The Finn Episode In Beowulf Essay

1571 words - 6 pages

Beowulf has just killed Grendel and hung that infamous claw in the hall of Heorot. Everyone under King Hrothgar’s rule is celebrating Beowulf’s triumph. In the midst of the celebration a court singer begins to sing about the glory of the former Danish people many years ago. The song chronicles a battle between the Danes and the Frisians. The leader of the Frisians, Finn, engages in battle and ends up with most of his army being defeated. However, Finn ends up killing Hnaef the leader of the Danes. Hengest, successor to Hnaef, makes peace with Finn and the rest of the Danes end up living with the Frisian people. An important part of this episode to note is that the wife of Finn, Hildeburh, is also the sister of Hnaef. Hnaef and Hildeburh’s son were both killed in battle and their burial is described in grotesque detail. A member of the Frisian tribe gives a sword to Hengest who has long debated this newly forged allegiance with the Frisians. Hengest decides to take revenge and wages war once again. It’s unclear who exactly kills Finn, but he is murdered by a member of the Danish people. Hildeburh is taken captive and is brought back to her homeland with the Danes (lines 1065-1161). Thus ends the story that scholars refer to as the “Finn episode”.
Around ninety lines, the Finn episode is mysterious and its intention is unknown. The singer could just as well have started singing “He’s a Jolly Good-Fellow”. Why does the singer stop and sing something so dark in the middle of celebrating Grendel’s death? What point is the author of Beowulf trying to make with this seemingly unrelated story? Some think that this episode is “regarded as the main point of the story in Beowulf” (Klaeber 544-549). However, others have argued that the poet, “introduces the episode simply as an illustration of the songs which furnished entertainment for Hrothgar’s feasting warriors and his Geatish guests” (Brodeur in Camargo 41-2) It is in my opinion of course that the episode is not just meant as an entertainment tale. The level of detail that the poet gives to this scene is much to specific to believe that. Therefore, the Finn episode is used to create emotions and offers the reader these emotions to criticize and draw sympathy from certain characters in Beowulf.
The emotions that Hildeburh experiences are extreme. At no other point in Beowulf are women described as having feelings. Wealhtheow is only mention to give a description of how women were viewed at the time. The presence of women were used to bring peace between tribes through marriage. But nobody knows how Wealhtheow feels about that because it is not brought up. The other woman in the story, Grendel’s mother, is obviously acting on the ethic of revenge that so plagues the other characters in the story. So why is a female character given such complexities when other women are described basically as being one dimensional? The purpose is to create sympathy for Grendel’s mother. ...

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