Respect for religion and government is an important part of any country, but what happens to a country when these values begin to change? England was beginning to go through this change in 1603 when Othello was written by William Shakespeare. Comparing the religious themes and heroes of Othello to the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight which was written during the Middle English era, will demonstrate just how far England had come. Both heroes are clearly religious, but Gawain maintains his faith until the end, while Othello falls into the snare of temptation. The spiritual hero of Middle English is quite different from the tragic hero of the Machiavellian era.
To begin, look at a night in the life of Sir Gawain. It is Christmas Eve and Gawain is in need. He needs a place to stay in his search for the Green Knight's castle and he has traveled a long way. What does he do? Gawain could boast of his great ability to find his way and gallop on. He could give up and go home as many others would. He could become so completely discouraged after all his hard work with no results, that he wishes someone would just thrust a sword into his side and put him out of his misery. Gawain doesn't do any of those things though. That is just not Sir Gawain of Camelot. He is not that kind of hero.
And at that holy ride
He prays with all his might
That Mary may be his guide
Till a dwelling comes in sight. (736-739)
If that wasn't enough, Gawain continues praying when he realizes that it is Christmas Day and he is missing mass:
I beseech of Thee, Lord,
And Mary, thou mildest mother so dear,
Some harborage where...
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...troduction" Modern Critical Interpretations, Othello Ed. Harold Bloom, Pub. Chelsea House New Haven CT 1987. (1-6)
Dinney, Larry. Religion and Tradition in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1995.
Gardner, John. The Complete Works of the Gawain Poet. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1965.
Gawain Poet. "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight." The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M.H. Abrams et al. 6th ed. 1 vol. New York: W.W.W. Norton & Company, 1993. 1:200-254
Jones, Eldred. "Othello- An Interpretation" Critical Essays on Shakespeare's Othello. Ed. Anthony G. Barthelemy Pub. Macmillan New York, NY 1994. (39-55)
Snyder, Susan. "Beyond the Comedy: Othello" Modern Critical Interpretations, Othello Ed. Harold Bloom, Pub. Chelsea House New Haven CT 1987. (page 23-37)
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