Reflection 3 – Beowulf’s Fated End

The lead-up to the dragon fight is very clear about the fact that Beowulf will die.

It’s not a dramatic twist or surprise or anything of the sort. This story ends with that plain acknowledgment: Beowulf dies. All men die.

But to be less dramatic for a moment, how do we know Beowulf is going to die?

Page 106, in the tale Beowulf tells, “What son? What wife? What life? What song?” The song ends when life ends, and this story is no different. Beowulf knows this. “I’ll lead while taking my last breath, as long as this sword stands by, even if I have to end with death.” (108) He knows he is aging, and his time of great glories is fading behind him. He knows this is the end, and after his story, the narration tells us: “Beowulf blasted his last boast.” “He eyeballed each of his men, power-privileged warriors, for the last time.”

Why tell the reader of listener that this end is inevitable? I think it’s to give us the same feeling that Beowulf would have had. Both the reader and Beowulf are joined at this moment, knowing that he is to die.

I’m going to get poetic here, but we feel Beowulf’s fear fighting the dragon, and we see Wiglaf’s courage (fun fact, ‘wig’ = ‘warrior, ‘laf’ = ‘what is left’, a fitting name for the only warrior to fight by Beowulf’s side) as he joined the fray. Wiglaf, in a way, is why the story doesn’t end for good. Beowulf dies, but his spirit continues and inspires, and in a way, that’s the purpose of a story, especially one still told in 2022.

So I would argue that narratively, and perhaps on a meta level, it’s important to have no doubts about the fact that Beowulf is meeting his end here. It’s a fitting conclusion and really fits the theme here of warriors, fighting, and fate above all.

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