Interpretations of Beowulf’s theme vary much more than commentary on the poet’s style. In this essay I hope to state clearly some of the popularly mentioned themes running through the poem, and to carefully delineate many aspects of the author’s style.
“Many critics feel that the speech of Hrothgar between lines 1700 and 1784 encapsulates the moral of the poem….’He does not know the worse – till inside him great arrogance grows and spreads’” (Shippey 38). Is the theme of the poem that pride kills? Hrothgar’s ominous words do come back to haunt the hero more than once. Beowulf is a braggart; he is proud, and nothing seems able to change his basic proud outlook derived from his all-powerful physical strength. Even shortly before his own defeat against the fire-dragon, our hero is recalling his killing of the great hero of the Hugas with his bare hands:
ever since the time, in front of the hosts,
I slew Daeghrefn, the champion of the Hugas,
with my bare hands. He never brought back
his breast-ornament to the Frisian king:
the standard-bearer fell in combat
a prince, in valor; no edge killed him
my hand-grip crushed his beating heart,
his life’s bone-house (2501-09).
Yes, Beowulf was full of pride and self-confidence; this made him impetuous in his actions. Regarding the dragon, “its strength and fire seemed nothing at all to the strong old king”(2348-49); before facing the dragon, he was reminiscing about his valour ...
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... John. “The Conflicting Demands of Heroic Strength and Kingly Wisdom.” In Readings on Beowulf, edited by Stephen P. Thompson. San Diego: Greenhaven Press,1998.
Magoun, Frances P. “Oral-Formulaic Character of Anglo-Saxon Narrative Poetry.” In TheBeowulf Poet, edited by Donald K. Fry. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968.
Shippey, T.A.. “The World of the Poem.” In Beowulf – Modern Critical Interpretations, edited by Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.
Tharaud, Barry. “Anglo-Saxon Language and Traditions in Beowulf.” In Readings on Beowulf, edited by Stephen P. Thompson. San Diego: Greenhaven Press,1998.
Tolkien, J.R.R.. “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics.” In Beowulf – Modern Critical Interpretations, edited by Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.
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