Beowulf: Keenest or Deserving of Praise
Questioned Motivations The epic poem Beowulf translated by E. Talbot Donaldson has a great sense of heroism and bravery throughout. Though the main character Beowulf is a noble warrior, his motives are questioned as to whether he is “keenest for praise” or “deserving of praise”. Beowulf is idolized in the poem which speaks of his great courage. However, are his acts of valor for his own glory and well-being, or for the safety of others? As the audience reads Beowulf, the more indecisive we become on whether the Geat hero is acting out of want of fame or desire to do genuine good.
The first demonstration of time where Beowulf shows he is in eager want of praise is when he says, “’I thought quickly to bind him on his deathbed with my hard grasp, so that because of my hand-grip he should lie struggling for life-,’”(Donaldson 954-955). As the reader understands Beowulf’s words it is seen that he may not be as humble as one had thought. His exaggeration of the event shows that he talks himself up in order to be seen as even more courageous then he already is. His quickness to describe his strength in battle comes off as self-absorbed.
A second demonstration of Beowulf’s glorification of events and how he is “most eager for fame” is when the poet writes, “’I shall get glory, or death will take me,’” (1497). Beowulf seems as if he is saying without gaining glory then he would want death to take him as if he is so humiliated he could not live. Beowulf comes off as arrogant and that if he does not get what he wants and what he feels he deserves then he could not bear to live without it. Beowulf knows that all already recognize him as a courageous warrior but in his eyes that just isn’t enough without having all the glory he would like.
Though many examples can be used to defend the statement that Beowulf is acting for the sake of his own glory and praise, I believe that Beowulf is truly acting out of concern for the safety of the citizens of Herot and other lands. This is shown when Beowulf is speaking of glory and when one truly deserves it. The poet writes Beowulf’s words, “’Let him who may get glory before death: that is best for the warrior after he has gone from life,” (1382-1383). Beowulf reveals that his opinion on glory is that one shall not receive proper glory until that one is “gone from life”.
The audience may translate this as the poet’s evidence of how Beowulf does not live for glory because he believes it can only truly obtained after death. Beowulf lives for the protection of others and his words show that the only motivation he has is to be a great warrior and savior. Another quote that proves his acts are for the well-being of others is when Beowulf is speaking to his warriors right before he goes to fight the dragon and declares, “’This is not your venture, nor is it right for any man except me alone that he should spend all his strength against the monster, do this man’s deed,’”(2525-2527).
Beowulf would rather go alone and fight the dragon than have his retainers go and have many lose their lives. Beowulf is speaking with people other than himself in mind; he is more concerned with their lives than defeating the dragon. Here he shows that glory isn’t his main priority, he would rather die in the process of doing something courageous and for others than gain glory by defeating the dragon and having many men lost their lives. In conclusion, a lot of readers would say that the main character Beowulf is “keenest for praise” and just looking for ways to because famous with all his courageous deeds of fighting monsters.
However, I believe that Beowulf has all the right motives, and that he truly just wants to help with the problems in Herot and his own land though at times he may seem arrogant. Beowulf continually shows that he is a courageous warrior and his words that describe how he is concerned for other’s lives rather than beating a monster shows quite a lot. In all, Beowulf has gotten what he thinks is best for a warrior after they have died; glory.