In the poems Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, what are some of the differences and similarities in the two mead halls, Heorot and the Camelot?

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Stephen Holliday eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Both halls are seats of power in their respective cultures.  Heorot is Hrothgar's hereditary mead hall, and Camelot serves the same purpose for King Arthur and his court.  In one sense, they serve the same function--a gathering place of splendor and (relative) comfort for the king and his retainers or court.  But they are very different places in the context of the two poems.

Heorot, despite its central place in Hrothgar's kingdom, is under siege by the monster Grendel, and it has become the opposite of a place of splendor and comfort: rather than joy and celebration, Hrothgar's retainers find nothing but death while they're in Heorot.  In fact, the more they celebrate in Heorot, the worse the revenge visited upon them by Grendel.  Camelot, on the other hand, is a peaceful, beautiful hall in which Arthur and his court celebrate Christmas, another significant difference from Heorot, which is a pagan mead hall.  And instead of being threatened by a monster whose implacable hatred makes the hall uninhabitable, Camelot is visited by a magical personage who, rather than destroying Arthur and his knights, challenges them to what is, in effect, a sporting proposition.

Even though the two halls ought to function the same way for both groups, they are, because of the respective threats hanging over them, very different places--one is a hall of light, joy, camraderie, and the other is a grim, dark, life-ending setting.