Wednesday, 25 July 2012


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“Once again the king Line 70

gathered his strength and drew a stabbing knife


he carried on his belt, sharpened for battle.

He stuck it deep in the dragon’s flank.

Beowulf deadly it a deadly wound.

They had killed the enemy, courage quelled his life;

that pair of kingsmen, partners in nobility,

had destroyed the foe. So every man should act,

be at hand when needed; but for now, for a king,

this would be his last of his many labors

and triumphs in the world.” Line 711

This passage climaxes Beowulf’s fight with the dragon. Earlier in the epic the reader learned that a dragon had guarded ancient hidden treasure. One day a slave accidentally stumbled upon the secret treasure and stole a piece, causing the dragon to become angry and begin terrorizing Beowulf’s people and land. After the dragon destroyed Beowulf’s own great hall, Beowulf decides the threat of the dragon must be extinguished. Therefore Beowulf goes to attack the dragon and a battle between him and the dragon pursues. The men Beowulf brought along with him all flee except one named Wiglaf, and together Beowulf and Wiglaf manage to kill the dragon. The actual killing of the dragon tales place in this passage; “Beowulf deadly it a deadly wound. They had killed the enemy.” Unfortunately for Beowulf the struggle with the dragon also claimed his life. This is evident in the last three lines of the passage when the epic states that the defeat of the dragon “would be the last of his [Beowulf’s] many labors.”

The chosen passage is really a pivotal point in the epic. In it, Beowulf sacrifices his own life in order to protect his people from a deadly enemy. Unless Beowulf is able to kill the dragon, he would be put in the same situation Hrothgar was in with Grendel in the very beginning. Therefore Beowulf decides it would be best to slay the dragon and preserve the safety of his people. This leads us to the third and final battle scene in the epic, which differs from the first two in a major way. The first two battle scenes (Beowulf fighting Grendel and then Beowulf fighting Grendel’s mother) were all about Beowulf’s quest for fame and glory as well as fortune. But in the final battle Beowulf is fighting to protect his own people and he commits the ultimate sacrifice in order to ensure that his people would be safe. In the context of the epic, this act was considered an act of “courage”, “nobility”, and “triumph”. The audience is able to justifiably infer that Beowulf wished the die as a warrior defending his people because it was the right and noble thing for any king, especially Beowulf, to do.

If the reader considers this passage historically, they would clearly see pagan and Christian influences. For example the dragon is built out of a lot of pagan influence. It’s not hard for the reader to assume that the dragon was most likely from a previous pagan myth. The dragon clearly illustrates strength, greed, and pride. But Christianity is also present when the mighty and noble Beowulf comes along and with Wiglaf is able to defeat and kill this dragon. The virtuous Beowulf, or the Christian aspect, therefore puts and end to the dragon, or the pagan aspect. In this way the passage contains a lot involving the transition between pagan and Christian.

There is speculation about whether what Beowulf did was heroic and selfish or an act of responsibility as a king. Some critics claim that Beowulf took the easy way out by playing hero and dying rather than sticking around to remain king and rule his people. But it can easily be seen through this passage that Beowulf was brave and heroic at the same time he was acting as a responsible king and thinking of his people. The epic clearly states that just as Beowulf destroyed his enemy, “so every man should act, be at hand when needed.” Beowulf met his expectations and went down as a great warrior and hero defending the safety of his people.

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