Anonymous Anglo-Saxon poet
Contributed by Karim Chandra
Themes are described as ideas that dominate a particular piece of literature. In almost all cases, pieces of literature will be centered a theme or a number of them.
Heroic Code
The theme of heroic code as portrayed the poem, Beowulf and other Anglo-Saxon, Greek and Germanic narratives, has some set of rules that state how warriors and rulers should operate or even conduct themselves. According to the heroic codes, warriors are expected to loyal to their kingdom and master in a way that they can never question him. They are also expected to be ready and willing to sacrifice everything for their ruler and the kingdom. Besides warriors were to be courageous and strong as they serve the people. Leaders, on the other hand, were expected to portray generosity in rewarding their servants. They should also prove to have the ability to govern their people wisely and treat them fairly.
Good versus Evil
While Grendel, his mother, and the dragon portray an evil character, the two main representatives of good in the story are Hrothgar and Beowulf. Beowulf’s goodness is evident when he goes into conflict and battle because of others while Grendel, his mother, and dragon fight with Beowulf as a result of their hatred and also greed. After fighting for his people, Beowulf receives gifts which he shares with the other instead of him keeping them for himself. In the three battles where Beowulf battles with monsters, his victory is almost compared to the biblical battles. The reason for the compassion is he had superhuman strength and courage that made him defeat the evils.
Loyalty is evident in the poem as it was a guiding factor during the period the poem was written. It is unifying issue in the story and recurs many times. Loyalty can be noticeable in Beowulf’s character. In the poem, loyalty seems to be passed from one generation to the other. Beowulf had several reasons to be loyal to Hrothgar, one of the reason is that he was his King and he had saved Beowulf fathers life. Beowulf’s father and the King were loyal to each other for a long time; he had to honor it. Beowulf was also loyal to the King Hygelac of Geatland that he gave him the reward King Hrothgar gave him. His loyalty made him serve king Hygelac until when the King died. When he was offered the crown after the Kings death, Beowulf declined and formally asserted that Prince Heardred to be crowned as the King. He then served the new King with loyalty too. It is only after the death of King Hearded that he accepted to be crowned as the King and his reign lasted for 50 years. When Beowulf prepares for his final battle with the dragon, he puts trust in the 11 of his best men who accompany him. The men have made to fight with him to death. Although the new king is full of trust in his confidence, He, however, chooses to go on with his 11 men just in case he needs them. However, when it is clear that he is losing the battle, all his men desert him except Wiglaf. Although Wiglaf is not an experienced thane, he proves his loyalty to his master. He tries to call other thanes to come back to the aid of their master, but he is not successful in his quest. When he realizes that no help will come from anywhere, he decides to come to the aid of his master by trying to help him fight the dragon. Beowulf’s life, sadly, comes to an end. Although the king dies, he together with Beowulf have managed to kill the dragon.
Death and Defeat
Although Beowulf won many battles and lived a heroic life, he could not escape death as it finally defeats him. The keeper of rings hides beautiful treasures of his people for keeping them safe, and the dragon watches over the riches for many years. Death later claims both of them and Wiglaf finds that a lot of the treasures has perished and rusted. The strength and courage that was a requirement for warriors made them fight to the death. As the story end, the hero, Beowulf meets his death which was caused by the dragon’s poisonous bite. The dragon was also killed by Beowulf when the two were fighting. While he is dying, Beowulf appears to honor the great level of loyalty shown by Wiglaf. He, therefore, passes over the kingdom to him by giving him his fighting gear.
Generosity and Hospitality
The rules such as King Hrothgar and King Hygelac were hospitable and generous. They hosted and welcomed visiting nobility and warriors who came back from the battlefield with a grand banquet in the King’s feasting hall. Grendel brought the 12 years of horror that caused the death of many Hrothgar’s subjects and also disrupted the governance system. The King could be as hospitable as usual without the use of his mead hall. It is not surprising that the feast held to celebrate Beowulf's victory and arrival after he emerged the winner when he battled with Grendel and his mother, is a sign of outpouring hospitality and generosity. In the land, everything that is seized at war normally goes to the custody of the king. On his part, the king allocates treasure to each warrior by the level of success they have achieved. The king normally uses the criterion of the achievement of solder to ensure that he retains some level of fairness while dealing with them. Beowulf also expects and is given great riches when he manages to defeat Grendel and his mother. Some of the gifts that he is given as part of the reward include a helmet, a golden banner, a mail-shirt, magnificent horses, a golden collar and a jeweled sword. Beowulf is also given a gem-studded saddle. The generosity extended over to Beowulf is an indication of the impeccable character borne by King Hrothgar. Beowulf extends the generosity by handing over the gifts Hrothgar gives to his king, Hygelac. Hygelac, on his part, appreciates the gifts Beowulf gives him. As shown, generosity is deemed to be important concepts in military, social, economic structure of the culture. The concept of generosity is also shown where Wealhtheow takes part in the act of giving gifts. She also acts as the hostess, who has the role of welcoming guests to the Hall. During the process of serving at the Heorot, she can retain the acts of diplomacy and propriety. She, therefore, attends first to the king and then moves on to other guests, while focusing on Beowulf. Through the process, she can retain the element of seniority at the table. Through the process, there is a view that all people at the table will feel that they have been accorded the level of respect they feel they deserve. An instance of an improper queen would, therefore, be an individual such as Modthrytho. She was so inhospitable and had her warriors executed because of merely looking at her. She is, therefore, an indication of a person who is less willing to have other people visit and have a good time at the home of the king. The poet also appears to have a close association with generosity. It, therefore, seems to be part of his culture. He is, therefore, able to refer to generosity while adding some humor to it. The humor is depicted at a point where Beowulf manages to win over Grendel. He makes an ironical talk as he tries to depict hospitality. He tries to say, “Welcome my enemy.” He was, however, disappointed when he was only given a “visitor’s” token which was in the form of the claws of Grendel. In that sense, Beowulf had tried to act as a perfect host, although in ironical terms.
From the begging of the story, Beowulf shows more concern for his reputation. He cares much about how people will view him. He even goes to the extent of introducing himself to the Scolding by mentioning to them various things he has achieved. The drunken Unferth insults Beowulf at the first banquet because he knows he values his reputation more than anything else. Reputation happens to be a quality that remains even after one dies. After fighting Grendel and killing him, he preferred to go back with his head. Through the slur of Unfurth, he accuses Beowulf of engaging foolishly in a swimming contest that lasted for seven days in the sea and losing in the event. Unferth believes that Beowulf cannot win over Grendel since he was not able to win in a simple swimming contest. Beowulf was, however, able to defend his reputation in a way that was able to win him respect from King Hrothgar as well as other people found in Denmark. Beowulf maintains that he chose to fight with Breca for five miles stating that he did not want to be a weak boy. He was more interested in building his stamina to ensure that he can take on the different life challenges that are likely to come his way in future. Through the process, he also has the opportunity to face some of the challenges that would be essential in shaping his reputation as a solder. Beowulf also states that he had to face the rough seas but was calm enough and remained rooted in the specific goal that he aimed for. He also maintains that he was able to kill nine monsters before reaching the shores. The success was important in enabling him to build his strength with the view of being in a position to build on his prowess. He was, therefore, able to retain his reputation as a person who is not a coward but who is willing to take up some of the challenges that come his way with a high level of confidence. To that end, Beowulf is committed to enhancing the fame that he has built by seeking to subdue Gretel. As he narrates his story, later on, the poet states some of the virtues linked to the great reputation that Beowulf has attained in a long time. He states that Beowulf is courageous. He has also grown his fame in engaging in many battles. Beowulf is also known for many good deeds that are likely to make more people willing to interact with him and learn from the actions that he engages in to earn such reputation. Although Beowulf is aggressive at war, he has “no savage mind.” He can, therefore, never choose to kill his comrades while they are drinking. Such a self-promise is a mark of a hero. The world of mead-hall is guided by the heroic code which Beowulf chooses to submit to as part of his quest in becoming a man of honor. Beowulf also has a lot of respect for the gifts of leadership and strength that he has. He holds the view that through the use of such gifts, he can attain success in being able to steer people towards the right direction. Near the end of the poem, the now King Beowulf has plans to meet the dragon and subdue it. That is not before he takes time to ponder in line with his reputation in the land. He, therefore, decides to face the dragon alone. That is in spite of the fact that his death could leave the land without an heir to the throne. The situation, therefore, presents a huge challenge as the process of succession could be more difficult. The sermon that Hrothgar had given Beowulf warned him to be wary of pride. Hrothgar had told him to that some notable warriors had been brought down by pride. He, therefore, needed to be keener not to allow pride to affect his life and lead him to face his demise. One might, however, argue that by the time Beowulf was facing the dragon, he was already an old man, to that end, and he was left with very little time to live. He might, therefore, as well, die as a worthy warrior that he was and, as a result, be in a position to protect his reputation. The final words of the poem that state that Beowulf was “most eager for fame” may be well understood by the audience that in his life, fame was same as reputation. He, therefore, needed to protect it as much as he could.
Revenge is a major motivating factor among the various characters featured in the poem. They are majorly keen to ensure that they can pay back for the wrongs that other people have done them. Grendel and his mother are part of the characters who are keen on entering revenge. Grendel, on his role, is keen on advancing revenge, to all mankind, as a result of the heritage that he has had to pick up. He is, therefore, keen on raiding Heorot as it is it symbolizes everything that he does not like about men. It is a representation of the success of men, their joy, their glory as well as the favor they have found in the eyes of God. The revenge exerted by Grendel’s mother is, however, more specific. She is angry by the fact that her son has been killed. She is, therefore, keen on exercising revenge against all those people who had played a role towards the death of her son. Grendel’s mother is, however, smaller and less powerful compared to her son. She is, however, motivated by the mother’s fury. She is, therefore, aware that she can manage to outwit Beowulf and make him face the wrath of killing her son. She also gains an advantage when Beowulf goes to fight her in her territory. She drags him below the lake with great fury as she is aware that Beowulf is the same man who murdered her son. It is only the courage and skills of Beowulf as well as the assistance of God or magic that can save him from harm. The poet also goes on to depict revenge a way of life in the land. Revenge characterizes the many feuds that people have in the land. The Germanic tribes shown in the poem are deemed to be more concerned with the acts of exerting revenge to the point that they are willing to follow through some of the wrongs that are conducted against them. The poem also shows that old enmities that develop among the tribes rarely die. People in the subsequent generations are, therefore, likely to be keen on exerting revenge for the heinous acts that were conducted against their ancestors. The poet also notes that the process of sticking to the long-standing feuds. When Beowulf returns to Geatland, he suspects that there is a feud between the Heathoboards and Hrothgar’s Scyldings. Heathobards is a tribe in the southern parts of Denmark. Hrothgar is, thereby, hopeful that he will be able to make peace between the two tribes putting his daughter up for marriage to the rival tribe. Beowulf is, however, highly skeptical of the plan. He, therefore, suspects that it will not be long until the feud between the tribes is renewed. The fears are, actually true as the Heathobards, later on, burn Heorot, although the poem does not mention the events. The audience may, however, recognize the story. Another situation where revenge overcomes peace is depicted in the Finnsburgh section. The final battle that Beowulf had with the dragon is as a result of the need for revenge. The fire dragon plans to exert revenge because a runaway slave has stolen a valuable treasure from its hoard. The dragon, in need to exert revenge for the theft, flew over the village, causing destruction. It burned Beowulf’s house down in the process. Beowulf decides to go after the dragon on his own.
In spite of the real rant of jealousy shown by Unferth during the first banquet, Grendel still deems to be the greatest embodiment of Envy is Grendel. The ogre has been a menace to the Hrothgar's people for about 12 years. He is full of envy against the Danes because he does not have the opportunity to share in their joy and hope in just the same way as most human beings do. The jealousy shown by the monster is a depiction of the greatest Christian influences that have occurred in the society. In the poem, Gretel is a descendant of Cain. Cain is the biblical son of Adam and Eve who killed his brother, Abel as a result of jealousy. The legend goes that the monsters that exist in the world are the descendants of Cain. They are also eternally cursed and can, therefore, not be redeemed from the condemnation that they are exposed to. Grendel, on his part, has a high level of resentment towards men as, unlike them, God can never bless him. Many things anger the ogre. One of them is the sounds of joy and happiness that normally come from the grand mead-hall of Hrothgar. The song of creation also angers Grendel sang by the Scop. The song reminds him of the great suffering that he has been bound to suffer from as a result of the sins committed by his ancestor, Cain. Gretel, therefore, decides to come out of mere to attack the Danes. He, therefore, decides to rule during the night over Heorot. To him, the strategy is part of his ways of exerting some level of revenge over the land as a mark of his envy.
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