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Transcript of BEOWULF
Shield’s son, Beow had
a successful reign after
Shield's death and sea
burial. Beow ruled
long and well, "beloved by
his people" (54). Beow's son, Halfdane, sired four offspring, the most notable of whom is Hrothgar, king of the Shieldings as the story unfolds.
Hrothgar has been a great king and won many victories for his people. As a symbol of his success, he has built a great mead-hall, called Heorot, the finest of its kind.
An ogre named Grendel lives in the nearby moors and takes exception to his neighbors' excessive happiness. A descendant of Cain, he envies and resents mankind. One night he attacks without warning and slaughters 30 of Hrothgar's men. He returns the next night and soon drives the Shieldings from the great hall. His ruthless dominance lasts 12 years.
In the land of the Geats, southwestern Sweden, the most powerful of all living warriors — Beowulf — hears of Hrothgar's dilemma. A nephew and thane of King Hygelac, Beowulf carefully chooses 14 of the finest warriors in Geatland to sail to Denmark.
A retainer of Hrothgar, assigned to guarding the coast, spots Beowulf and his men when they land and leads the group to Heorot. Almost everyone is impressed with Beowulf's noble stature, enormous size, and obvious strength.
Hrothgar's herald, Wulfgar, strongly urges the king to meet with Beowulf and the Geats. Hrothgar
needs little convincing.
He once protected
Beowulf's now deceased
father, Ecgtheow, from
a blood feud and knew
Beowulf when he was a
boy. Hrothgar has already heard that Beowulf has the strength of 30 men in his hand-grip and welcomes the visitors.
Beowulf gives his credentials: He has destroyed a tribe of giants, defeated sea monsters in night fight, and returned from
battle covered with the blood of his enemies.
Beowulf states that he will fight Grendel
without armor or sword, hand to claw,
because the ogre does not use weapons. If
Beowulf is killed, he wants his war-shirt
(breast armor, mail) returned to King Hygelac.
Hrothgar offers a joyful feast in honor of
Beowulf's arrival. The good cheer is interrupted by Unferth, a top thane of Hrothgar, who insults Beowulf and questions his reputation. Beowulf proceeds to put him in his place.
As the good will of the gathering returns,
Queen Wealhtheow passes around more
mead. Courteous and stately, adorned with
gold and jewels, she makes an impressive
appearance. She greets Beowulf and thanks God for
his arrival. Beowulf pledges to defeat Grendel that night in
the mead-hall or die trying. Hrothgar retires early. The party breaks up, but Beowulf and the Geats remain to spend the night in Heorot.
Grendel comes up from the
marsh hoping to find a human to
devour. He is delighted when he
sees several Geats sleeping in the
hall. Beowulf lies awake,
watching, as Grendel kills and
eats one of the warriors. Then
he reaches for his second kill,
Beowulf. The Geat champion
grabs hold of Grendel's claw
with the strength of 30 men and
won't let go. Grendel cannot
escape, and a vicious match
ensues, ending when Beowulf
rips Grendel's arm from its shoulder socket. Mortally wounded, Grendel flees.
Beowulf hangs the giant's claw under the roof of the mead-hall (926–983).
Warriors and chieftains from considerable distances gather at Heorot the next morning to marvel at the trophy, Grendel's claw, and to celebrate Beowulf's victory. Hrothgar's scop entertains the men with traditional songs as well as an improvised account of Beowulf's victory. Included is the story of Sigemund, an ancient hero who is recalled in honor of Beowulf. In contrast, the scop also sings of Heremod, a bad ruler who brought sorrow and death to
his own people. Hrothgar gives a speech
from the porch at Heorot and thanks God
for Beowulf's triumph. Beowulf briefly
recounts the battle, and even Unferth is
impressed enough to keep silent. Work is
begun to refurbish Heorot. A great feast is
held in Beowulf's honor at which Beowulf and his men receive numerous gifts. – End Line 1062.
She ascends from her mere and raids the hall, retrieving Grendel's claw and murderously abducting Aschere, one of the thanes. Before dawn, Beowulf and his men report to Hrothgar. The Geat hero agrees to pursue Grendel's mother. Hrothgar promises more rewards and greater fame for Beowulf. Accompanied by warriors, Hrothgar leads Beowulf to the mere that harbors the vengeful mother. It is a dark and evil place. Huge serpents and water-beasts inhabit the lake. Beowulf dresses for battle and prepares to search the lake for the enemy. Unferth humbles himself by presenting Beowulf with his great sword, Hrunting. The Geat hero speaks what may be his final
On the night following Grendel's death, the warriors sleep easy in Heorot for the first time in years, confident that the terror of the ogre is behind them. They don't realize that Grendel has a living mother intent on revenge.
Beowulf dives into the mere wearing his mail-shirt and carrying Hrunting in its scabbard. Deep in the lake, the mother grasps him tightly with her claws so that he cannot draw his sword. The mail-shirt protects him even though various water-beasts thrust at him as the mother carries Beowulf to an underwater cave, which is dry and lighted by "glaring flames" (1517). Once there, Beowulf manages to mount an attack, but Hrunting is ineffective against the ogre's tough hide. Beowulf then tries to wrestle her, but he fails to gain the kind of death grip that defeated Grendel.
Although she is knocked down, the mother immediately counters Beowulf's attack. She pulls her knife, but it cannot pierce his mail-shirt. Again on his feet, Beowulf spots a huge sword made by giants. Although he can barely lift it, he manages a mighty blow that severs the mother's spine at the neck, killing her. A blessed light suddenly illuminates the cavern, revealing Grendel's corpse. Beowulf lops off the head to replace the trophy of the claw that the mother retrieved.
Amazingly, the giant sword melts except for the hilt, which Beowulf carries along with Grendel's head as he returns to the surface of the mere. Only his Geats await him. Thinking him dead, Hrothgar and the Danes have returned to Heorot.
Beowulf presents Grendel's head to Hrothgar and briefly recounts his battle with the mother. Assuring the king of Heorot's safety, he places the gold hilt of the giant sword in Hrothgar's hand. The king examines the hilt and then speaks to Beowulf, giving a sermon on the dangers of fame and success of life. Hrothgar notes that he himself had great fortune as a young man and ruled successfully for 50 years until Grendel brought him down. Now he thanks God for Beowulf's victory. The warriors feast and sleep safely. In the morning, Beowulf returns Hrunting to Unferth and receives numerous gifts before he and his men exchange farewells with the Danes and sail for home.
Beowulf and his men return to their ship and set sail for Geatland. The poet interrupts his report on Beowulf's return to discuss the Geats' Queen Hygd and the qualities of a virtuous queen as contrasted to a wicked ruler like Queen Modthrytho. After this interlude, the narrator returns to Beowulf's arrival at King Hygelac's splendid hall. Hygd passes among the thanes serving mead, reminiscent of Wealhtheow's admirable hospitality at Heorot. Hygelac asks about Beowulf's journey, and the young champion recounts his visit to the Scyldings, digressing to consider Hrothgar's attempt to make peace with the Heathobards.
Returning to his own story, Beowulf briefly reports on his victory over Grendel, the surprise attack by Grendel's mother, and his triumph at the cave beneath the mere. Beowulf presents various treasures to Hygelac and Hygd, most notably presenting the queen with the magnificent gold necklace that Wealhtheow gave him. Hygelac rewards Beowulf with a rare heirloom, a sword covered with gold. He also honors the young warrior with "lands, seven thousand hides, / a hall, and gift-throne" (2195–96). Beowulf is now a lord of the realm, but it is clear that he still owes his allegiance to Hygelac.
Years pass. Hygelac is killed in battle. His son, Heardred, inherits the throne, with Beowulf's support, but is also slain. Beowulf becomes king of the Geats and rules well for 50 years. To everyone's alarm, however, a terrifying dragon begins to stalk the countryside at night, destroying homes — including Beowulf's great hall — with his fiery breath. For 300 years, the dragon has peacefully guarded a treasure-trove, originally the riches of a now-defunct tribe but long hidden in a "high barrow-hall, / towering stone-mound" (2212–13). A lone Geat fugitive, apparently a servant or slave escaping a cruel master, has stolen a single flagon from the hoard, outraging the dragon and inciting him to vengeance.
When Beowulf hears of the dragon's night raids, the king initially wonders if he could have angered God in some way, bringing this trouble to his people. Before long, however, the aging warrior focuses on his responsibility as protector and prepares to face the monster in battle. Although he is now an old man, Beowulf believes that he can defeat the dragon by himself. He remembers victories against Grendel and Grendel's mother, as well as a heroic escape from Frisia after Hygelac was killed. Always conscious of weapons and tactics, Beowulf prepares by ordering a new shield, made of iron, since the dragon-fire would make short sparks of his usual linden-wood. Courageous and determined, if not quite the man he once was, the old warrior sets off.
With eleven of his most trusted retainers, men who have gladly accepted the gifts of a generous king, Beowulf sets out to find the dragon. Reluctantly guiding them is the fugitive who originally stole the cup from the treasure-trove. The dragon's barrow lies near the sea, between a cliff and the beach. Once there, Beowulf pauses to reflect on his life and he recalls his own glory days and the victories that he earned for his king and their people. Beowulf presents his last war speech to the select company. He will face the fire-dragon alone.
Discovering an entrance to the barrow under the stone cliff, Beowulf decides that he cannot enter due to flames already covering the passage. He calls out the dragon, and the two face off. Beowulf's new shield is less protection than he had hoped. His sword fails to penetrate the dragon's hide. Wounded and burned, the great old champion needs help. At this crucial time, all but one of his retainers abandon him, fleeing to safety in a nearby wood. Only young Wiglaf remains. Although this is his first battle, he cannot desert his king.
Wiglaf calls to the other ten retainers and reminds them of the promises that they made to Beowulf. In exchange for his protection and gifts, they all had vowed to fight for their king whenever he needed them. Even though Beowulf intended to deal with the dragon one-on-one, he now clearly needs help. The other thanes do not return.
Although he realizes that he may die in the battle, Wiglaf rushes to Beowulf's defense. Wiglaf's wooden shield burns as the dragon attacks again. The young retainer ducks behind Beowulf's iron shield, which is no great help but is better than nothing. Beowulf musters the strength to swing his mighty sword, Naegling, one last time; unfortunately, it snaps on the dragon's head. The dragon charges again, piercing Beowulf's neck with his sharp fangs. Although his hand is sorely burned, Wiglaf finds a vulnerable spot well beneath the dragon's head and thrusts his sword into the monster. The dragon's fire decreases. Beowulf rallies to use his knife and is able to cut into the monster's entrails, killing him. Realizing he is dying, Beowulf speaks his final words as Wiglaf attempts to comfort him.
Grieving over the death of Beowulf, the man who was "dearest in his life" (2822), Wiglaf bends over the corpse, gently washing his king as if hoping to restore him. The other ten retainers come out of the woods and receive a harsh lecture from their new king. Wiglaf sends a messenger to speak to other Geats who are not far away, waiting for news of the battle. The messenger reports Beowulf's death. Anticipating renewed problems with the Swedes, he recounts the history of their feud with the Geats. Sadly Wiglaf calls the company to visit Beowulf's death site where they can see the huge ("fifty foot-paces" long, 3042) body of the dragon as well as Beowulf's corpse.
Wiglaf speaks to the assembled Geats, informing them of the old king's funeral directions and setting them to work on the pyre at Whale's Cliff. With seven thanes, the new leader hauls the treasure out of the barrow. The audience learns that the cache had been cursed and is to be buried with Beowulf. The funeral pyre is immense; the grief of the old king's people is profound. One nameless woman sings a lament for the fallen hero, expressing terror at the future of the Geats without his protection. Constructing the funeral barrow takes 10 days. In it are placed Beowulf's ashes and the treasure for which he died. It is said that they lie there even now.