The Characters And Themes Of Beowulf Essay

The Characters And Themes Of Beowulf Essay

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Evil has a large presence in this world. Even if it is not an actual entity, evil is a concept explored throughout the literature of different cultures around the world. Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf follows the story of the titular warrior who confronts three different monsters throughout the course of his life. The characteristics of Beowulf’s foes represent his culture’s interpretation of evil and how to confront it. Beowulf fights these creatures to defend the Danes, a group of people who mainly value honor, among other ideas. An examination of the characters and themes in Beowulf shows how different forms of evil rise when individuals go against a society’s values.
In order to understand the evil that Beowulf faces in his journeys, it is best to examine what the Danes consider to be good. The monsters that Beowulf confronts each disobey the Danes’ values in one or more ways. One hero who embodies characteristics considered good by the Danes is Shield Sheafson, a legendary warrior-king whose story carried on for generation. Heaney’s translation of Beowulf opens with an account of Sheafson’s glory when it says,
“A foundling to start with, he would flourish later on as his powers waxed and his worth was proved. In the end each clan on the outlying coasts beyond the whale-road had to yield to him and begin to pay tribute. That was one good king,” (Heaney 3).
This quote characterizes Sheafson as a powerful warrior, a generous gift giver and a strong ruler. The line at the end declaring him a “good king” not only reflects on him, but on the people he ruled. The Danes clearly admire a ruler who can command fear from his enemies and respect from his subjects. As an honor-culture, the Danes value the social aspect that wo...


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...ception of what is good and what is evil. Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf helps illustrate the Danes’ concept of evil and how it can endanger their society. The Dane concept of evil is exactly connected to their societal values and whether or not people abide by them. While the text is designed to portray Beowulf as a hero, there are always some who claim that good and evil are a matter of perception. In other words, Beowulf is only considered a hero since he follows the rules, while figures like Grendel or his mother are doomed to be seen as evil from the start. These people would also wonder whether Beowulf should actually be considered a hero for murdering an outcast and his mother. While it is important to use texts as a way to understand a culture’s idea of evil, it is also important to ask why they consider certain acts to be good and others to be evil.

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