Burial and Grendel Beowulf
Story The main protagonist, Beowulf, a hero of the Geats, comes to the aid of Hrothgar, the king of the Danes, whose great hall, Heorot, is plagued by the monster Grendel. Beowulf kills Grendel with his bare hands and Grendel’s mother with a sword, which giants once used, that Beowulf found in Grendel’s mother’s lair. Later in his life, Beowulf is himself king of the Geats, and finds his realm terrorised by a dragon whose treasure had been stolen from his hoard in a burial mound. He attacks the dragon with the help of his thegns or servants, but they do not succeed.
Beowulf decides to follow the dragon into its lair, at Earnan? s, but only his young Swedish relative Wiglaf dares join him. Beowulf finally slays the dragon, but is mortally wounded. He is buried in a tumulus or burial mound, by the sea. Beowulf is considered an epic poem in that the main character is a hero who travels great distances to prove his strength at impossible odds against supernatural demons and beasts. The poem also begins in medias res (“into the middle of affairs”) or simply, “in the middle”, which is a characteristic of the epics of antiquity.
Although the poem begins with Beowulf’s arrival, Grendel’s attacks have been an ongoing event. An elaborate history of characters and their lineages are spoken of, as well as their interactions with each other, debts owed and repaid, and deeds of valour. Jane Chance (Professor of English, Rice University) in her 1980 article “The Structural Unity of Beowulf: The Problem of Grendel’s Mother” argued that there are two standard interpretations of the poem: one view which suggests a two-part structure (i. e. the poem is divided between Beowulf’s battles with Grendel and with the dragon) and the other, a three-part structure (this interpretation argues that Beowulf’s battle with Grendel’s mother is structurally separate from his battle with Grendel).  Chance stated that, “this view of the structure as two-part has generally prevailed since its inception in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics in Proceedings of the British Academy 22 (1936). “ In contrast, she argued that the three-part structure has become “increasingly popular. “ First battle: Grendel Beowulf begins with the story of King Hro? ar, who constructed the great hall Heorot for his people. In it he, his wife Wealh? eow, and his warriors spend their time singing and celebrating, until Grendel, a troll-like monster who is pained by the noise, attacks the hall and kills and devours many of Hro? gar’s warriors while they sleep. But Grendel does not touch the throne of Hro? gar, for it is described as protected by a powerful god. Hro? gar and his people, helpless against Grendel’s attacks, abandon Heorot. Beowulf, a young warrior from Geatland, hears of Hro? gar’s troubles and with his king’s permission leaves his homeland to help Hro? ar. Beowulf and his men spend the night in Heorot. Beowulf bears no weapon because this would be an “unfair advantage” over the unarmed beast. After they fall asleep, Grendel enters the hall and attacks, devouring one of Beowulf’s men. Beowulf has been feigning sleep and leaps up to clench Grendel’s hand. The two battle until it seems as though the hall might collapse. Beowulf’s retainers draw their swords and rush to his aid, but their blades can not pierce. Grendel’s skin. Finally, Beowulf tears Grendel’s arm from his body at the shoulder and Grendel runs to his home in the marshes to die.
Second battle: Grendel’s mother The next night, after celebrating Grendel’s death, Hrothgar and his men sleep in Heorot. Grendel’s mother, angered by the death of her son, appears and attacks the hall. She kills Hro? gar’s most trusted warrior, ? schere, in revenge for Grendel’s death. Hro? gar, Beowulf and their men track Grendel’s mother to her lair under a lake. Beowulf prepares himself for battle; he is presented with a sword, Hrunting, by Unferth, a warrior who had doubted him and wishes to make amends. After stipulating a number of conditions to Hro? ar in case of his death (including the taking in of his kinsmen and the inheritance by Unferth of Beowulf’s estate), Beowulf dives into the lake. He is swiftly detected and attacked by Grendel’s mother. However, she is unable to harm Beowulf through his armour and drags him to the bottom of the lake. In a cavern containing Grendel’s body and the remains of men that the two have killed, Grendel’s mother and Beowulf engage in fierce combat. At first, Grendel’s mother appears to prevail. Beowulf, finding that Hrunting cannot harm his foe, discards it in fury. Beowulf is again saved from his opponent’s attack by his armour.
Then Beowulf finds a golden sword on a cabinet. With this, he beheads her. He later finds this sword is a very special sword. Once Beowulf returns to the surface the blade melts like ice and only the hilt is left. Beowulf then presents the hilt of the blade to Hro? gar. ) Travelling further into the lair, Beowulf discovers Grendel’s corpse and severs its head. Beowulf then returns to the surface and to his men at the “ninth hour” (l. 1600, “non”, about 3pm).  He returns to Heorot, where Hro? gar gives Beowulf many gifts, including the sword N? gling, his family’s heirloom.
Third battle: The dragon Beowulf returns home and eventually becomes king of his own people. One day, fifty years after Beowulf’s battle with Grendel’s mother, a slave steals a golden cup from the lair of an unnamed dragon at Earnaness. When the dragon sees that the cup has been stolen, it leaves its cave in a rage, burning everything in sight. Beowulf and his warriors come to fight the dragon, but Beowulf tells his men that he will fight the dragon alone and that they should wait on the barrow. Beowulf descends to do battle with the dragon but finds himself outmatched.
His men, upon seeing this display and fearing for their lives, creep back into the woods. One of his men, however, Wiglaf, who finds great distress in seeing Beowulf’s plight, comes to Beowulf’s aid. The two slay the dragon, but Beowulf is mortally wounded. Beowulf is buried in Geatland on a cliff overlooking the sea, where sailors are able to see his tumulus. The dragon’s treasure is buried with him, in accordance with Beowulf’s wishes, rather than distributed to his people, and there is a curse associated with the hoard to ensure that Beowulf’s wish is kept. It is widely accepted that there are three funerals in Beowulf.
The funerals are also paired with the three battles described above.  The three funerals share similarities regarding the offerings for the dead and the change in theme through the description of each funeral. Gale Owen-Crocker (Professor of Anglo-Saxon, University of Manchester) in The Four Funerals in Beowulf (2000) argues that a passage in the poem, commonly known as “The Lay of the Last Survivor” (lines 2247–66), is an additional funeral.  The funerals are themselves involved in the ritual of hoarding: the deposition of sacrificial objects with both religious and socio-economic functions. 9] First Funeral: Scyld Scefing (lines 1–52) The first funeral in the poem is of Scyld Scefing (translated in some versions as “Shield Shiefson”) the king of the Danes.  The first section of the poem, (the first fitt), helps the poet illustrate the settings of the poem by introducing Hrothgar’s lineage. The funeral leads to the introduction of the hero, Beowulf and his confrontation with the first monster, Grendel. This passage begins by describing Scyld’s glory as a “scourge of many tribes, a wrecker of mead-benches.  Scyld’s glory and importance is shown by the prestigious death he obtains through his service as the king of the Danes.  His importance is proven once more by the grand funeral given to him by his people: his funeral at sea with many weapons and treasures shows he was a great soldier and an even greater leader to his people.  The poet introduces the concepts of a heroic society through Scyld. The possessions buried with the king are elaborately described to emphasise the importance of such items.  The importance of these earthly possessions are then used to establish this dead king’s greatness in respect to the treasure. 8] Scyld’s funeral helps the poet to elaborate on the glory of battle in a heroic society and how earthly possessions help define a person‘s importance. This funeral also helps the poet to develop the plot to lead into the confrontation between the protagonist, Beowulf, and the main antagonist, Grendel. Second Funeral: Hildeburg’s kin (lines 1107–24) The second funeral in the poem is that of Hildeburg’s kin and is the second fitt of this poem.  The funeral is sung about in Heorot as part of a lay during the feasting to mark Beowulf’s victory over Grendel.
The death of Hildeburg’s brother Hn? f, son(s) and, later, her husband Finn the Frisian king are sung about as the result of fighting in Frisia between the visiting Danish chieftain Hn? f and his retainers (including one Hengest) and Finn’s followers. The funeral mirrors the use of funeral offerings for the dead with extravagant possessions in Scyld’s funeral.  Hildeburg’s relatives are buried with their armour and gold to signify their importance.  However, the relatives’ funeral differs from the first as it was a cremation ceremony.
Furthermore, the poet focuses on the strong emotions of those who died while in battle.  The gory details of “heads melt[ing], gashes [springing] open… and the blood [springing] out from the body’s wounds” describes war as a horrifying event instead of one of glory.  Although the poet maintains the theme of possessions as important even in death, the glory of battle is challenged by the vicious nature of war. The second funeral displays different concepts from the first and a change of direction in the plot that leads to Beowulf’s fight against Grendel’s Mother.
Controversial Funeral: Lay of the Last Survivor (lines 2247–66) “The Lay of the Last Survivor” is arguably an addition to the other three funerals in Beowulf because of the striking similarities that define the importance of the other burials.  The parallels that identify this passage with the other three funerals are the similar burial customs, changes in setting and plot, and changes of theme. The lament appears to be a funeral because of the Last Survivor’s description of burial offerings that are also found in the funerals of Scyld Scefing, Hildeburg’s kin, and Beowulf. 8] The Last Survivor describes the many treasures left for the dead such as the weapons, armour and golden cups that have strong parallels to Scyld’s “well furbished ship… ,bladed weapons and coats of mail,” Hildeburg’s Kin’s “blood-plastered coats of mail [and] boar-shaped helmets” and Beowulf’s treasure from the dragon.  An additional argument towards viewing this passage as a funeral lies in the statement, “tumbling hawk [and] swift horse” mentioned in the poem. This is an animal offering which was a burial custom during the era in which the poem takes place. 8] Moreover this passage, like the other funerals, signifies changes in setting and plot.  One can also argue that it is the 3rd part to the poem since it describes the settings during the time lapse for the final battle between Beowulf and the Dragon. The poet also describes death in battle as horrifying, a concept continued from the second part of the poem, through the Last Survivor’s eyes.  Third Funeral: Beowulf (lines 3137–82) The fourth and final funeral of the poem is Beowulf’s funeral. During the final battle against the dragon, Beowulf receives fatal wounds and dies.
The greatness of Beowulf’s life is demonstrated through this funeral, particularly through the many offerings of his people.  “Weohstan’s son (pause) commanded it be announced to many men (pause) that they should fetch from afar wood for the pyre. “ for their leader’s funeral. The dragon’s remains are thrown into the sea, a parallel to Scyld’s burial in his ship. Beowulf’s funeral is the fourth fitt of the poem and acts as an epilogue for the hero who is the “most gracious and fair-minded, kindest to his people and keenest to win fame. “ Historical background
Approximate central regions of tribes mentioned in Beowulf with the location of the Angles. See Scandza for details of Scandinavia’s political fragmentation in the 6th century. The events described in the poem take place in the late 5th century, after the Anglo-Saxons had begun migration and settlement in England, and before the beginning of the 7th century, a time when the Saxons were either newly arrived or in close contact with their fellow Germanic kinsmen in Scandinavia and Northern Germany. The poem could have been transmitted in England by people of Geatish origins. 12] It has been suggested that Beowulf was first composed in the 7th century at Rendlesham in East Anglia, as Sutton Hoo also shows close connections with Scandinavia, and also that the East Anglian royal dynasty, the Wuffings, were descendants of the Geatish Wulfings.  Others have associated this poem with the court of King Alfred, or with the court of King Canute.  The majority view appears to be that people such as King Hro? gar and the Scyldings in Beowulf are based on real people in 6th-century Scandinavia.