The Poem "Beowulf": Literary Analysis

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Words: 1514 |

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8 min read

Published: Jan 21, 2020

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Words: 1514|Pages: 3|8 min read

Published: Jan 21, 2020

Essay grade:
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The power of the main character, Beowulf, is constantly emphasized in the text. The passage I have selected depicts a scene in which he is praised like a demigod and shows his ability to triumph in adverse circumstances while a suspenseful build up intentionally leaves information and plot points to the reader’s imagination.

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The science-fiction component of the text surfaces when “water-monsters” appear in a lake. Beowulf and men from Geat and Heorot armies arrive at Grendel’s mere. All of the warriors are in attendance following Grendel’s mother killing Hrothgar’s right hand man in retaliation after Beowulf killed Grendel. With the death of Aeschere in Heorot in the back of the minds of all the men, they find literally the back of Aeschere’s mind — his head at the foot of the cliff. The hot gore from Aeschere sets the scene the men are walking into, so hot it’s boiling from under the surface of the mere. These creatures are considered the worst of the worst, having claimed dozens of victims in a cycle of blood feuds. Beowulf is surveying the lake filled with demons presumed to be Grendel’s mother or other creatures similar to her. This scene is noteworthy as it draws a crowd, because the almighty and beloved Beowulf was about to prove his worth once again. The suspense felt by everyone gazing at the scene captures the significance of the next sequence of events in the text. The creatures are later more specifically described as “writhing sea-dragons and monsters” by the narrator, further emphasizing the challenging and daunting task Beowulf faces. With so many watching the conflict about to take place, the sheer number of onlookers is a compliment to Beowulf. He has the respect of these strangers and is known as not merely a man, but a nearly divine fighter who always makes good on his promises, particularly in battle.

The trend of complimenting how magnificent Beowulf actually is continues in the selected passage. “The seasoned shaft went in deep” flirts with alliteration while portraying how accurate Beowulf is with an arrow. Where the shaft penetrates is not explicitly said, a void left to be filled by the reader’s imagination, maybe more appropriately, common sense. My interpretation was the shaft landed in the creature, initiating the start of the fight with an audience. By noting the shaft went in deep, rather than simply saying the shaft went in, the reader comprehends there is intentional emphasis on Beowulf’s strength: he was able to drive his shaft deep inside the desired target. Perhaps a hint of sexual prowess is also intended.

It’s long been firmly established how remarkable Beowulf is, yet later in the passage, a contrast becomes prevalent between the protagonist and the creature in the lake water. The amphibious enemy is depicted as weak, foreshadowing the outcome between the two for the eventual conflict. The damage done by Beowulf’s accurate shaft receives details when the creature begins to suffer damage. “His freedom in the water” is reduced, signaling Beowulf’s blow may lead to a victory, at the very least an advantage for the rest of the fight. Additional suspense is now at the forefront; the reader might assume the creature may retreat within the waters of the lake, rather than lose the fight to its death. This freedom within the lake could be interpreted as the creature running out of time, potentially dying from the inability to move away from Beowulf after receiving the wound from his shaft.

The reader’s assumptions are correct; the creature is now on total defense. However, the creature is not dead. The crowd watching at this point is not yet satisfied, but is impressed by the events they have witnessed. A few lines beyond the selected passage, “men gazed in awe” as the creature comes up to the surface, now “cornered, beaten” “it was his last swim”.

A successful first sequence for Beowulf, but now the hero must fight the mother — underwater. Without addressing the fact this first battle was unexpected, or that there were more creatures aside from Grendel and his mother, the text continues as if this initial obstacle was to be expected prior to Beowulf facing the mother. This small fight is not clearly stated to be what Beowulf had to go through before the mother, it certainly could have been the case the protagonist could have gone straight to fighting Grendel’s mother, who initiated the fight. This is yet another void left up to the imagination. The lake is described as being filled with more hostile creatures, foreshadowing the actual fight between Beowulf and Grendel’s mother. The hero is still optimistic he will find and kill the targeted creature, though she has yet to reveal herself and it is not even clear that she is in the mere up until this point. Beowulf gives a speech before diving into the lake reminding the men of the promise he made to Hrothgar back in Heorot. Perhaps this is what makes Beowulf a true hero to the narrator and the characters described. His words and beliefs come together to make a perfect warrior that his fellow men and onlookers believe can conquer a superhuman creature — more importantly, the cause of the blood feud. The scene foreshadows exactly how Beowulf will kill Grendel’s mother, an example of boasting common throughout the text. This time the boasting plays the role of building up suspense. Rather than stating, “I’m going into the water now,” Beowulf announces that his promise has not yet been fulfilled. Holding off from diving into the lake even more, his speech details what should happen should he not defeat Grendel’s mother. If Beowulf is to die in battle, he simply won’t care. His concerns lie with the men who traveled with him, their loyalty rewarded should the fight conclude in a worst-case scenario.

Beowulf again shows he has little to no concern for himself going into the fight when he requests his sword — named Hrunting — be returned to another character named Unferth. This request gives the impression to the reader that Beowulf will not win the fight, leading to a plethora of questions and confusion in attempts to find out how the story of Beowulf could move forward with an abrupt and tragic end. Beowulf’s speech concludes after he reveals his desire for all his rewards and findings from battle and travels be returned home to Hrothgar. The purpose of the king receiving treasure from Beowulf may be to further a positive impression and depiction of himself toward the king, perhaps boasting even in death. Reading the lengthy speech before the conflict is complete, the reader no longer can tell if Beowulf will become victorious. Now it appears Beowulf may be so confident in his abilities, he may care more about his legacy and could be using the latest task to milk how incredible the obstacles he faces are.

The suspense declines for a moment when Beowulf at last takes a dive into the lake to fight Grendel’s mother. Preceding the battle, Beowulf submerges for longer than humanly possible, for the “best part of the day” until he could see the bottom of the lake. The incredible feat of taking nearly a day to reach the bottom of a lake — while remaining alive — feeds the character description that Beowulf is as close to being superhuman, a demigod perhaps, then ever before in the text. The suspense reaches its peak when Grendel’s mother realizes Beowulf is in her territory. She finally attacks, but the creature cannot tear through Beowulf’s armor. During the skirmish, she somehow pulls Beowulf further into the mere, subjecting him to an attack by additional creatures in the process.

The imagination runs wild when the foes strangely land in a hall, dry and removed from the mere with no explanation for the reader. The most logical thought at this point is to assume this is what the creature’s lair entails. The conflict does not end on the landing, Grendel’s mother goes to bite Beowulf, only to be countered by Hrunting, something more beloved by Beowulf then his own life. To the reader and Beowulf’s surprise, the sword fails for the first time, even after securing countless victories for the hero in the past. With no regard for his own life, Beowulf begins to fight with just his fists, until he finds another sword. The “work of giants” ends Grendel’s mother, and another win goes to Beowulf, continuing the seemingly endless streak of overcoming obstacles beyond the imagination.

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Beowulf being the typical heroic protagonist is captured perfectly from the context of the selected passage. His knack for doing what normal, human men cannot, such as breathing underwater or holding his breath for hours on end with heavy, medieval armor leads to a conclusion that can only be reached in stories of fiction: Beowulf is a demigod. The instinctive bravery and confidence to try and kill demons without weapons is one thing, but the perception of his character by the reader as something greater is another.

Works Cited

  1. Alexander, M. J. (1987). Beowulf and the Grendel-kin: Politics and poetry in eleventh-century England. Speculum, 62(4), 771-782.
  2. Baker, P. (1998). Beowulf: basic readings. Routledge.
  3. Chickering, H. (2002). Beowulf: A dual-language edition. Anchor Books.
  4. Donoghue, D. (2006). Beowulf. Norton.
  5. Heaney, S. (2000). Beowulf: A new verse translation. W. W. Norton & Company.
  6. Hill, T. D. (1996). The textual history of Beowulf. Cambridge University Press.
  7. Kiernan, K. S. (2003). Beowulf and the Beowulf manuscript. University of Michigan Press.
  8. Mitchell, B. (1998). Beowulf: An edition with relevant shorter texts. Blackwell Publishers.
  9. North, R. (1996). Heathen gods in Old English Literature. Cambridge University Press.
  10. Orchard, A. (1995). Pride and prodigies: studies in the monsters of the Beowulf-manuscript. University of Toronto Press.
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Overall, the essay is informative and flows well, but we need to work on improving its organization, evidence citation, and mechanics. The paper would also benefit from section headings and a clear conclusion.

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The Poem “Beowulf”: Literary Analysis. (2020, January 15). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 28, 2024, from
“The Poem “Beowulf”: Literary Analysis.” GradesFixer, 15 Jan. 2020,
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