Beowulf Descriptive Essay

Not a single Anglo-Saxon work that has survived to this day has received such widespread recognition as Beowulf. This poem is the only major work of the heroic epic that has been preserved in its entirety. Apparently, the song was born in a friendly circle, because the main place in it is given to the battles, the warriors themselves, the warriors – heroes and feasts. There is no description of other aspects of the life of Anglo-Saxon society. Based on the poem, one can also judge the ethical views of people who lived in that era.


Beowulf is one of the examples of a medieval heroic epic. The poem arose on the basis of ancient Germanic traditions dating back to pagan times. These traditions appeared among Germanic tribes long before the Anglo-Saxons moved to Britain. The action of the poem takes place on the shores of the Baltic Sea, its plot is borrowed from German mythology.

Beowulf is not an Anglo-Saxon hero and the action of the poem is not confined to England; in the first part of the poem, it probably occurs in Zealand, in the second – in Jutland. Neither the Angles nor the Saxons take any part in the events depicted in the poem.

This feature of the poem was interpreted differently: some attributed the addition of the epic tale of Beowulf to the time before the Anglo-Saxons moved to Britain, when, living on the continent, they were neighbors with the Danes; others, on the contrary, argued that the poem arose later, for example, during the Danish invasions, which brought with them new Northern Anglo-Saxon legends and a special interest in the genealogy of Danish kings.

Beowulf is not a historical person, but in the poem you can find, though in the form of short episodes or even just random hints, echoes of historical events, feuds and battles of the North German peoples among themselves and with their South German neighbors. The historical and geographical nomenclature of the poem indicates that the legends processed in the poem most likely could have developed in the first half of the 6th century, in the region lying to the north of the continental homeland of the English tribe.

The fantastic feats of Beowulf are transferred, however, from the surreal world, tales of historical origin occur among the peoples of Northern Europe: in Beowulf, Danes, Swedes, Gautes (Geates) appear, other tribes are mentioned, the kings who once ruled them were named. In the guise of Beowulf, folk ideas about the hero, taming the forces of nature, affected. Beowulf is the embodiment of the moral ideal of the heroic personality of the early Middle Ages.

Four manuscripts with monuments of Old English poetry have been preserved. All of them were compiled around 1000, possibly based on earlier manuscripts.

  1.  The Beowulf Codex (Cotton Vitellius A XV). Recently it has been suggested that it was written during the reign of Knuth (1016-1036) and that, based on the formation of the codex, the Beowulf poem in its surviving version should be attributed to the same time (Kiernan K. ‘Beowulf’ and the ‘Beowulf’ Manuscript. New Brunswick, 1981). However, it is believed that there is no sufficient reason to transmit the poem (The Dating of ‘Beowulf’. Ed. C. Chase. Toronto; L. , 1981) It contains the poem Beowulf and a number of monuments of a religious epic.
  2. The Exeter Book, written between 970 and 980. commissioned by Bishop Leofrick and donated by him to the cathedral in Exeter. This is the most complete collection of monuments of various genres: religious epos, puzzles, elegies.
  3. “Cadmon Manuscript” (Junius Manuscript, Bodleian Library, Oxford), containing a number of poems on religious topics.
  4. The manuscript from Vercelli, Italy (The Vercelli Book), has preserved various works [7, p. 189 – 190].

The text of the poem was recorded thanks to a coincidence. England was Christianized (about 597g) from two sides: from the north (Irish) and from the south (mission of Pope Gregory I the Great, c. 540 – 604 [5]). The southern mission came from Catholics and would not have been wasted parchment on pagan verses even in a Christian setting, and Irish Christianity, on the contrary, was itself a mixture of the new faith and paganism, and German customs were close to him.

In the press (Wanley’s Catalog of Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts) it is mentioned for the first time in 1705. During the fire of the British Museum (in which the manuscript is stored) in 1731. the manuscript was damaged, but by then a transcription of the text had already been made, which is still used to restore the lost parts. It was first published by the Danes, Thorkelin (Grimur Jonsson Thorkelin) in 1815, and the first English edition dates back to 1833.

Beowulf, the nephew of the King of the Gates, a Scandinavian tribe who apparently inhabited the southern coast of modern Sweden and was called Gauts in Scandinavia [7, p. 75], – learns of the misfortune that befell the Danes. For many years, the humanoid monster Grendel has been attacking their illustrious Heorot Palace, the Deer Chamber, for many years and devours the best warriors. Beowulf with a small retinue goes to the Danes, stays overnight in Heorot and, in a fierce duel with Grendel, wrests his right hand from him. But the next night, Grendel’s mother comes to Heorot.

Avenging her son, she kills and carries with her one of the Danish knights. The next morning, Beowulf, accompanied by King of the Danes Hrodgar, searches for Grendel’s lair on the bottom of a mountain lake inhabited by monsters in bloody tracks. With the help of a magic sword, Beowulf defeats Grendel’s mother and cuts off his head. The safe return of the hero is celebrated by a feast, after which the geates embark on the return journey.

After some time, Higelak, the king of the Ghats, perishes in an unsuccessful campaign against the Franks; his son was killed in a feud with the Swedes, and Beowulf becomes king of the Geates. Fifty years of his reign is a time of prosperity and prosperity for the geates. But then a fire-breathing dragon appears. The treasure guarded by him was disturbed, and he, eager for revenge, attacks geat villages and fortresses. With the help of his combatant Viglaf, Beowulf defeats the dragon and conquers the treasure, but Beowulf dies from the poisonous fangs of the dragon. Geates, mourning their king, burn his body and pour a high mound on a promontory overlooking the sea so that Beowulf mound can be seen from afar. A funeral cry completes the poem.

Central Conflict in “Beowulf”

The basis of the heroic action of the poem is a large-scale conflict involving the fate of entire tribes. Inheriting “archaic epic plot, transforming it in accordance with new ideals … the heroic epos of the period of the formation of nationalities and the formation of the early states” puts forward “new historical ideals and new conflicts – protecting the native land from an external enemy, the heroic of a patriotic feat … the relationship of people and power”.

Central Conflict in "Beowulf"

Similar conflict situations of retreats in the poem, which are usually considered to be short paraphrases of independent epic works. Such are the struggles of the Frisians and Danes (a song about the Battle of Finnsburg), Danes and Khadobards (a song about Ingeld and Freavaru) and others. Small tribal feuds and clashes acquire “world” proportions in the mouth of the narrator and grow into events that determine the fate of peoples.

The main feature of the heroic conflict in the poem – its scale – determines the high intensity of passions, the emotional richness of the action. The creation of a conflict situation is accompanied by an explosion of emotions: horror, rage, merciless cruelty, a description of which is invariably included in the preamble preceding the story of the battle itself.

The set of feelings is stereotyped. The ruler of the tribe attacked by the monster is gripped by grief, he mourns his misfortune (Khrodgar in the first two episodes, Beowulf in the third). The hero who will have to crush the monster shows heroic fearlessness, courage. The monster – the enemy of the hero – is overwhelmed by bloodthirstiness, greed, anger.

The nature of the conflict – its scale, significance, insolubility by conventional means – determines the type and methods of heroization of the epic hero. First of all, the uniqueness and uniqueness are emphasized, which are expressed in his commitment to accomplish this feat.

Beowulf is the only one living on earth who can defeat Grendel and his mother, defeat the fire-breathing dragon. The situation itself acts as the main characteristic of the hero, it is she who determines his heroic essence, which is revealed in the act aimed at saving the whole tribe and beyond the strength of other people. All other features inherent in the image are derivative and only set off from different sides as particular manifestations of its heroism.

Character Analysis Of Beowulf

In the image of Beowulf, the qualities of the whole tribe are concentrated. The strength of Beowulf is the strength of all the geates, which is stated in the poem in connection with the victory of Beowulf over Grendel: “… they (the geates) surpassed all the enemy with one force, his (Beowulf) power” (Beowulf, 698-700).

beowulf character

The very image of a mighty hero, personifying the strength and power of his tribe, devoid of individual traits, but endowed with hyperbolized virtues, is aimed at fulfilling the main task facing him – to protect the tribe (his own and friendly) from monsters. One of the main functions of the ideal of a medieval knight (an ideal that dates back to the early Middle Ages) is the mission (function) of the defender and fair judge. This is evident from the poem itself.

The fulfillment of this task is ensured by the combination of qualities Beowulf is endowed with: strength, courage, fidelity to his duty, etc. Moreover, all these qualities are elevated to a higher degree, beyond the reach of others. Beowulf’s strength is such that “he overcame the thirty warriors with one hand” (Beowulf, 381–382). Beowulf stands out among other warriors for his appearance, immediately revealing his heroic essence.

Likewise, Wulfgar, the warrior of Hrodgar, who receives guests in Heorot, is convinced from the first glance that Beowulf is a distinguished leader known for his strength and military prowess (Beowulf, 336 – 339).

Both Beowulf’s appearance, and his strength, and his moral qualities – fidelity to duty, fidelity to the king and cousin are hyperbolized, ideal, which creates a clear distance between them and the hero clearly felt by the audience and the narrator.

An additional means of heroization is the family tree of the hero. A man in a poem is not conceived outside the collective with which he is bound by bonds of kinship. The introduction of any character, in fact, opens with an indication of the genus to which he belongs, and a listing of his illustrious ancestors: the genealogy of Khrodgar and Higelak is described in detail, Unfert is the “son of Ekglava,” Offa is the “relative of the Hemming.”

Indication of the kind to which the character belongs has a deep meaning. The connection with the famous, famous for its exploits kind of complements the characterization and determines to a certain extent the dignity of the hero. He is capable and ready to perform feats not only by virtue of his personal qualities, but also as a representative of a clan glorious for his exploits. The “heroic” qualities are largely not individual, but generic. The acts of Beowulf are not recognized as a self-valuable act of personal heroism, beyond the fate and well-being of the tribe.

In the image of Beowulf, the idea of ​​the heroic is embodied in its most complete, beautiful and majestic version. But there are other forms of heroic behavior: the wisdom and generosity of Khrodgar – the king of the tribe, his patron and protector; courage, fearlessness and devotion to Wiglaf; the beauty and generosity of Walchteov, Queen of the Danes. These qualities together constitute a kind of “catalog of merits”, which are mandatory for a positive character in a heroic epic.

To the greatest extent, Beowulf himself was naturally awarded with these advantages: courage, wisdom, experience, martial art, the art of ship navigation and swimming, beauty, growth, strength, etc. The remaining characters are endowed with only part of these stereotypical qualities: certain “sets” of them , combinations of one or another of them correspond to various images of the poem: the ideal ruler (Khrodgar, Beowulf), the warrior – the hero (Beowulf, Wiglaf), which creates a largely generalized, stereotyped image.

How to Write an Essay on Beowulf

Before reading a work of art, we recommend that you review all the points for which you need to analyze it. So you can find answers along the way to the necessary items: descriptions of the heroes, their remarks, quotes, and the like.

History of the work

Starting to analyze the novel, study the facts from the author’s biography related to the creation of the work. Track the connection with the historical era and be sure to find out about the significance of the book in the work of the author. This information will help you understand the writer’s idea, as well as the problems and the idea of the novel. Without such information, it is difficult to state the idea and topic of the essay.

The meaning of the novel

The title of the work most often hides its meaning. This is a kind of hint or hint about what will be discussed in the work. Analyze the works from your point of view, suggest arguments and theses.

An analysis of the poem such as Beowulf first of all is consideration, observation of the development of characters, evolution of characters; As a result of the analysis, you should come to certain conclusions about the contents and form of the product, its particularities, as well as about the position of the author.

The main pathos of the work and emotional tonality

An important element of the analysis is the determination of pathos. Belinsky associated pathos with the peculiarities of the work and work of the writer, with the “idea-passion.” In modern literary criticism, the types of pathos include heroism, tragic, romantic, etc. The pathos of the work is largely determined by the author’s belonging to a specific direction in literature.

The pathos of a literary work is related to its emotional tonality, which can vary, reflecting the dynamics of the artistic development of the text. There are minor, major, pathetic, lyrical and other types of emotional tonality of the text.


The composition itself can express a certain aesthetic meaning, determine the pragmatics of the text. Analysis of the composition reveals the principle that organizes the overall structure of the work. Distinguish between simple and complex composition.


Analysis of a work of art is not an easy task. Therefore, it is important to have at least some idea and opinion in order to seriously analyze the work. Develop the ability to build logical chains, speak and write beautifully, which will be useful in life more than once.

Work actively in the classroom and you will gather enough material for the essay. Good luck!

Beowulf Descriptive Essay Topics

  • What does Beowulf tell us about the Anglo Saxon culture?
  • The personae of Beowulf as a leader
  • The theme of revenge in the poem
  • Pagan and Christian elements in Beowulf
  • Is Beowulf an ideal hero and king?
  • Analyze the battles of Beowulf with Grendel and his mother

Compare and Contrast Essay Topics

  • Comparison between Beowulf the movie and Beowulf the epic
  • Comparing Beowulf and Gilgamesh
  • Beowulf and a Knight’s Tale
  • Beowulf and the Odyssey deeds and triumphs
  • Compare and Contrast Unferth and Beowulf
  • Comparing the Hero in Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

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