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Rituals Of Death Within Literature Essay

894 words - 4 pages

The “rituals” of death within literature can be seen as based upon the protagonist. Usually the deaths of those surrounding the protagonist, will ironically suffer the same fate. Whether from Beowulf, or from William Shakespeare’s well-known plays Hamlet, and Macbeth, there stands a ritualistic “connection” between these literary works. These literary works possess the acts of dying a purposeful, heroic death as well as heinous suicides. These deaths are ritualized differently on the basis of religious beliefs—influenced by the year written—as well as the overall “goodness” of the departed.
Beowulf, is an Anglo-Saxon epic poem composed by an anonymous poet between the 8th to the early 11th centuries. Beowulf, tells the story of a strong, brave warrior who could defeat anyone, and anything without an ounce of fear. Close to the end of the story, Beowulf becomes a great ruler, and rules over many years, until tragedy strikes. A dragon becomes unleashed, and with it came a massive destruction wherever, and whoever the dragon came across with. Beowulf—knowing his death was fast approaching—fought the dragon with the intention to save his kingdom. Although Beowulf’s intentions were fulfilled, his heroic fight for the wellbeing of his people ended in his death. Indeed, Beowulf died a hero. As a result, the townspeople acted ritualistically. They burned his body on a funeral pyre, and buried his remains along with a massive treasure on a barrow overlooking the sea. This ritualistic burial allowed everyone to remember the great, heroic king Beowulf once was. The tale of Beowulf, represents the culture, and traditions held during the Anglo-Saxon –Old English—period. Burial practices in the Anglo-Saxon era consisted of cremation, and burials with “grave goods”—food, jewelry, and weaponry—being placed along with the corpse. These ritualistic behaviors performed for Beowulf’s burial are noticeably familiar to the customs performed today. For example, the burning of Beowulf’s body is the cremation of the deceased in today’s society, and the decorative remembrance of the burrow—where Beowulf was placed—are the graves adorned with flowers and headstones in the cemeteries.
Throughout the play Hamlet, Hamlet—the protagonist—comes to a point in which his grief and misery—from the death of his father—makes him question his existence. Hamlet frequently longs to end his suffering by committing suicide, but he concludes that by committing suicide it could potentially condemn him to “hell”. The famous quote “to be or not to be”, contemplates his fears of what would become of him if he were to commit suicide. Unlike Hamlet—who feared the outcome after death—Ophelia, the daughter...

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