The epic poem sets up the good-evil dichotomy as early as the second line; the kings of the Spear-Danes are characterized as courageous and great, leading “heroic campaigns” (line 3). This is interesting when one considers the nature of Shield Sheafson, whose respect was derived from people’s fear of him rather than love; he is even regarded as the “terror of the hall troops,” an interesting contrast to the bravery and greatness with which the speaker regards the Spear-Dane kings (6). Of course, the existence of a heroic code is a considerable determinant of what is morally deemed “good” in Anglo-Saxon society. The make-up of a “good” king is largely his adherence to such a code; he is expected to be a protectorate of his people while exhibiting bravery and generosity, but not necessarily kindness. By these standards, Shield was a “good” king, but wa...
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...that the Beowulf-poet is critically considering the validity of the good-evil dichotomy. The tone leading up to and during the attacks on Grendel and Grendel’s Mother suggest that there is a clear divide between “good” and “evil” largely based on adherence to the heroic code. Imagery plays a significant role in discounting this idea; the “good” becomes enmeshed with the “evil” in that the imagery surrounding Grendel is then used when characterizing Beowulf. Likewise, the light imagery surrounding the dragon further obscures the divide, contributing to a sense of confusion in the reader considering this good-evil dichotomy. As a result, the initial reaction to the text claiming it to be a classic good versus evil story is invalid given the minute elements of the epic. And this conflict of interpretation itself furthers even more the sense of confusion in the reader.
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