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Analysis Of Epic Poem Beowulf

1647 words - 7 pages

Beowulf is the conventional title of an Old English epic poem consisting of 3182 alliterative long lines, set in Scandinavia, commonly cited as one of the most important works of Anglo-Saxon literature due to the fact that it is the oldest surviving epic poem of Old English and also the earliest vernacular English literature. Tragedy and epic have been much discussed as separate genres, but critics have not hesitated to designate certain characters and events in epics as tragic. For the most part, they have assumed or asserted an identity between epic and dramatic tragedy. Even in The Odyssey, Penelope and Telemachus suffer enough to rouse their deep passions and to force them like the tragic sufferer to consider their own predicaments in the world they live in. C.L. Wrenn wrote on Beowulf, “A Germanic hero is a tragic hero, who shows his highest greatness not alone in winning glory by victory, but rather by finding his supremely noble qualities especially in the moment of death in battle” (Wrenn 91). Beowulfs hubris, the representation of wealth as a profiling characteristic for the villages, and Beowulf’s ability to find his might in his moment of “death,” all show the very nature of the poem which defines it as not only an epic poem, but also a tragic one.
One of Beowulf's major flaws is his large ego. His hubris, or excessive pride, is the tragic flaw that causes his death. It's important for Beowulf to show strength even when there isn't an important heroic task to be accomplished. When there aren't demons or dragons to fight, he gets into, "swimming contests" with other warriors: “Well, friend Unferth, you have had your say about Breca and me. But it was mostly beer that was doing the talking. The truth is this: when the going was heavy in those high waves, I was the strongest swimmer of all" (Beowulf 529-534). His hubris is foreshadowed throughout the epic, from the stories of his youth to his conversations with Hrothgar in the hall of Heorot: “I have heard moreover that the monster scorns in his reckless way to use weapons; therefore, to heighten Hygelac's fame and gladden his heart, I hereby renounce sword and the shelter of the broad shield, the heavy war-board: hand-to-hand is how it will be, a life-and-death fight with the fiend” (Beowulf 433-440). Beowulf makes his battle with Grendel more than a simple slay-the-monster task. By announcing that it will be a hand-to-hand combat, he gains extra glory for himself and the Geatish king, Hygelac, turning the contest into a feat of strength as well as a fight against evil. After slaying Grendel in pure arm-to-arm combat, Hrothgar rewards Beowulf with presents and treasures, further bestilling upon him a fuel source for his ego to multiply in size. Beowulfs excessive pride of his strength leads to him into even greater conflicts beyond Grendel--the demon’s mother and the dragon which fatally wounds the tragic hero.
Beowulf depicts the warrior culture of medieval Scandinavia and England,...

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