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Beowulf - An Essay

Magda is a university student with a major in English, but her life seems a little bit rough, so she decided to escape from it.

Beowulf in my vision

Beowulf is an epic poem, written by an anonymous author and one of the most important works of Old English Literature. An epic is a long narrative poem, composed in an elevated style, dealing with the trials and achievements of a great hero. The epic celebrates virtues of national, military, religious and cultural significance.

The story is set in, what is now known as Denmark and southwestern Sweden, in the sixth century. Was, probably, composed in England, created in the oral-formulaic tradition (or oral poetic method), and developed over some time with roots in traditional stories and folk tales.

The work is divided into two parts: one romantic and the other one tragic. In the first part (Odyssean), the lyrics are romantic sublime, describing the young hero through his journey and homecoming, even the digression. In the tragic part of the Iliadic, the lyrics have an elegiac style, that it’s felt through the scenes of Beowulf’s death/burial, the bleak future for the Geats and the digression of the history.

The poem opens with a short genealogy of the Scylding (Danes), a tribe/royal dynasty that had taken its name from Scyld Scefing, a mythic hero, who became their great leader, after reaching the tribe’s shores as a castaway babe on a ship loaded with treasure. Before shifting to the reign of Hrothgar, the author makes one last description: the death of Scyld, his funeral is a memorable ritual in the work. If the poem begins with his funeral it ends with Beowulf’s, denoting a cycling structure.

Beowulf is the main character of this poem, a young warrior from Geatland, who comes to the Scyldings’ aid, bringing with him 14 of his finest men; also the hero that would go through challenges to prove his strength, courage, loyalty and wisdom to create his reputation. In Beowulf’s world, fame is synonymous with reputation. The fight with Grendel, Grendel’s mother and the dragon are wins and achievements for the hero’s name, which will become a great leader and rule successfully for 50 years.

Hrothgar is one of Scyld’s successors, who successful rule the reign, and for celebrating his achievements he builds a magnificent mead-hall called Heorot. This setting symbolizes the hearth of the kingdom, their victories and level of civilization; here are rewarded the thanes and Beowulf. But not everything can last forever, because the cruel monster of evil, Grendel, envious of the Scyldings joy menaces Hrothgar’s people for 12 years.

The battle with the dragon would be his last one. This creature starts to scare people after a fugitive has stolen a valuable cup from its treasure: burning several homes, including the hero’s, and terrorizing the countryside at night. Beowulf and eleven of his men will go after the beast, but due to his pride, he would insist on killing the dragon alone. Seeing his king in trouble, Wiglaf (one of the thanes) goes by his side to help. Together, the hero and his loyal warrior kill the monster, but for Beowulf, it is the end. Dying, he leaves the kingdom to Wiglaf as a reward for his devotion, only requesting that his body be cremated and buried with the dragon’s treasure.

Through the poem we can distinguish themes like loyalty – in Beowulf and Wiglaf personalities, envy – Grendel is the best example, but we can include here Unferth’s jealousy; revenge – that serves as a motivating factor for Grendel’s mother, who seeks “justice” for her son, and the dragon. Another important theme is reputation – from the beginning, the main character is concerned about how the rest of the world will see him. If we talk about symbols, we can point out: Heorot – that symbolises the “Hall of the heart” from Hrothgar’s reign, Grendel’s claw and head – are seen as trophies for the hero and the cave – where Grendel and his mother hide from the world.

Beowulf is an example of Anglo-Saxon poetry that is distinguished by its heavy use of alliteration (the repetition of initial sounds of words, i.e. the harrowing history haunted the heroesh). The poem has no consistent pattern of rhyme, occasional intern rhyme sometimes in affective and sees more than accidental.

Imagery in the poem is vivid and often fun, and frequently related through the use of kennings.

If I should be honest, I didn’t see the magic of the poem from the very start, I’ve tried to avoid reading it, but after I gave it a chance and started understanding, I slowly realised why Beowulf is one of the most important works in the English literature.

© 2021 Axinte Magda

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