determined by Christianity (Jansen, n.p). The duo had major differences in their religious beliefs, a situation which helps in bringing out their heroic nature. For Sir Gawain and the green knight, the world talked about is one which is built out of order and Christianity is considered to play a significant role. He, therefore, fits into this kind of existence as brave Knight because of the faith he had in God.

Like other heroes, Sir Gawain is also depicted to have other admirable traits such as his chivalry. An example is noted in the text that he had his heart set only on the mother Mary and had a deeper conviction in his beliefs. We also learn while reading through the text that Sir Gawain even had the portrait of Mother Mary in his shield. He is also noted as honorable based on how he stepped up to the challenge of Green Knight after his uncle; King Arthur had been challenged in his castle. Even after being tricked by the Knight and is supposed to be slain, he still decides to go to the Green Chapel, a move which was opined as both honorable and courageous (Mackley, n.p). In the case of Beowulf, his heroic nature stands out due to the qualities of loyalty, generosity, honor, and valor which he possesses. Beowulf is charged with the responsibility of ensuring that his nation survives thus his endless fight. He also takes note of his mortality and put his heroism into the test on the battlefield. He equally had to take care of his good name considering that he came from a hierarchical society. An example from the text on how he had to ensure that the people held him high is the obligation he had about defeating Grendel, the mother and the dragon, in the event of failure, the shame would not be on his head but the family and the entire nation.

In consideration of the argued, Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the green knight present two perspectives in giving the actual meaning of a hero. One aspect relies on chivalry and the other is concerned about epic. The two may also be the same since they share on virtues such as those that were credited to Beowulf. Sir Gawain's scenario is opined as chivalric based on the possession of temperance and the respect for women through the case of mother Mary. Beowulf on his part is an epic hero since he performs on the battlefield to ensure that his people are safe and has an obligation of proving himself (Melrose, n.p). Heroism can, therefore, be defined by chivalry or epic where the former is concerned with strict adherence to religion, temperance, respect to women and the possession of courtly skills. On the dimension of the epic which is also the most common, the definition requires that a hero must perform well in the battlefield as a way of proving oneself, possess qualities such as loyalty, valor, generosity and acquire honor from the people.

Shakespeare's Othello also contributes to the commentary about heroism by taking a somewhat different dimension. Unlike the previous discussion, Shakespeare conquers that heroes have certain qualities that make them be honored in the society but can also fall, something that is not covered by Beowulf, Sir Gawain, and the green knight. He opines that heroes can possess noble traits but also have tragic flaws which may lead to their tragic downfall. Shakespeare's Othello helps us in understanding such a view where the tragic hero is presented as one of noble status and greatness but has a problem when it comes to making judgments. The topical character in the text, Othello, is, therefore, presented as one who is of noble status and a high ranking official with a genuine heart (Rai, 53-58). Even though he had a rough past, he is a hero based on the past successes acquired from the war and the Venetian army.

He is also seen as a loving being with the example getting drawn from the text where he spoke about Desdemona. Some people admire his traits, for example, Lago who admitted that he is a constant loving person and will prove to Desdemona that he is indeed a loving husband. William Shakespeare finds it difficult to go past this limit in giving credits to Othello but brings his nature to a normal context of humanity which entails every person having his flaws. Othello is also noted to possess traits like those of gullibility and jealousy. He is particularly insecure about his relationship with Desdemona. He is even convinced by Lago that he may not be good enough for Desdemona. A quote to support the case is noted when he mentions that, "Desdemona is gone, after being abused, my life must take a turn of loathing her. Oh, my marriage is cursed, and we are left to call the delicate creatures ours but not those that satisfy their appetite." The quote is derived from page 283-286 and shows the extent in which Othello's insecurity took control over his life until his tragic fall. William Shakespeare's Othello mainly tries to inform that heroes can also have flaws, they are not only associated with greatness but also have weaknesses which may lead to their tragic fall like in the case of Othello (Shakespeare, n.p).


In summary, heroism assumes different definition based on the dimension of description about the protagonist character taken by the author. Both Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the green knight share in the definition of heroism based on the dimension of chivalry and epic. They opine a hero as someone who is grounded to a particular religion, has respect towards women, owns particular courtly skills, perform in the battlefield, has loyalty, valor and admired by the people. William Shakespeare's Othello agrees with them but adds that a hero can also have tragic flaws which may lead to a tragic fall.

Works Cited

Jansen, J. E. Shame, and Honour in Late Medieval English Literature An analysis of two narratives from the Sir Gawain Cycle: The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle and The Avowing of Arthur. BS thesis. 2017.

Mackley, J. S. "Feasts and feasting in the fourteenth century-Gawain and the Green Knight." (2016).

Melrose, Robin. Warriors and Wilderness in Medieval Britain: From Arthur and Beowulf to Sir Gawain and Robin Hood. McFarland, 2017.

Rai, Ram Prasad. "Jealousy and Destruction in William Shakespear's Othello." Crossing the Border: International Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies 4.1 (2017): 53-58.

Shakespeare, William. Othello. Cambridge University Press, 2018.

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