Week Two Questions: Beowulf Grows??

Question 1: pg 103

Throughout the first two thirds of this poem we can clearly see that Beowulf thinks very, very highly of himself, which is why the story of him trying to refuse the Geatish throne stood out so much to me.

The Swede-king, satisfied,

set off to the briny boulevard, and Beowulf, bereaved,

ascended the Great-throne, in grief, never surrendering

his reluctance to become the ruler.

That was a good king.

Beowulf, pg 103

Why does Beowulf not want the throne?

So far as a class we have discussed how much of a pompous ass Beowulf seems to be. It seems like it would be only natural for him to jump at the chance to become the king, even before it involved the death of the heir, and had been offered to him by the queen. I believe that this change in heart is the result of the events described just a page beforehand, with the death of king Hygelac. Beowulf witnesses his king die, someone he obviously held in very high regard, and viewed as close as family. The king’s death is described as brutal, “his skin became sheath for a sword, his skull a cup overflowing with blood.” While Beowulf survived this battle, and managed to kill some of his enemies, he is described as “fleeing the massacre”. Beowulf in this instance probably felt that he had failed his king, failed as a hero, and had to return home “grief-stricken.” He probably was never able to move on from the fact that he had to flee from a battle. This seems to be a major changing point for our title character, as he refuses to take the throne in Hygelac’s place until it becomes an absolute necessity.

Question 2: pg 104

Given that we have now seen that Beowulf has learned a bit of real humility, we can see his anxieties start to grow as he ages as a king. He leads his kingdom well and keeps them safe, but as soon as it comes to having to fight a dragon, Beowulf seems to accept that this will probably be the last battle that he fights.

The old king fell to his knees on the cliff point

and willed good fortune upon the Geats he’d ruled,

those who’d sat fireside, warmed by his gold.

Stricken, suddenly unsteady, he foresaw his fate

in the fog, shrouded but certain. For a moment,

he felt for his old foes, fen-bound, embarking alone.

Soon, soon, his own lease would expire,

evicting him from hall, hearth and home.

Beowulf, pg 104

Why does Beowulf seem so accepting of his fate from the dragon? 

Beowulf’s acceptance might because of the fact that he is willing to admit that he is aged now, and not quite as strong as he once was, although we do still see him boasting about his bravery, on page, 109, “I’ll be the one winning the gold, my bravery/the broadest, and if not, boys, this’ll be /the battle that breaks your king.” he still owns the fact that this battle very well may be his last. 

Mostly though, I believe that Beowulf feels responsible for the plight of the dragon amongst his people, proven by a quote on page 100, after Beowulf’s hall had been burnt by the dragon. He thinks that perhaps this loss and attack is a sign from god, and that perhaps it was a punishment intended for him. He considers “had he broken old covenants? Unwarded his soul? Doubt dawned as he considered deeds long done, sins kept secret. He wasn’t used to feeling insecure.” Here, in a shocking moment, Beowulf considered all the acts he has ever taken, and is forced to reckon with the fact that it might not have all been heroics, maybe actions he had taken were too violent, or unjust. 

We know previously that Beowulf attributes God to keeping him alive and on his side, but now he is worried that he had lost this favor. As he comes to terms with this, he is completely willing to accept his fate against the dragon, as long as he won gold for his kingdom. He never stopped to consider the effects his death would have on his people, such as the women crying in fear of raping and pillaging after the loss of their great protector. Perhaps he “was a good king” in life, but not so in death, having set up no line of lineage, protection or path for his kingdom. If he recognized this or not, Beowulf was able to recognize some of his failings before facing his death, and was able to recognize that those he had slaughtered throughout his life probably felt the same loneliness in the face of death. I believe this new and sudden insecurity in himself was a large contributor in Beowulf accepting his fate, which is perhaps the largest character arc he could have embarked on.

5 thoughts on “Week Two Questions: Beowulf Grows??

  1. This was very interesting! I’ve also been thinking a lot about Beowulf’s death scene and how willing he was to just die. I think it’s because he sacrificed himself in such a way that the soldiers could never stop talking about. He died, but as a result the dragon died too. And since the dragon died, that meant the found treasure would be attributed to him. He paid for his life in gold, and I think that’s why he was okay with it. Kinda twisted lol

  2. Really enjoed this! I found Beowulfs death so interestingly out of character for him, it was one of the only moments where beaowulf accepts defeat. I think that the emphasis on the line “that was a good king” is so important when it comes to beowulf because he is so focused on being a “good king” and yet he has no sons, no heir. So how was he a good king?
    Crazy stuff!

  3. This post was one of the more interesting ones to read. The way that I looked at Beowulf’s final battle with the dragon is that he wanted one last heroic deed or one last big/great battle before he passed on to the other side. And he wanted to go down as one of history’s greatest heros and I think that’s why he was fine with dying. Even though he died and the dragon died with him, he finished his life’s work. At least, that’s the way I’m looking at it.

  4. With the death of the king, perhaps Beowulf does indeed grow as a person. It is often situations involving failure where characters learn and grow the most. Having to flee from the “massacre” can be seen as his first (or one of his first) real feelings that he failed. This could even be the reason (or one of the reasons) that Beowulf accepts his fate with the dragon. He might possibly have a better understanding of his own mortality after the death of his king along with him getting older as the new king. Between guilt and perhaps some wisdom, its clear that Beowulf see’s things differently as he got older. Great job and great post!

  5. Loved reading this! You brought up some points I hadn’t thought of! I love how you delve into Beowulf’s relationship with his god, especially at the end of his life. It really brings the whole Christianity vs Paganism to my mind again, and how the church was known for instilling absolute terror into its’ followers. It’s interesting to see Beowulf, a self-proclaimed demigod, fall to the fears of his “church”.

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