Beowulf In Detail Essay Research Paper Beowulf

Beowulf In Detail Essay, Research Paper

Beowulf begins with the story of the first king in the Danish dynasty, Scyld

Sceafing. The king was abandoned as a baby and later went on become a

successful, powerful leader of the Danish people. Following the death of Scyld

Sceafing, his son Beowulf (not the Beowulf of this story) becomes ruler of the

Spear-Danes and much like his father, Beowulf is respected and beloved by his

subjects. After a reign of many years, Beowulf dies and his son Healfdene

inherits the throne. Healfdene fathers four children including Heorogar,

Hrothgar, and Halfga. Hrothgar succeeds his father and after achieving much

glory and fame as ruler of the Danes, he decides to build a great mead hall as a

monument to his success and symbol of his greatness. He names it Heorot. After

the completion of Heorot, Hrothgar holds a banquet for his subjects where scops

sing of the creation of the Earth by God and the Danes celebrate the peaceful,

festive times in which they live. After the festivities continue for many years,

the singing and music awakens an evil, part-human monster named Grendel who is a

descendant of the biblical Cain. Angered by the noise and apparent happiness of

the Danes, Grendel travels to Heorot at night when the soldiers within are sound

asleep after their day celebrations. Grendel kills thirty warriors and escapes

into the night satisfied with his evil deed. Hrothgar is deeply saddened by the

deaths and fears the attack may be the beginning of a long war with the monster.

Grendel continues his murderous rampage the following night and a war with

Grendel ensues which lasts twelve years. Stories of the Danes’ suffering at the

hands of Grendel spread to foreign lands. The Danes exhaust all means of defense

against Grendel and attempts to pay the monster to cease his harassment are

useless. The Danes’ desperation becomes so great, they abandon their Christian

beliefs and begin worshipping ancient deities from their pagan past. When news

of the Danes’ troubles reaches Geatland, Beowulf, thane of Hygelac, gathers

fourteen of his strongest, bravest men to voyage across the seas to help

Hrothgar and his people. Upon arriving, Beowulf and his men are greeted by a

Danish coast guard sentinel. The sentinel is alarmed to see armed men

approaching the Danish coast and directly asks Beowulf to state his business.

The guard is clearly impressed by the Geat’s armor and weapons and conveys his

respect for the noble men. 4 Beowulf informs the soldier that he and his men are

followers of Hygelac from the clan of the Geats and explains that he is the son

of Ecgtheow, a respected and renowned leader known throughout the land. Beowulf

explains that he has come to help Hrothgar and the Danes. After learning that

the Geat’s intentions are noble, the guard agrees to escort the men to Hrothgar.

5 Wulfgar, a Danish soldier and advisor to Hrothgar, interrupts the men’s

journey to see Hrothgar and interrogates them about their identity and

intentions. Beowulf introduces himself and explains his purpose. Wulfgar,

impressed by Beowulf’s confidence and the appearance of his men, welcomes the

visitors and encourages Hrothgar to meet them. 6 While receiving Beowulf,

Hrothgar explains that he remembers Beowulf as a boy and recounts several

experiences shared with Beowulf??s father, Ecgtheow. Hrothgar views

Beowulf’s prescence as a blessing for the Danes because of his reputation as a

great warrior and his noble ancestry. He offers treasures to Beowulf and the

Geats if they can end Grendel’s terror and return Heorot to its previous glory.

Beowulf expresses his desire to challenge Grendel to a battle to the death and

says he will trust in God and will thus refuse weapons or shields. 7 Reassured

by Beowulf’s confidence, Hrothgar recalls further stories of Ecgtheow. He

explains how while new to his throne he helped Ecgtheow avoid a battle by

sending treasures to his enemies. Hrothgar then immediately begins discussing

his troubles with Grendel and explains his displeasure in seeing his mead hall

abandoned by his warriors. The Danes and the Geat warriors then go to Heorot

where they are entertained by scops and drink mead. 8, 9 During the banquet, a

courtier of Hrothgar named Unferth is overcome by jealousy of Beowulf’s

reputation and challenges the merit of his courageous feats. Unferth tells of a

swimming competition from Beowulf??s past in which Beowulf was defeated by a

warrior named Breca. Beowulf explains that both warriors were armed only with

swords to protect them from sea monsters and that after match had lasted five

nights, the two men became separated. Beowulf was then attacked by a monster and

was forced underwater where he slayed the monster with his sword and later

killed nine additional monsters before ending the competition. Beowulf asserts

that the hindrances with which he was forced to contend during the race

justified his late finish and that his acts of strength and courage validate his

reputation. Beowulf also accuses Unferth of murdering his brothers and explains

that he will assuredly suffer the fires of Hell for his crimes. After being

offered mead by the Hrothgar’s wife, Beowulf once again affirms his desire to

either defeat Grendel or lose his life in the battle. Hrothgar is encouraged by

Beowulf’s boastfullness and confidence and proclaims his willingness to put the

fate of Heorot in the hands of such a worthy and noble warrior. He also offers

treasures to Beowulf if he is victorious. 10 The Danes then leave Beowulf and

his men alone in Heorot to face the monster. To prepare for the confrontation,

Beowulf expresses his confidence in God, removes his armor, and relinquishes his

weapons. Beowulf’s men, who do not share his confidence, join him in retiring to

bed to await the monster’s arrival. 11-12 After breaking down the door, Grendel

enters the hall and immediately seizes one of the sleeping Geat warriors and

dismembers and consumes him. Beowulf rushes to attack. He firmly grasps

Grendel’s arm and the creature instantly realizes the strength of his attacker.

As Grendel tries to escape, his deafening shrieks frighten the Danes outside the

hall. The Geat warriors, now awakened by the battle, rush to Beowulf’s defense

but find their weapons useless due to a spell cast on their swords by Grendel.

In the struggle to escape, the monster loses his arm to Beowulf’s mighty grip.

Aware that his wound is fatal, Grendel retreats into the night to die. To

commemorate his victory, Beowulf places the arm on the wall of the mead hall and

the triumphant Beowulf celebrates his victory. 13, 14 Upon learning of Beowulf’s

victory, Danish warriors travel to the hall to view the monster’s severed arm

and follow the monster’s footprints from the hall to the boiling, steaming swamp

which has become his grave. Hrothgar enters the hall to see the arm and is

beside himself with gratitude. He exclaims that he will henceforth consider

Beowulf a son and will provide him with whatever earthly possessions he should

desire. Beowulf tells of his struggle with Grendel and asserts his belief that

the monster will suffer in Hell for his crimes against the Danes. 15 Damage to

Heorot done during the struggle is repaired and the hall is prepared for a great

banquet to celebrate the death of Grendel and the end of his reign of terror.

Hrothgar presents Beowulf with various gifts including armor, weapons, horses

and ornate saddles. 16, 17 Hrothgar also offers gifts to Beowulf’s men and

offers compensation for the loss of the Geat warrior to Grendel’s monster-sized

appetite. A poet in the hall entertains the warriors with the story of Finn, a

Frisian king. The story begins with the death of many Danes including a man

named Hnaef by followers of Finn. Finn’s wife, the sister of Hnaef and mother of

yet another victim, is angered by the battle and pressures Finn to end the

conflict . The poet vividly describes the cremation of the men and the sadness

of the grieving survivors. Hengest, a follower of Hnaef, does not return home

with the other Danish warriors after the battle. He stays and waits all winter

for reinforcements to return in the spring and avenges the killings by murdering

Finn. 18, 19 Wealhtheow, Hrothgar’s wife presents Beowulf with a valuable

necklace and praises Beowulf and graciously asks Beowulf to mentor her two sons.

After her oration about Beowulf’s courage and honor, the Danish warriors retire

to the mead hall as they had often done before Grendel’s attacks. Grendel’s

mother, enraged by the death of her son, enters the hall after the warriors are

asleep, steals her son’s arm from the hall’s rafters and kidnaps a Danish

warrior who is a close companion of Hrothgar. Beowulf, unaware of what has

transpired, is called to Heorot and politely and innocently asks the king if he

has had a quiet night. 20, 21 Hrothgar is visibly overcome with emotion over the

loss of his friend and relates to Beowulf that the troubles of the Danes have

begun again. Hrothgar tells Beowulf of the abduction of his friend and of the

bottomless pool where legends say the two monsters lived for many years.

Hrothgar again calls upon Beowulf to save the Danes and promises riches for

avenging the attack. The warriors travel to the pool and find the head of the

kidnapped Dane and discover sea serpents swimming in the pool. After killing one

of the serpents, Unferth offers Beowulf his sword called Hrunting and apologizes

for questioning Beowulf’s courage 22, 23 After explaining to whom his treasure

should be sent if he perishes in the pool, Beowulf descends for several hours

displaying no apparent ill effects from lack of oxygen and upon reaching the

bottom is confronted by the monster. She grasps him and forces him into her lair

where Beowulf learns his sword has no effect on his attacker. Beowulf, near

death, then miraculously discovers a giant sword and beheads the monster. He

finds Grendel’s body and also severs its head. The toxic blood of the dead

monster dissolves the giant sword. Beowulf chooses Grendel’s head from his new

collection of severed heads and returns to the surface with the head and the

hilt of his dissolved sword. Beowulf discovers the Danes had given up hope that

he was still alive and had returned home. The hero then returns to Heorot and

presents his trophies to Hrothgar. 24, 25 Hrothgar examines the sword hilt and

learns that it was created by a race of giants from before the biblical flood.

He delivers a long sermon to Beowulf in which he praises him and warns the hero

not to let his success inflate his ego beyond its already unfathomable

proportions. He also tells the story of the king Heremod and warns Beowulf not

to end up like this evil king. The grateful Hrothgar holds another banquet and

Beowulf returns Hrunting to Unferth with his gratitude. 26, 27 The following day

Beowulf thanks the king for his generosity showing a new found modesty and

graciousness learned from Hrothgar’s sermon. He tells the king he will come to

the king’s aide if ever again his assistance is required. Hrothgar thanks the

hero for saving the Danes from the two monsters and expresses his profound

sorrow about Beowulf’s imminent departure. As the Geats travel to their ship

with their treasures, they again meet the coast guard sentinel who wishes the

men well and assures them that their homecoming will be greatly anticipated by

their friends in Geatland. Beowulf rewards the kind words with the gift of a

sword and the men board their ship. Upon returning home, Beowulf gives the

treasure to Hygelac, Beowulf’s lord. We then learn of Hygd, the queen of Hygelac,

a benevolent queen who divides the treasure among her subjects. Their daughter

Offa, however, is sadistic and cruel until marrying Thryth of the house of

Hemming. The marriage ends her evil ways and makes her a fair and respected

princess. 28 Hygelac and his queen welcome Beowulf home and express their

elation in his safe return. The king then asks Beowulf to describe his

adventures with the Danes. Beowulf recounts his feats of courage and describes

several of gifts given to he and his warriors and begins to explain of

Hrothgar’s efforts to end a conflict with the Hathobards, a rival clan. 29, 30

Hrothgar continues telling of Hrothgar’s plan to make peace with the Hathobards.

The King, Beowulf explains, has offered his daughter’s hand in marriage to

Ingeld of the Hathobard clan. Beowulf fears, however, that the two people’s

differences are too great and that Hrothgar’s strategy with fail. 31 Beowulf

then expresses his eternal loyalty to his Hygelac and explains that the king is

one of his few close companions. His fondness and respect for Hrothgar, he

explains, is overshadowed by his allegiance to Hygelac, his true king. The

treasures obtained for the king in Denmark are then brought before the king and

formally and presented to him. Beowulf’s devotion is rewarded by the gift of a

sword, a mead hall of his own, and other lavish gifts. After the death of the

king and his son, Heardred, Beowulf inherits the throne of Geatland. After a

successful reign of fifty years, a dragon begins to terrorize the Geats much

like Grendel’s aggression against the Danes. 32 The Dragon’s hatred for the

Geats begins when a thief, who is a transient serf, enters the dragon’s cave and

steals a jeweled cup from his hoard of treasures within. The theft awakens and

angers the dragon. The treasure, which had existed for hundreds of years, had

previously belonged to a noble race and had been discovered by the dragon. The

beast spreads his fury over the Geatish countryside and Beowulf is deeply

disturbed by the suffering of his people inflicted by the evil dragon. 33 The

dragon’s wrath soon reaches Beowulf’s home which is destroyed by its fiery

breath. Beowulf immediately vows vengeance and prepares for battle. We then

learn of the circumstances by which Beowulf became ruler of the Geats. During a

war with the Frisians, Hygelac is killed and his kingdom is offered to Beowulf.

The hero graciously refuses the throne, believing the rightful heir to be the

king’s son, Heardred. In a war with the Swedish king Ongentheow, however, the

new king is killed and Beowulf agrees to take his place on the throne. 34 Ready

for battle, Beowulf instructs the thief who had stolen the dragon’ s cup to lead

he and twelve warriors to the dragon’s lair. As the warriors reach the cave,

Beowulf becomes fearful that his strength may have deteriorated in his old age

and begins to fear that the battle with the dragon could bring about his death.

His sorrow is compounded by his telling of the story of the death of Herebald.

He explains that Herebald, the eldest son of Beowulf’s adoptive father, was

accidentally killed by an arrow fired by one of Herebald??s other sons.

Beowulf regrets the inability of his beloved father to ever avenge the death of

his son. 35 As if sensing that his death is at hand, Beowulf continues to tell

stories of his past and relives battles with his companions in which he achieved

glorious success. He then bids farewell to his fellow warriors and enters the

dragon’s cave to meet his fate. The dragon attacks and Beowulf finds his

specially made iron shield is little protection against the dragon’s breath of

fire. Beowulf strikes the dragon with his sword but finds the dragon’s scale

armor too strong to fatally wound the beast. 36, 37 Wiglaf, one of the warriors

outside the cave, realizes the peril which faces Beowulf and berates his fellow

warriors for failing to assist their king. He prepares for battle and rushes to

the hero’s aid. The dragon responds with a burst of flames which destroys

Wiglaf’s wooden shield. After Beowulf’s sword breaks in the battle, the dragon

advances upon the wounded hero and strikes him in the neck with his poisonous

fangs. Wiglaf skillfully strikes the dragon below the head where the dragon is

defenseless and pierces the beast’s skin. Realizing the dragon has been injured,

Beowulf quickly slices the belly of the beast with his dagger, delivering a

mortal wound to his mighty foe. Wiglaf treats the wounds of the hero, but

Beowulf knows he will soon die. He reflects on the worthiness of his

accomplishments and asks to see the treasure he has gained in his struggle with

the dragon. 38, 39 Wiglaf brings the treasure to Beowulf and the hero admires

the immense fortune he has gained for his people. Beowulf orders the

construction of a monument to honor his greatness and achievements. He then

praises Wiglaf for his courage, gives him the helmet necklace, and armor he is

wearing, and dies. As the Geat warriors return from the woods where they had run

in cowardice, Wiglaf scolds them for abandoning their king who had armed them

with superior weapons for the fight. He exclaims that they will be forever known

as traitors and cowards. 40, 41 Wiglaf sends word of the outcome of the battle

to the Geat soldiers awaiting the news. As the messenger informs the warriors of

the death of Beowulf, he conveys his belief that their enemies will assuredly

take advantage of the news and attack. The messenger tells of the many conflicts

which have existed in the violent history of the Geats and predicts the conflict

may begin again with unfortunate death of their king. The warriors travel to the

cave to see the corpses of Beowulf and the dragon. 42 We learn that the nobles

who had placed the treasure in the cave had placed a curse on it which would

last until the last day of the earth. Wiglaf orders the construction of a

funeral pyre for Beowulf and selects seven strong men to throw the dragon’s body

off a cliff and load the treasure onto a wagon. 43 After placing shields,

helmets, and armor around Beowulf’s funeral pyre, the great king is cremated to

the crying of his mourning people. They place the ashes of Beowulf and all of

the dragon’s treasures inside a giant mound of sand where they would be safe

from the enemies sure to attack after hearing of the tragedy. The Danes are left

feeling uncertain about the future of their kingdom after the loss of their

great king.


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