Major Themes in Beowulf
From the beginning of Beowulf we are able to understand and see the central themes and points that are being focused on. From the assigned readings of Beowulf and after finishing the entire piece I found it stuck with its major theme in which we are given from the prologue of the story. From the start of the story we are able to identify with Scyld Scefing and his role as king and leader. Power plays a major role and theme throughout the entire story which allows the story to flow well and keep the theme strong and intriguing to the readers.
I found that the major themes within this whole story revolve around the idea of power, legacy , and heroism. These three themes are what the story of Beowulf is about and the author portrays these themes by expressing them through each character and what and how they are represented within the text. I found that it would be difficult to describe the theme of this story only within one passage because the theme does not change but takes small shifts in the idea of power which is how we get the theme of legacy and heroism out of it.
What are themes explored in Beowulf
All three of these themes and ideas all contribute to what I believe to be the main point that the author is trying to get across and theme which is identity. At the beginning of the story the author introduces the character Scyld Scefing, The legendary Danish king from whom Hrothgar is descended, Scyld Scefing is the mythical founder who inaugurates a long line of Danish rulers and embodies the Danish tribe’s highest values of heroism and leadership.
The poem opens with a brief account of his rise from orphan to warrior-king, concluding,
“That was one good king”
Beowulf Themes, Line 11
Within this first scene we are also introduced to Scyld’s son Beowulf, who is also represented by the author as some form of leadership and honor,
“Thus should a young man bring about good with pious gifts from his father’s possessions, so that later in life loyal comrades will stand beside him when war comes, the people will support him- with praiseworthy deeds a man will prosper among any people
Beowulf Themes, Lines 20-25
here we are able to see that the author is making a point by using first off this type of dialogue expressing the importants of the king and who his followers are and how they respect him and second this shows the importants of this theme of power and control that is being played out within this scene. There are other characters within the story that help show and increase the theme of leadership and honor such as, King Hrothgar who is the king of the Danes.
Hrothgar enjoys military success and prosperity until Grendel terrorizes his realm. A wise and aged ruler, Hrothgar represents a different kind of leadership from the youthful warrior Beowulf. He is a model for the kind of king that Beowulf becomes. He also has a scene within the first part of the story which represents the honor and power that these characters represented,
“Then success in war was given to Hrothgar, honor in battle, so that his beloved kinsmen eagerly served him, until the young soldiers grew into a mighty troop of men.
It came to his mind that he should order a hall-building, have men make a great mead house which the sons of men should remember forever and there inside he would share everything with young and old that God had given him, except for the common land and the lives of men. ”
Beowulf Themes, Lines 64-73
This is a great example of how the author is trying to express the idea of always being remembered and carrying on their legacies.
Also the importance of success in war is what truly brought Hrothgar to power and the respect of his followers. We see the theme of heroism throughout the entire piece but more specifically around line 433
“ I have also heard that this evil beast in his wildness does not care for weapons so I too will scorn- so that Hygelac, my liege-lord, may be glad of me- to bear a sword or a broad shielf, a yellow battle board, but with my grip I shall grapple with the fiend and fight for life, foe against foe. ”
Beowulf Themes, Line 433-440
Quotes About Themes In Beowulf
This scene shows not only the act and dialogue of what every hero sounds like, but we are given such a dramatic and strong tone within just a few lines that express the passion of this heroic moment. Another scene where we see heroic emotions from Beowulf are on lines 505-512, Beowulf’s boasting is what adds to heroism, in this scene Beowulf is being recognized for putting his life at risk against the waves. Simple but dramatic scene that the author placed in the piece to show how Beowulf is represented and looked at within the text and how the readers should see him too.
The entire part 7 of the story is a tribute and a direct explanation of the idea of a hero within the text spoken by the characters within their dialogue which allows us as the readers to see that the author truly wants us to believe and see the characters as these heroic figures. There are many many examples of the ways that we are able to see how the author wanted and portrayed the ideas and themes of power, herorism, and legacy but the two that I believe are worth exploring are all of section 8 especially line 530-550 and also towards the end of the story we again are shown loyalty and honor of community on lines 2645-2650.
These two scenes show that to have honor, power, and become any sort of hero, you must be able to gain the respect and loyalty of your community. Meaning that to be any of those things you must have courage and within the lines of 530-550 we are able to see that the courageous thing to do is to aid your community and work together. And towards the end when we get the lines
“Now the day has come that our noble lord has need of the support of good warriors; let us go to it, help our warlord, despite the heat, grim fire terror.
God knows for my part that I would much prefer that the flames should enfold my body alongside my gold-giving lord. ”
Beowulf Themes, Lines 2646-2652
These lines here go into a more depth idea of courage and basically giving your own life for the life of your “God” or the people who help you and in this case the community. All of these scenes that I have focused on are ways that we are able to see the themes of heroism, power, and legacy which if looked at all together as a reader I am able to see that all of these topics are different forms of a person’s identity.
Each character within this story is trying to find themselves, figure out who they are, and by doing so they believe that becoming a hero, having power, and never allowing your legacy to die is what your identity is, it is who you are and who you become. Each character within this story has no true identity only because everything they have done and will do has been brought to them by their family before them. The characters are unable to create their own identity outside of what their families have already created for them.
As for Beowulf the concept of identity of which the two components seem to be their family heritage and individual reputation is clearly important to the themes of this poem. The opening passages introduce the reader to a world in which every male figure is known as his father’s son. Characters in the poem are unable to talk about their identity or even introduce themselves without referring to who their family is.
Throughout the entire story we are able to see how each character believes they have their own identity going for themselves but yet each character is always trying to live up to the same standards as their ancestors once did. It is a competition of keeping the power and honor and heroism within each person’s family. Their family line is and represents who they are and who they will become, what they stand for is all based on what their family has left them to represent and stand for as their own identity.
While looking over this assignment and allowing myself to see the major themes within each part of the poem I found that power, heroism, and legacy all balance each other out by one major factor and that’s a person’s identity. To have an identity during this period or as the author is trying to explore and represent this idea of identity and how it is portrayed during a period where honor, power, heroism, and legacy all played an equally important role within each characters life and journey to the after-life.