Beowulf Themes

Beowulf Themes

Bravery and Cowardice
The Anglo-Saxons valued bravery; cowardice was shameful; Beowulf is brave in fighting monsters; Hrothgar, Unferth, and the Danes are cowardly;
Strength and Wisdom
Beowulf shows strength and wisdom throughout the poem. The Anglo-Saxons identified these traits as a mark of a strong leader; Hrothgar also shows his wisdom in his 84 line speech about being a good king.
God and Fate
Throughout the poem, Hrothgar relies on the Christian God to decide the fate of his people; Grendel is destined to go to hell from the very beginning since his ancestor is Cain.
Christianity and Paganism
Beowulf is a Christian poem; Hrothgar and the Danes are Christian. Beowulf is a pagan warrior. The audience of the poem would be made up of Christians who still held on to their pagan roots, and other who maintained pagan beliefs; by incorporating both beliefs, the poem speaks to all members of its audiece
Germanic Warrior Mindset
A good Germanic warrior, boasts about his deeds, and then backs up his words with victories. According to Pagan belief, there is no afterlife. The only way for a Germanic warrior to achieve immortality is by accomplishing great deeds. Being dishonored was worse than death. Reputation is everything. Beowulf died fighting so that his reputation would be preserved in poetry/songs. This was the only way to live on.
Family Feuds
Feuds, especially those among family members, drive the plot of this poem. Grendel is a product of Cain, who murdered his brother Abel. This first family feud caused a line of monsters. Unferth is guilty of the same crime. Eventually, Herot will burn because of a family feud.
“Good King”
A good king conquers land and divides his wealth. Shield, Hrothgar, and Beowulf are all called good kings. Hrothgar does not protect his people so the poem states: “But, that was a good king.”