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Beowulf concluded. When Beowulf makes his final “boast” to fight the dragon, he focuses heavily on the action of fate in determining the outcome of the battle.

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Presentation Transcript
slide2

When Beowulf makes his final “boast” to fight the dragon, he focuses heavily on the action of fate in determining the outcome of the battle.

  • Beowulf fights the dragon, but his shield is melted by the dragon’s flames and “Edgetho’s/ Famous son stared at death…Unwilling to leave this world, to exchange it / For a dwelling in some distant place– a journey / Into darkness that all men must make, as death / Ends their few brief hours on earth.”
slide3

Wiglaf comes to his aid in battle. We have a parallel image of Beowulf’s soldiers waiting to see the outcome of the battle, just as they did when Beowulf went to fight Grendel’s mother in the deep.

  • Wiglaf recalls that Beowulf “chose us from all his great army, thinking / Our boasting words had some weight…”
  • Recall the watchman’s words to Beowulf: “I believe your words, I trust in / Your friendship…”
slide4

Wiglaf loots the dragon’s tower for its treasure and carries it to Beowulf as he lies dying. (The poet gives a strange parenthetical caution about how wealth can corrupt in this passage).

  • Beowulf gives Wiglaf his necklace, his helmet, his rings, and his mail shirt before he dies. Beowulf is burned on a funeral pyre and bitterly mourned by the Geats.
  • The Geats erect a funeral monument for Beowulf, storing his treasure and his ashes within its walls.
slide5

Were you surprised by the end of Beowulf? The poem jumps from the heroic into the elegiac completely!

  • In a sense, we have always been confused as to why the poem keeps going: Beowulf is already a hero when we first meet him (he has slayed giants!), he’s a hero after fighting Grendel, and he’s a hero after fighting Grendel’s mother, and he’s a hero when he becomes king of the Geats. One could easily think we don’t need any more of this heroic story.
  • But there’s always another monster!
slide6

Is the poem trying to tell us we focus too much on the monsters and heroic acts and are ignoring other realities of life?

  • “Monster-fighting thus pre-empts the reader’s attention just as it pre-empts Beowulf’s; the reader gets caught up in the heroic ethos like the hero and easily misses the warnings. In a sense the reader is led to repeat the error, one all too easy in a heroic society, hardly noticing that the glorious action by a leader often carries a terrible price for his followers.”
slide7

If the funeral of Beowulf moved once like an echo of an ancient dirge, far-off and hopeless, it is to us as a memory brought over the hills, an echo of an echo. There is not much poetry in the world like this; and though Beowulf may not be among the very greatest poems of our western world and tradition, it has its own individual character, and particular solemnity; it would still have power had it been written in some time or place unknown and without posterity, if it contained no name that could not be recognized or identified by research. Yet it is in fact written in a language that after many centuries has still essential kinship with our own, it was made in this land, and moves in our northern world beneath our northern sky, and for those who are native to that tongue and land, it must ever call with a profound appeal– until the dragon comes.

  • -J.R.R. Tolkien