Essay, Research Paper: Beowulf

Literature: Beowulf

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When you compare Beowulf to any modern novel or movie, Beowulf seems childlike
at best. Beowulf is told in a straightforward, uncomplicated manner very unlike
many of today’s works, which contain complex plots and themes. What makes
Beowulf readable to an adult and not just children? Why do people find stories
such as Beowulf so intriguing? Why is Beowulf, or any myth, significant?
Beowulf, the story of the young Beowulf sent by fate to save a kingdom plagued
with a nightmarish monster, a rather basic plot synopsis especially for a story
that has been around for more than one thousand years. However Beowulf contains
far more long-standing impact than a slew of the best selling books at any
bookstore. Beowulf, as any myth, teaches many moral lessons giving us a detailed
insight into the culture and writer’s beliefs through written accounts of
morality and religion and through the tale’s deep symbolism. And it also
provides for an entertaining ride filled with supernatural feats and monsters
with an inspirational hero or role model for the reader. In contrast to some
other popular mythological stories such as the tales of the Greek gods, Beowulf
is almost believable. Beowulf is just over the edge of “real”, it pushes our
definition of what exists but not to the point to where we cannot imagine what
is happening in the story. Also I feel that Beowulf is a superior work of
mythology because Beowulf is a true and perfect hero, and represents the
personality and courage most people wish they had In Episode 1 the story begins
with the tale of Scyld Sceafing, which parallels Beowulf’s evolution, it is
the motif of a helpless child turning into a great king. Similarly, Sceafing
arrives from the water to the Danish lands in the same way Beowulf arrives. This
is a popular theme in many myths, a small and weak one rising to be strong and a
leader (i.e. Jesus). Part of the beauty of mythology is the repetition of motifs
such as this one. Another facet of mythology that is uncovered in Episode 1 is
religion. In every myth religion is dealt with in some way. Unlike most myths,
however, the religious affiliation and code is hard to decipher. References to
the Old Testament are made often (i.e. Cain and Abel, the flood), but it is
never made quite clear of what the religious beliefs of the Danes are. The
writer himself is definitely familiar with the Bible, and was probably actually
a monk, but the Danes do not seem to be. This raises the question of whether the
original oral presentations contained the religious references or sub-stories
that the written one does. Obviously the hero of the story does not completely
fit the humble pacifist Christian personality, so it is a reasonable inquiry. As
shown here, part of the reason myths are so fascinating is because of the
questions and speculations they cause to arise about the culture and its ideas
from which the myth evolved. In Episode 3 the phenomenal Beowulf arrives on the
Herot scene to slay Grendel. Beowulf in Beowulf is a very strong individual, so
strong in fact that he rips archrival Grendel’s arm cleanly off! This is
impossible of course, for a man to do such thing, physiology doesn’t permit
it. Even more unbelievable is Grendel himself. Grendel’s “fingers were nails
like steel” (Beowulf Episode 5) and “no battle sword could harm him - he had
enchantment against the edges of weapons” (Beowulf Episode 6). A fantastic
hero and villain is a key to mythology. Why have such an unreal hero? It’s
simple because he is a hero, a role model, and so why not make him as powerful
and super human as desirable. When the story originated, and was thus truthfully
believed, many youngsters probably idolized the mighty Beowulf, and wanted to
equal his valor and courage. It evoked emotional inspiration to conquer evil
with bravery and goodness, a very desirable goal in any culture. Demonstrated in
Episode 4 was some very dramatic language that made the story very compelling
and entertaining. The author uses some vivid imagery and language to describe
the approaching Grendel’s character “Came then from the moor under the misty
hills, Grendel stalking under the weight of God's anger. That wicked ravager
planned to ensnare many of the race of men in the high hall… When he touched
it with his hands the door gave way at once though its bands were forged in
fire. Intending evil, enraged, he swung the door wide, stood at the building's
mouth” (Beowulf Episode 4). Dramatic language and stunning descriptions are
found in most myths making the scenes and actions in the stories easy to
picture, as well as making the tales more exciting. Myths are usually very
symbolic; in episodes 3 and 4 in Beowulf the heaviest images are the comparisons
between light (Beowulf) and dark (Grendel). The scheme of light equals good and
dark equals evils fits right into Beowulf. Grendel comes in from the dark, the
moors; Beowulf waits in the light of the fire for him. From the beginning
episode, Herot is emphasized with light, when Grendel attacks inside Herot it is
dark. The light and dark forces, good and evil, always come into conflict with
one another. For example, Grendel attacks the Herot because of its goodness
because he is evil. Because Beowulf, on the other hand, is good he slays Grendel.
Then in turn Grendel’s mother seeks revenge for similar reasons. The portrayal
of good and evil also demonstrates this myth’s moral belief system. King
Hrothgar is praised because he “handed out gold and treasure at huge feasts”
(Beowulf Episode 1), and countless other acts of generosity. Beowulf as already
mentioned was unbelievably strong and heroic, personifying what every warrior
(or man even) should be. In contrast, to these two characters is Grendel who
“blinded by sin” killed and “felt no remorse” (Beowulf Episode 2), being
the epitome of the ultimate adversary. It’s easy to see what traits and
actions, according to Beowulf are considered desirable and thus good, things
like generosity, strength and bravery. It is equally as simple to pick out that
Grendel’s actions represent absolute wrong and evil. Another Christian
symbolic instance in Beowulf is the battle with Grendel’s mother. He goes down
into the water to battle a demonic monster. I think it symbolizes Beowulf going
down into hell to face a devil. He enters the cavern and it is very dark, but
with the help of God he is able to defeat the demon. And after his victory
“light glittered, a light brightened within, as bright and clear as the candle
of the sky” (Beowulf Episode 7) very similar to the Christian motif of light
shining down from heaven on a saint who has did a great deed. In Episode 8 more
morality lessons are being passed on to the reader, although in a less subtle
method. The last section is about the responsibility of leadership. Hrothgar’s
speech to Beowulf does not focus on the glory of battle; instead, he seems to be
saying to trust in God and to be generous and humble. Beowulf, as any
mythological character, is a perfect example of course. He is benevolent to
Unferth, slays evil monsters, and promises peaces to the Danes. Also Beowulf
dies for his kingdom, or country, setting an example for all warriors or
soldiers to come. Another moral theme that resonates from Beowulf is the idea of
the supremacy of generosity as discussed before. The king gives money and
treasures out unrelentlessly throughout the story and examples are drawn of
greedy and therefore bad kings. The next battle, with the vengeful mother of
Grendel, helps demonstrate the quest aspect of a myth. In most myths the hero
must battle many foes, but they are almost invariably in order of difficulty.
Each adversary is stronger and stronger leading up to the ultimate foe at the
climax of the myth. Beowulf does not differ with regards to this scheme. In the
first battle he dramatically fights Grendel with no weapons or armor, so they
are equals. However when he faces Grendel’s mother, in order equal the battle,
he must turn to a sword. And even with the sword and armor in the fight with
Grendel’s mother it is only by luck and ‘God’s grace’ that he escapes
the monster’s claws to kill it. Finally later in Beowulf, Beowulf fights the
dragon. He must use a sword, a knife, a shield and even another man to defeat
this worthy foe. However, even with all the weapons and help of Wiglaf, Beowulf
dies in the climactic finale battle between him and the dragon. When I first
read Beowulf, I really thought it was, well, stupid and simple. However upon
this second reading I have developed a fond sort of respect for Beowulf and
other myths. Although I have never really believed nor been extremely influenced
by a myth’s theme or plot, I think they are fascinating. They show so much
about the culture they came from. When reading Beowulf I can just picture a poet
reciting it in Old English to a large hall full of rustic looking men and
captivated children. The story itself is mesmerizing to know that people
actually believed it was true, I try to imagine what it was like fearing
monsters like Grendel or a dragon, or let alone knowing that they such thing
were out in the world. Beowulf successfully fulfills its goal, as shown by its
mere existence through time. It accomplishes the teaching of many moral lessons
giving us a detailed insight into the culture and writer’s beliefs of morality
and religion. And it also provides for an interesting ride filled with
supernatural feats and monsters with an inspirational hero.
“Beowulf.” Translated by Dr. David Breeden. Lone Star. August 1999.

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