Because of this, both use imagery, folklore and artifacts that were common or revered at the time of writing. While Beowulf brings a great deal of Norse folklore and traditional characters into the story, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight centers on the use of Irish, Gaelic and Germanic beliefs. The poems are both steeped in cultural traditions that span several modern countries; the overwhelming theme of both stories is the triumph, moral and physical, of good over evil. Good is characterized, in both cases, by a strong and able warrior; evil is characterized by destructive monsters who are determined to wreak havoc with little provocation.
Beowulf is a work named after its principle hero, a knight from a foreign kingdom who travels to help a king in need. His story is the saga of three different foes, the first two in a foreign land and the last in his own once he has been proclaimed a hero and been named king. Beowulf sets out to help his fellow men and in doing so proves himself a just citizen and a worthy knight. Because of his foreign exploits he becomes king of his own lands and in the end of the tale, is called upon to battle once more with a fierce dragon unaided by anyone but a single young brave knight. They succeed, however Beowulf, being an aged man now, is wounded and dies (Kennedy 1978). The poem has a theme of perseverance in the face of 'evil' and wrongdoing, and the hero's death at the end signifies that although a life will end, all the good done during that person's time on earth has made a difference. Beowulf was buried in a barrow facing the sea so that ships pulling in could see him; this is the ultimate burial for the time in England.
Sir Gawain of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight faced very similar hardships during the course of the poem. As a Knight in King Arthur's court, his plight was to be taunted by a peculiar knight who was completely green in color and goaded into accepting a challenge that in the end he could not win. In making a bet with this strange Green Knight, Sir Gawain beheaded his adversary only to watch the knight reattach his head and demand that Sir Gawain meet him in one year and one day's time to await the same fate. When that time is near, Sir Gawain travels to find the allocated meeting place and while doing so encounters other characters who are also eager to bargain with him. Sir Gawain is compelled to maintain his integrity when the lady of a nearby castle throws herself at him; each successive night of his stay with the Lord there he gives in only to kisses and trades them (without explaining why he has the Lady's kisses to begin with) for whatever the Lord has brought home from hunting during the day. Finally, the Lady gives Sir Gawain a magic green girdle that she says will protect him from the Green Knight, and this he keeps from the Lord in violation of their bargain. In the end, it is revealed that the Green Knight is in fact the Lord himself. The entire plot being merely a test set up by the sorceress Morgan Le Fay, Gawain is sent home wearing the green girdle as a mark of his insincerity and shame (Tolkien and Gordon 1967).
The major theme in both of these stories was integrity and valor. In each poem, a strong and brave knight was cast as the leading