The Battles of Good and Evil in Beowulf


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The hero Beowulf represents nobility in every fight that he takes on. Three major battles taking place – Grendel, Grendel’s mom, and the Dragon – bear many resemblances, but also differences. Each of them is a different measure of his strength, his changes in character, settings and his purpose for fighting. Beowulf’s first battle occurs when he accepts King Hrothgar’s aid to the Danes to save the kingdom from Grendel, but perhaps seeking for reputation. Grendel, a monster envied with Hrothgar’s people’s prosperity, terrorizing them for twelve years, but none can stop him. Before the encounter, the story has centralized in Beowulf’s verbal challenges to introduce his heroic lineage from his father’s accomplishments.

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Notably, his response to Unferth depicts “the warrior’s steadfastness” (610) and talent for diplomacy. For preparation, he decides to use his bare hands rather than weapons, and with confidence to defeat Grendel easily. For the first time, the monster’s bones are “quailed and recoiled” (753), “a tremendous wound appeared on his shoulder” (815), but he could not escape; with “one bloody clash” (822) of Beowulf, Grendel is ripped apart at the arm. The rhetorical devices of the passage are imagery, detailed in Grendel’s pain, and resolute in Beowulf’s victory. This is when he reveals his superhuman strength and fulfils his purpose of traveling. He is also rewarded with higher status in their society’s class and praised by people.

Regarding Grendel’s mother, she is motivated for avenge of her son’s defeat. Even though this battle is unexpected, Beowulf still approaches the fight with victory in his hand. However, he makes no speech about his strength or talent this time since he has slain Grendel for the name. Instead, he returns to The Shieldings, accepts the challenge because of his loyalty to Hrothgar. The descriptions of Grendel’s mom’s home: “a maze of tree-roots mirrored in its surface”, “the water burns”, and “the mere bottom has never been sounded by sons of men” (1365-1367), convey a strange eerie tone constructing an upcoming battle theme. Beowulf’s preparation, by comparison to the previous battle, is more sophisticated and contributive to the background,

Beowulf got ready, donned his war-gear, indifferent to death;

his mighty, hand-forged, fine-webbed mail would soon meet with the menace underwater.

It would keep the bone-cage of his body safe…

[His helmet] was of beaten gold,

princely headgear hooped and hasped

by a weapon-smith who had worked wonders…. (1441-1452).

He leaves for Grendel’s mother, not waiting for her coming to his place. When the battle starts, Grendel’s mom manages to capture the son of Ecgtheow but is unable to get past his armor. Beowulf’s sword is hurtless to her, so he fights back with bare hands; however, he then discovers an ancient, massive, mighty sword to finish her off. Comparing to Grendel’s fight, this seems to last longer with a more dramatic scene and luck, although less descriptive in the way Beowulf behead the mother.

However, the battle against the dragon is far different from the other two. Regarding Beowulf, he is fifty years older and is not as strong as he used to be. He knows the odds of losing the fight – a remarkable contradiction from the confidence he holds in every fight decades ago, “… He was sad at heart, // unsettled yet ready, sensing his death. / His fate hovered near, unknowable but certain” (2419-2421). The foreboding tone begins, demonstrating his no longer desire to be famous, but glorious acceptance to fight the dragon for the people as a powerful king. But the last battle is an exception to all, he accepts help in. When Beowulf is poisoned and almost defeated by the dragon, Wiglaf bolsters him and assails the dragon. The most distinctive detail is the death of Beowulf. His final action of giving “the color of gold from his neck”, “the warshirt” and “the gilded helmet” is a significant act: Wiglaf becomes the new king. Although the power transition is not a formal appointment, the context conveys Beowulf’s emotional grief and trust to Wiglaf rather than pride of winning.

For every battle, no matter the challenges, he takes them without fear and never gives up even when he knows his death will come, but does not ask for help despite old in age. However, he always starts a formal boast before the battle. Much as the changes in his motivations, the shared vision is to protect the people, bring peace and prosperity for the common good against the evil. The major fights have revealed the uniqueness of Beowulf in personal traits, motivations delivered his common goal. Thanks to Seamus Heaney, readers can observe the moral and honorable values of the hero throughout every rhetoric and imagery line.

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