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Character beowulf

Beowulf exemplifies the traits of the perfect hero. The

poem explores his heroism in two separate phasesyouth
and ageand through three separate and increasingly
difficult conflictswith Grendel, Grendels mother, and
the dragon. Although we can iew these three encounters
as expressions of the heroic code, there is perhaps a clearer
diision between Beowulfs youthful heroism as an
unfettered warrior and his mature heroism as a reliable
!ing. These two phases of his life, separated by fifty years,
correspond to two different models of irtue, and much of
the moral reflection in the story centers on differentiating
these two models and on showing how Beowulf ma!es the
transition from one to the other.
"n his youth, Beowulf is a great warrior, characteri#ed
predominantly by his feats of strength and courage,
including his fabled swimming match against Breca. $e
also perfectly embodies the manners and alues dictated by
the Germanic heroic code, including loyalty, courtesy, and
pride. $is defeat of Grendel and Grendels mother
alidates his reputation for braery and establishes him
fully as a hero. "n first part of the poem, Beowulf matures
little, as he possesses heroic %ualities in abundance from
the start. $aing purged &enmar! of its plagues and
established himself as a hero, howeer, he is ready to enter
into a new phase of his life. $rothgar, who becomes a
mentor and father figure to the young warrior, begins to
delier adice about how to act as a wise ruler. Though
Beowulf does not become !ing for many years, his
exemplary career as a warrior has sered in part to prepare
him for his ascension to the throne.
The second part of the story, set in Geatland, s!ips oer the
middle of Beowulfs career and focuses on the ery end of
his life. Through a series of retrospecties, howeer, we
recoer much of what happens during this gap and
therefore are able to see how Beowulf comports himself as
both a warrior and a !ing. The period following $ygelacs
death is an important transitional moment for Beowulf.
"nstead of rushing for the throne himself, as $rothulf does
in &enmar!, he supports $ygelacs son, the rightful heir.
'ith this gesture of loyalty and respect for the throne, he
proes himself worthy of !ingship.
"n the final episodethe encounter with the dragonthe
poet reflects further on how the responsibilities of a !ing,
who must act for the good of the people and not (ust for his
own glory, differ from those of the heroic warrior. "n light
of these meditations, Beowulfs moral status becomes
somewhat ambiguous at the poems end. Though he is
deseredly celebrated as a great hero and leader, his last
courageous fight is also somewhat rash. The poem
suggests that, by sacrificing himself, Beowulf
unnecessarily leaes his people without a !ing, exposing
them to danger from other tribes. To understand Beowulfs
death strictly as a personal failure, howeer, is to neglect
the oerwhelming emphasis gien to fate in this last
portion of the poem. The conflict with the dragon has an
aura of ineitability about it. )ather than a conscious
choice, the battle can also be interpreted as a matter in
which Beowulf has ery little choice or free will at all.
Additionally, it is hard to blame him for acting according
to the dictates of his warrior culture.*
Beowulf summary
The narrator opens the poem with a discussion of +hield
+heafson, a great !ing of the ancient &anes and the
founder of their royal line. $e began life as a foundling ,an
infant abandoned by his parents- but %uic!ly rose to be
strong and powerful. All of the clans had to pay him
tribute, and, when he died, he was honored with an
elaborate funeral ceremony. $is body was put into a boat,
coered with treasures and armor, and cast off to sea.
+hield +heafsons life ended as it began, with him cast
adrift on the water.
+heafsons son, the renowned Beow, inherited the
!ingdom after his fathers death. "n time, Beow too passed
away and $alfdane, his son, became !ing. After $alfdane,
$rothgar stepped forward to rule the &anes. .nder
$rothgar, the !ingdom prospered and en(oyed great
military success, and $rothgar decided to construct a
monument to his successa mead/hall where he would
distribute booty to his retainers. The hall was called
$eorot, and there the men gathered with their lord to drin!
mead, a beerli!e beerage, and listen to the songs of the
0or a time, the !ingdom en(oyed peace and prosperity. But,
one night, Grendel, a demon descended from Cain ,who,
according to the Bible, slew his brother Abel-, emerged
from the swampy lowlands, to listen to the nightly
entertainment at $eorot. The bards songs about Gods
creation of the earth angered the monster. 1nce the men in
the mead/hall fell asleep, Grendel lumbered inside and
slaughtered thirty men. $rothgars warriors were
powerless against him.
The following night, Grendel struc! again, and he has
continued to wrea! haoc on the &anes for twele years.
$e has ta!en oer $eorot, and $rothgar and his men
remain unable to challenge him. They ma!e offerings at
pagan shrines in hopes of harming Grendel, but their
efforts are fruitless. The &anes endure constant terror, and
their suffering is so extreme that the news of it traels far
and wide.
At this time, Beowulf, nephew of the Geatish !ing
$ygelac, is the greatest hero in the world. $e lies in
Geatland, a realm not far from &enmar!, in what is now
southern +weden. 'hen Beowulf hears tales of the
destruction wrought by Grendel, he decides to trael to the
land of the &anes and help $rothgar defeat the demon. $e
oyages across the sea with fourteen of his braest
warriors until he reaches $rothgars !ingdom.
+eeing that the newcomers are dressed in armor and
carrying shields and other e%uipment for combat, the
watchman who guards the &anish coast stops Beowulf and
his crew and demands to !now their business. $e admits
that he has neer seen outsiders come ashore so fearlessly
and guesses that Beowulf is a noble hero. Beowulf explains
that he is the son of 2cgtheow and owes his loyalty to
$ygelac. $e says that he has heard about the monster
wrea!ing haoc on the &anes and has come to help
$rothgar. The watchman gies his consent and tells
Beowulf that he beliees his story. $e tells the Geats to
follow him, mentioning that he will order one of the &anes
to watch Beowulfs ship for him.
Beowulf theme motifs symbols
The Importance of Establishing Identity
As Beowulf is essentially a record of heroic deeds, the
concept of identityof which the two principal
components are ancestral heritage and indiidual
reputationis clearly central to the poem. The opening
passages introduce the reader to a world in which eery
male figure is !nown as his fathers son. Characters in the
poem are unable to tal! about their identity or een
introduce themseles without referring to family lineage.
This concern with family history is so prominent because
of the poems emphasis on !inship bonds. Characters ta!e
pride in ancestors who hae acted aliantly, and they
attempt to lie up to the same standards as those ancestors.
'hile heritage may proide models for behaior and help
to establish identityas with the line of &anish !ings
discussed early ona good reputation is the !ey to
solidifying and augmenting ones identity. 0or example,
+hield +heafson, the legendary originator of the &anish
royal line, was orphaned3 because he was in a sense
fatherless, aliant deeds were the only means by which he
could construct an identity for himself. 'hile Beowulfs
pagan warrior culture seems not to hae a concept of the
afterlife, it sees fame as a way of ensuring that an
indiiduals memory will continue on after deathan
understandable preoccupation in a world where death
seems always to be !noc!ing at the door.
Tensions Between the Heroic Code and Other Value
4uch of Beowulf is deoted to articulating and illustrating
the Germanic heroic code, which alues strength, courage,
and loyalty in warriors3 hospitality, generosity, and
political s!ill in !ings3 ceremoniousness in women3 and
good reputation in all people. Traditional and much
respected, this code is ital to warrior societies as a means
of understanding their relationships to the world and the
menaces lur!ing beyond their boundaries. All of the
characters moral (udgments stem from the codes
mandates. Thus indiidual actions can be seen only as
either conforming to or iolating the code.
The poem highlights the codes points of tension by
recounting situations that expose its internal contradictions
in alues. The poem contains seeral stories that concern
diided loyalties, situations for which the code offers no
practical guidance about how to act. 0or example, the poet
relates that the &anish $ildeburh marries the 0risian !ing.
'hen, in the war between the &anes and the 0risians, both
her &anish brother and her 0risian son are !illed,
$ildeburh is left doubly grieed. The code is also often in
tension with the alues of medieal Christianity. 'hile the
code maintains that honor is gained during life through
deeds, Christianity asserts that glory lies in the afterlife.
+imilarly, while the warrior culture dictates that it is
always better to retaliate than to mourn, Christian doctrine
adocates a peaceful, forgiing attitude toward ones
enemies. Throughout the poem, the poet strains to
accommodate these two sets of alues. Though he is
Christian, he cannot ,and does not seem to want to- deny
the fundamental pagan alues of the story.