Essay, Research Paper: Beowulf In Detail

Literature: Beowulf

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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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