Critical Analysis Of Beowulf Essay, Research Paper
The Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf is the most important work of Old English literature. The epic tells the story of a hero, a prince named Beowulf, who helps rid the Danes of the monster Grendel and tells of his heroic acts fighting Grendel’s mother and a Dragon. Throughout the epic, the Anglo-Saxon story teller uses many elements to build depth to the characters. Just a few of the important character elements in Beowulf are Wealth & Honor, Biblical, and Man vs. Wild themes.
Many of the characters in Beowulf are
defined by their status. But, in addition to status, the Anglo-Saxon
culture also adds an element of honor. To the Anglo-Saxons, a
character’s importance, as well as their wealth and status, were
measured not only in how rich they were, but it was also measured in terms of honor, fame, and accomplishments. Hrothgar, king of the Danes, is one example of the Anglo-Saxon measurement of importance in Beowulf.
In Canto 1, the story teller describes his wealth and importance, not as mounds of gold or jewels, but instead as his ability to “lead the Danes to such glory.” and as his tendency to “In battle, “leave the common pasture untouched, and taking no lives. Hrothgar
proves the full extent of his honor and therefore the extent of his
wealth and status. Beowulf, the hero-prince, also proves his true
wealth and status through his deeds as defender of the Danes.. As he fights and defeats Grendel, Beowulf Earns Fame and wealth from his companions, and from the Danes, but more importantly, he earns honor raising him to the level of an archetype hero. Grendel, on the other hand, is the total opposite of Beowulf. He has no wealth, no honor, and he is known as an evil killer. This lack of wealth and honor defines Grendel as a symbol of evil and corruption.
Grendel- ” was spawned in that slime,
Conceived by a pair of those monsters born
Of Cain, murderous creatures banished
By God, punished forever for the crime
Of Abel’s death. The Almighty drove
Those demons out, and their exile was bitter,
Shut away from men; they split
Into a thousand forms of evil–spirits
And feinds, goblins, monsters, giants,
A brood forever opposing the Lord’s
Will, and again and again defeated.”
The Biblical reference in the epic gives the reader an idea of how strong Grendel’s evil is and gives a logical explanation for Grendel’s murderous behavior. This example, not only shows the evil in Grendel’s nature, but also the torture in his heart caused by his Banishment from God. It serves to give the reader an idea of why Grendel would kill the Danes for no reason other than their
happiness. Beowulf also has a religious theme to his character. One example of this is in Canto 6 line 381 in which Hrothgar states, “Our Holy Father had sent [Beowulf] as a sign of His grace, a mark of His favor, to help us defeat Grendel and end that terror.” This religious description shows Beowulf as a sort of messiah sent by god to save man from evil. But, more than that, since Beowulf is in fact not a messiah, this description shows the good in Beowulf’s heart and the purpose of his mission. Another Biblical reference in Beowulf is shown in the tower of Herot which is very similar to the tower of Babel in the fact that it’s built as a sign of superiority and accomplishment. Like Babel, though, Herot only serves as a symbol of downfall more than one of glory because it causes many deaths and thecoming of Grendel.
Apart from Wealth, Honor, and biblical themes, character is also shown through a certain Man vs. Wild theme. This theme shows the difference between mankind’s ways (good), and evil’s wild nature (evil). Grendel for one, is totally wild and is therefore shown as evil. His wild home, “Grendel, who haunted the
moors, the wild marshes, and made his home in a hell not hell but
earth.” shows his wild, untamed, and evil nature. Beowulf is tame and civilized, and has attributes of goodness and purity. Beowulf doesn’t fight evil in a wild manner, rather, as shown in his
first battle with Grendel. First off, Beowulf is pure and shows
this before his battle when he removes his armor and vows not to use aweapon to defeat Grendel. Defeating Grendel, he shows that man, without armor and weapons, can defeat evil in any form including that of Grendel. This deed serves throughout the epic serves as a symbol of Beowulf’s Goodness.
Beowulf has many other such archetypes, symbolic themes and
themes, but the most important themes that serve to add depth to the characters are the wealth, honor, religious, man, and wildness themes. These themes not only serve to define a character, but they also give a as a motive for their actions.
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