Classic English Literature
The world of “Beowulf” is a world of kings and fighters, world of banquets, battles and duels. The poem paints the reality from a specific point of view. “Beowulf” is one of the examples of medieval heroical epic. The poem was based on the old Germanic legends relating to pagan times. These legends appeared in the environment of the Germanic tribes long before the migration of the Saxons to Britain.
The antithesis between good and evil plays an important role in dualistic myths, where each of the characters and symbols refers to either a positive number as a bearer of good, or a negative number as the perconification of the evil inclination.
The plot of this largest of the Anglo-Saxon poem is simple. Beowulf, a young warrior from the people of goutou, knowing about the disaster that collapsed the king of the Danes Higelac – the attacks of the monster Grendel in his Palace Heorot and the gradual extermination for twelve years the king’s guards, sent over the sea to destroy Grendel, defeating him, then he killed in the new combat, this time in an underwater shelter, the other monster is Grendel's mother, who tried to revenge for the death of his son. Showered with honors and commendations, Beowulf returned to his homeland. (Hall, 42) Here he made new conquests, and later became the king of goutou and safely ruled the country for fifty years. After this period, Beowulf engaged in battle with the dragon, which devastates the surrounding area. Beowulf managed to defeat the monster, but the cost of his own life. The song ends with the solemn scene of the burning on the funeral pyre of the body of the hero and the construction of a mound over his ashes and conquered treasure.
Among the primary themes of “Beowulf” is the contest between forces of good and evil. As it was mentioned above, the main character fights against three monsters – Grendel, mother of Grendel, and the dragon.
The first main figure is Grendel. Grendel is usually depicted as an anthropomorphic monster huge growth, the ogre, although the text of his description is devoid of certainty. Grendel is the implementation of all the evil and obscurity in the world. Grendel is fated to live in the darkness. This evil character is represented as an outside danger for the people around him and the good forces. All his essence is rested upon the abhorrence of the good. He is depicted as a demon. Grendel has rough claws and huge teeth, which over the period of 12 years helped him to tear up that enormous amount of the victims. (Hall, 6)
Being the personification of the force of evil, Grendel does not follow the rules of feudal relations, which Anglo-Saxons had already experienced. The worst crime, committed by a person, for the Anglo-Saxons, was the crime of fratricide. The whole culture was concentrated around the kinship. Monster in Germanic mythology, Grendel, however, is put out of communication with people, hunted, outcast, “enemy”, and in German beliefs is a man defiling himself with crimes that are punished by banishment from society - as if they lost the human form, became a werewolf, a hater of people. The singing of the poet and the sounds of the harp wafting from Heorot, where was the feasting of the king's retinue, awaken the Grendel's rage. (Hall, 27)
However, that is not all; in the poem, Grendel is called “a descendant of Cain”. On old pagan beliefs bed up the Christian ideas. There is an ancient curse, put on the Grendel, he is called a “heathen” and sentenced to hell. Yet he is like a devil. He is a scion of Cain and, as well as Cain, is described like a fallen angel of the society. As well as the Cain, Grendel drank the blood of his victim. Being alone, he lived without knowing what God’s love is. He is a derelict and the sins of his ancestor dropped upon him. The glorification of God by the Danes put Grendel out of temper.
The formation of the idea of a medieval hell at that time, when “Beowulf” was created, is far from over, and not devoid of inconsistency in the explanation of Grendel, the readers find a curious intermediate point of this evolution.
The one of the three antagonist in the epic if Grendel’s mother. After the Grendel is killed by the hero Beowulf, Grendel's mother attacked the Mead Hall Heorot to avenge his death. She depicted as the highest monster, remained from the days of Cain and Abel. Intent by the vengeance for her son, Grendel’s mother tried to kill Beowulf. (Hall, 47) The revenge is repaid from the primary Biblical kill. As Grendel was the scion of the Cain, so Beowulf was the scion of Abel. A cycle of killings in the name of revenge was eternized.
Attention is drawn to the fact that the motive of gold as the visible, tangible incarnation of the luck of the warrior in “Beowulf” is displaced, obviously, under Christian influence, its new interpretation as the source of unhappiness. In this regard, the last part of the poem represents a particular interest – a combat of the main figure with a dragon. In retaliation for stealing jewels from the treasure, dragon that guarded these ancient treasures, attacks villages, betraying the fire and the death of the surrounding country. Beowulf comes into the fight with the dragon, but it is easy to verify that the author of the poem does not see the reasons that prompted the hero to this action, committed by the monster atrocities.
The idea of the curse as the motive of revenge of the dragon for the stolen cup, with high probability seems to be introduced by the copyist Christian, who offered an explanation of wealth as a source of disasters. At the same time, Beowulf goes to fight the dragon not to stop its atrocities in the lands of men, but for the sake of the gold that is guarded by an ancient serpent. (Hall, 78)
In such a manner, epic world of the poem is a world of contending good and evil, the world of heroical actions, hyperbolizing feelings and possibilities, a world, which reflects the real life singers and listeners, but only one side is heroic, festive, and unusual. This world is opposed to the everyday world, but reflects all its contradictions. The good in the poem is expressed through the image of Beowulf, evil hand through his enemies, monsters. Evil is personified in the images of the terrible monsters, leading descended from Cain – Grendel and his mother. Evil is connected with a terrible crime, murders, natural disasters, terrible natural phenomena. Fabulously fantastic images of monsters in the poem synthesize concepts of Evil, developed by the paganism, and Christianity. In concentrated form, they symbolically embody the real evil that they carried for people the constant war and strife. Scenes associated with horror, fear, arise from a combination of realistic and fantastic elements, clearly reflecting the peculiarities of human perception of that historic time.
Hall, Lesslie. Beowulf. Washington: D.C. Heath &, Boston New York Chicago, 2005. Print.