This study will provide a comparative analysis of the women in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Beowulf, using Joseph Campbell's description of the role of the woman in the heroic quest as expressed in The Hero With A Thousand Faces. The study will argue that the essence of the woman in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is the temptress, as embodied by the wife of his host, and described by Campbell as one of the manifestations of woman designed both to advance the hero on his quest and at the same time introduce an obstacle. Additionally, the study will argue that the monstrous mother of Grendel in Beowulf corresponds to a number of aspects of woman as challenger to the hero, in terms of her efforts to destroy him as well as to spur him to achieve his most heroic status.
Clearly, the sexual temptation of the wife of the host of Sir Gawain seems to pale in comparison with the destructive intent of the mother of Grendel. On a symbolic level, however, both females, directly or indirectly, subtly or grossly, are seeking to deter the hero from the fulfillment of his quest, Similarly, both are testing the valor of the hero and requiring him to fulfill his potential.
Campbell, writing of the depiction of woman in heroic mythology, declares that she "represents the totality of what can be known. The hero is the one who comes to know" (Campbell 116). The question here involves the definition of the nature of that knowledge acquired by the hero.
In Biblical terms, "to know" refers to sexual knowledge, with which Sir Gawain is being tempted as he is visited on consecutive nights by the alluring wife of his host. The knowledge of Beowulf with respect to the mother of Grendel is that which the hero gains as he goes to meet the challenge cast forth by the monstrous mother.
As Campbell writes with respect to woman as mythological challenger, and as goddess in particular, "the form of the goddess undergoes for him a series of transf...