Beowulf might be interpreted as a Christ figure because of his selfless bravery. When he defeats the greedy dragon as his final quest, Beowulf is fatally wounded. The dragon, as a clear representation of evil, infects Beowulf with its poison, but Beowulf does not let evil triumph. Knowing he will die anyway, Beowulf takes a risk, cutting the dragon in two. Beowulf sacrifices himself to restore peace and order to the people, just as Christ did.
Because Sir Gawain’s legends are diverse, I will focus on the most widely read of his stories, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. One could argue that Sir Gawain is a Christ figure because he is the only one among Arthur’s court brave enough to accept the Green Knight’s challenge. In the beginning of the poem, the Green Knight is fearsome and threatening, and he seems to represent some kind of mysterious evil force. Sir Gawain then learns that he is destined to be sacrificed the following year in the same Christmas game. This is similar to Christ, who knew he was destined to be crucified. Gawain willingly travels to the Green Knight’s castle when his time comes. However, Gawain experiences a moment of weakness when he takes the sash under the pretense that it will make him impervious. The Green Knight exposes Gawain’s fear when he reveals that he is really the lord of the castle and explains all was just a test. Gawain, admitting his weakness, vows to don the green sash forevermore in penance for his sin. Gawain was tempted, resisted, and then faltered in his quest, but his willingness to face the Green Knight is evidence of his selfless bravery.
Gawain certainly could represent the journey from lost to redeemed based on his weakness. Gawain’s fear of mortality shows that he might be uncertain about the afterlife, which is supposed to be a joyous transformation in Christian theology. When he promises to wear the sash forever after admitting this fear, Gawain shows that he has learned his lesson.
Beowulf, on the other hand, begins the epic as a heroic figure willing to face evil head-on. He requests permission from the King to leave the land of the Geats to rush to Hrothgar’s aid. I don’t know if his journey indicates he was lost and then redeemed.
The authors of both texts present their heroes as exceptions among most. While the majority of people in these texts prefer to sit on the sidelines when confronted with evil, Beowulf and Gawain volunteer to face it alone. All but one of Beowulf’s men abandons him on the battlefield with the dragon, showing both Beowulf’s heroic nature and the majority’s cowardice. Despite being one of the youngest knights, Sir Gawain volunteers himself to save the king. Each hero is representative of what it takes to be an exemplary Christian: courage, dedication, and humility. Both stories suggest that embodying Christian values is a tall order for mankind, but that it is possible.