Beowulf is not the only first great work of English Literature, but is also a remarkable epic poem that originated approximately in 520 A.D. It is a poem that has been orally passed down from generation to generations. It was only approximately 200 years later that it was finally written down on parchment paper. Although Beowulf has no author, the likely originator of Beowulf was a monk. This could be a possible explanation of why, when reading the poem, Christian and Pagan elements can be found within it. Despite the fact that it is 3,182 lines, Beowulf is a relatively short poem. Alliteration is one of the many elements featured in the short poem. Alliteration is generally used to create a specific rhythm or mood for particular parts of poems. With Beowulf being shorter poem, alliteration helps to focus the reader’s attention to specific areas of the work. The poem also contains kennings, for example, blood is referred to as battle sweat and a light of battle is referred to as a sword. The central story line is guided by Beowulf, a hero and a Geat from Sweden. Beowulf sails the seas to Denmark on a journey to rescue Hrothgar, the king of Danes, from Grendel, a descendent from Cain and a demonic monster. Beowulf’s dynamic character can be demonstrated through the fight scene with Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the dragon.
Beowulf is an impeccable story portraying the triumph of good over evil. Beowulf is traditional in the sense that it has three acts. Each act serves a purpose: Act 1 is the prologue, Act 2 is the climax or the confrontation and Act 3 is the resolution. The poem presents itself throughout different areas of Scandinavia over the course of the sixth century CE. There are several characters that are featured in Beowulf that can also be seen in other Old English and Scandinavian works. For example, the raid into Frisia by the Geatish king, Hygelac, is mentioned by Gregory of Tours, a sixth century CE chronicler who gives Hygelac’s name as Chlochilaicus (Wesley). Still to this day this poem remains a mystery due to the unknown composition date and original composer. The first-recorded owner of Beowulf is Laurence Nowell, a pioneer of the study of Old English, who inscribed his name at the top of the manuscript’s first page (bl.uk). This poem is seen to have been passed down orally and changed over numerous ages, until this existing copy was recorded at an unknown location in Anglo-Saxon England. Beowulf can be found located in a solitary medieval manuscript, housed at the British Library in London. The original copy has no date label. Consequently, its age had to be calculated by analyzing the scribes’ handwriting. Aside from Beowulf, the manuscript contains several other medieval texts. These comprise a homily on St. Christopher; the ‘Marvels of the East’, illustrated with wondrous beasts and deformed monsters; the ‘Letter of Alexander to Aristotle’; and an imperfect copy of another Old English poem, ‘Medievalia’. Beowulf is the penultimate item in this collection of works which were replicated by two Anglo-Saxon scribes, working in collaboration (bl.uk). The Cottonian library was bequeathed to the British nation and eventually moved to Ashburnham House at Westminster. Shockingly, on October 23, 1731 a staggering flame becoming a fire broke out in the library, damaging and harming hundreds of inestimable manuscripts and completely destroying thirteen. Beowulf was one of the few pieces that survived with minimal damage, thanks to it’s leather protective binding (Old English).
Beowulf’s transformation into a hero begins with the battle against Grendel. This battle can be considered the prologue of the poem as it is the first of three acts. The confrontation ends victoriously for Beowulf as he defeats the Grendel with the help of his loyal crew members and God. Beowulf rips Grendel’s arm from its socket with his bare hands, this this specific scene identifies the exact moment of Beowulf’s victory. Grendel’s arm becomes a symbol of success and a trophy for Beowulf. The triumph over Grendel proves that Beowulf is as confident and as strong as he claims to be. This triumph also manifests his prideful side. Beowulf’s past victories contribute to his egocentric personality and essentially the boaster that he is known for today. For example, when Beowulf was younger he swam in the icy ocean waters for five days with his friend Breca, all the while fighting sea monsters. “Each of us swam holding a sword, naked hard-proofed blade for protection against the whale-beasts. But Breca could never move out farther or faster than me” (Beowulf 539). Beowulf participates in near death experience in hopes that his legacy will live on forever. This hope is why he takes on the task of fighting Grendel. He wants everyone to know that he is as powerful and confident as he claims. “So every elder and experienced councilman among my people supported my resolve to come here to you, King Hrothgar, because all knew of my awesome strength” (Beowulf 415). This battle with Grendel is the key component in the beginning of Beowulf’s metamorphosis. A young hero who fought sea monsters into eventually a mature hero who fights for the protection of others. It presents the confidence and self-assurance Beowulf has within himself.
The battle against Grendel’s mother shows the development of Beowulf’s transformation. This battle would be considered the climax/confrontation and act two of the three acts. Grendel’s mother comes back to seek revenge for the death of her son. The Danes are shocked to discover that Grendel’s mother comes back, not only to claim Grendel’s arm, but one of King Hrothgar’s advisors as well. Beowulf goes after Grendel’s mother and defeats her in her own territory. This battle gives light to Beowulf’s transformation spiritually and dependently. For example, the battle with Grendel’s mother exposes a less spiritual side of Beowulf. It exposes a side of Beowulf who becomes dependent on worldly materials. “Beowulf got ready, donned his war-gear, indifferent to death” (Beowulf 1440). Contrary to his first battle, where Beowulf wins victoriously using his bare hands and the grace of God: “The Lord allowed it” (Beowulf 967). All the glory is given to God over the triumph and protection Beowulf receives this battle exposes Beowulf transition into a less spiritual warrior into a more dependent warrior on war-gears.
The battle against the Dragon occurs about fifty years later following Beowulf’s return to Geatland. This battle being the last of the three acts is considered the resolving act. King Hyglac dies and the throne now belongs to Beowulf. The confrontation among Beowulf and the dragon is initiated because a thief steals a gold cup from underneath the dragon, in order to bargain with his owner in hopes to regain his freedom. As a result, Beowulf battles the dragon out of obligation and concern for his people. He knows that he is the only one who is capable of defeating the dragon, but not without his loyal friend Wiglaf’s help. The third battle exposes the transition Beowulf undergoes; he starts out as a prince and ends his ultimate battle as a king. “The wide kingdom reverted to Beowulf” (Beowulf 2208). Physically Beowulf starts to change. The battle takes a toll on his mind and his body. For instance, when he hears that his mead hall is destroyed, he deteriorates. “It threw the hero into deep anguish and darkened his mood” (Beowulf 2327). Overall, this battle demonstrates Beowulf’s emotional and state and, ultimately, ends with Beowulf’s death.
Beowulf’s dynamic transitions can be seen throughout his battles. Over time he changes spiritually, emotionally, and physically. He goes back and forth between his Christian and Pagan beliefs. As the years go by, Beowulf transitions from a young prince full of himself to an old king full of pride and principles. Physically Beowulf is not the same young man he once was but he still has his strength. As Beowulf changes so does his culture “The ethical values are manifestly the Germanic code of loyalty to chief and tribe and vengeance to enemies” (Beowulf). At the beginning of the poem, loyalty holds everything together and towards the end it seems almost irrelevant. This dark and dreary Anglo-Saxon literature controlled by fate. Beowulf is of noble birth as he is the Prince of the Geats and the nephew of his king. This satisfies the need for a noble person. Beowulf has character traits that reflect the societal ideals of the Anglo-Saxon period. He was generous to his followers and gave them land, wealth, and jewels (PhilMoore). The main value that Beowulf represented was that he only ever battled for the fame it would bring him, never just to battle for the fun of it. Beowulf is an epic hero of the Anglo-Saxon time-period because he exemplifies everything that makes up an epic hero and brought glory to his leaders.
Beowulf is a legend who encapsulates the perfect qualities in the Anglo-Saxon culture. These attributes all meet up to make up an epic tale. Beowulf possesses the virtues, characteristics, and beliefs that were respected in the Anglo-Saxon culture. Beowulf shows these virtues in his own actions and words amid various conditions all throughout the story. Beowulf was bold of all adversaries and battled to protect his notoriety and greatness. Beowulf did not have to tell anybody that he was courageous; he demonstrated to them how bold he was. Beowulf required no sword or shield to shield him from Grendel when he executed Grendel with his own hands. There are numerous characteristics of the Beowulf poem that make it a critical and significant piece of the history of literature. It is an ideal portrayal of how the population in the eighth century England communicated, what their emotions were, and their culture. Another characteristic is that the Beowulf poem was passed down orally. The poem contains aspects of Christianity what frame it takes in the story. It is likewise kind of a past filled with how the English dialect has changed in the numerous years from that point up to this point. The lyric likewise contains numerous legendary references and it contains a great hero. Beowulf is considered an artifact because on the grounds that it is the oldest of the English long poems and may have been composed more than twelve hundred years ago.