Beowulf “Once upon a time…” that is how many childhood stories begin. However, Beowulf is a different type of story. It does not tell of pretty princesses or fairy godmothers, but instead of a hero and a terrible beast.
These stories that are told to our children are ones that have been around for a long time, Beowulf is no different. Nevertheless, some skeptics wonder if Beowulf is worthy of acclaim it receives. Does it deserve to be classified as a truly important piece of British literature?The answer is yes. Beowulf contains important themes that still apply in today’s society, has significant historical information, and portrays characteristics of heroes that remind us that even the best heroes are still mortal. One overlaying theme in Beowulf is that idea of loyalty. Beowulf displays this trait by honoring his loyalty to his people. He must go to the Danes and repay his father’s debt. Another aspect of Beowulf that shows loyalty is that Beowulf’s followers are willing to follow him anywhere.
The follower …must always stand ready to fight – and if necessary give up his life – on behalf of the chief” (Streissguth 76-77). In the story Wiglaf stays to fight at Beowulf’s side as he is dying, trying to slay the dragon. In return for his loyalty, Beowulf rewards Wiglaf with gold and rule of the kingdom.
Loyalty is a characteristic that can often be overlooked in our modern society. Nevertheless, Beowulf describes true loyalty that reminds us that loyalty is a necessary element in our society.While Beowulf is a fictional story, there are some real aspects to it that are of important historical value. The Beowulf poets “reconstruction of a northern heroic age is chronologically sophisticated, rich in local color and fitting speeches” says Roberta Frank an English professor from Yale University. (Frank 51). Specific locations in parts of the poem have been connected to real locations.
Also, “the poet emphasizes cultural differences not only between present and past, but also between coeval peoples” (Frank 52).This emphasis on coexisting can also be applied in today’s society. Due to the age and historical accuracy of Beowulf, its historical value cannot be denied and deserves to be recognized. One of the most important parts of the Beowulf poem is the portrayal of Beowulf, the epic hero. Beowulf is seen as hero in the story based on others perceptions of him. Not only is he extremely strong, but he “is seen from the beginning as an essentially active agent, clothed in fine, bright armour of his business” (Swanton 78).Based on his appearance, other characters in Beowulf treat him differently.
Even though Beowulf has the characteristics of an epic hero, he is still mortal. When attempting to slay the dragon, Beowulf is finally met with a match he cannot take by himself. With the help of one of his loyal followers they are able to defeat the dragon, but the cost is great. Due to an injury received in the fight, Beowulf slowly dies. Beowulf is portrayed as a super human character in the story, but during his downfall we are reminded that even hero’s are mortal.
The value of Beowulf cannot be denied and is worthy of all the acclaim it receives. Valuable themes that are still useful in today’s society are present in Beowulf. The epic poem also contains significant historical information. Beowulf, is portrayed throughout the story as an important character, but during his demise reminds us that even hero’s are not invincible. The epic story of Beowulf is an important piece of British literature that deserves to be labeled as a “must-read” and should be encouraged to be read.Works Cited Beowulf. Trans.
Burton Raffel. _The Language Of Literature_. Ed. Arthur N. Applebee, et al. Evanston: McDougal Littell, 2000. Frank, Roberta, Beowulf.
The Beowulf Poet’s Sense Of history. Chelsea House Publishers, 1987. Streissguth, Tom, Understanding Beowulf. _Themes In Beowulf_.
Thomson & Gale, 2004. Print. Swanton, Michael, Readings_ on Beowulf.
The Heroic Standards Of Beowulf’s World_. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, Inc. , Print.