Essay on Dragons in Beowulf and in Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene

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Dragons in Beowulf and in Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene

When one usually thinks of a dragon, one thinks of dragon-slayers, adventure, damsels in

distress, and cheap fantasy novels. Dragons in literature have not always been used for such meaningless

entertainment. There are many precedents for dragons in medieval literature, two of the most prominent

being in the Old English poem Beowulf and in Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. In both of these

epic poems, dragons play major antagonistic roles. The foe of Beowulf and the two dragons in The

Faerie Queene serve as important symbolic parts of the story and as reflectors that bring out the good, or

bad, qualities of the hero. Although each dragon represents specific things in its particular context, all

three are used in the same manner to effect a meaning from their symbolic existence. The three dragons

serve to point out the negative aspects of humanity, or those that plague humanity, and thus function as

critical turning points in each story.

In these two poems dragons are featured as negative creatures and are associated with the evil

side of the good vs. evil battle. In both Beowulf and The Faerie Queene, all three dragons are shown

with images of fire surrounding them constantly. This is evocative of evilness, hell, and thus, of Satan.

By using the fiery imagery, the dragons automatically become evil and threatening to the heroes of the

various plot-lines. In Beowulf, our hero is called upon to defend his helpless people from a dragon that

has been awoken by a thoughtless peasant’s theft of a golden cup. The dragon is then enraged with greed

and goes on a rampage, destroying village a...

... middle of paper ...

...s present in both epic works..

Works Cited

“Beowulf”. The Longman Anthology of British Literature 2nd Edition. David Damrosch, ed. New

York: Addison-Wesley Pearson Education, 2003.

Brent, Jandi. “Redcrosse Knight vs. The Dragon”. 6 November 2004.


Hale, John K. “Spenser’s Faerie Queene, 1. 11. 52 and 53". Explicator. 53.1 (1994): 6-8.

Rauer, Christine. Beowulf and the Dragon: Parallels and Analogues. Rochester, NY: D.S.

Brewer, 2000.

Spenser, Edmund. “The Faerie Queene: Book One”. The Longman Anthology of British

Literature 2nd Edition. David Damrosch, ed. New York: Addison-Wesley Pearson

Education, 2003.

Tanke, John. “Beowulf, Gold-Luck, and God’s Will”. Studies in Philology. 99.4 (2004): 356-80.

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