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A close reading of Beowulf and the contradictions made within the text

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A close reading of Beowulf and the contradictions made within the text

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  • November 19, 2004
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The epic poem Beowulf contains contradictions about the heroic character of the protagonist Beowulf. Two certain passages in Beowulf, one at the beginning of the text and one near the end, offer evidence of inconsistencies within Beowulf's character. We must ask one question of the poem's protagonist: Is he really the hero he claims to be? Certain aspects of Beowulf's integrity, mainly his lies about people's perceptions of him, contradict the conventional classification of a hero.

The legend of Beowulf begins with King Hrothgar, who is in a dilemma because Grendel, an evil monster, has been unremittingly attacking Heorot for twelve years. Beowulf, a warrior and thane of the Geat King Hygelac, hears of this and decides that he must go to Heorot to help Hrothgar, for he is the only one who can accomplish this great feat:

;He announced his plan:

to sail the swan's road and seek out that king,

that famous prince who needed defenders.

Nobody tried to keep him from going,

No elder denied him, dear as he was to them.

Instead they inspected omens and spurred

His ambition to go [...] (200-209).

This passage is one of the first introductions to Beowulf as a character. The sentence "...prince who need defenders" portrays Beowulf as a noble warrior, well respected at home. He would "seek out that king," the king who needed Beowulf the great warrior. Here, the poet's word choice implies that Beowulf is fearless. Beowulf knows that he is the only one who can help Hrothgar, the "famous prince who needed defenders." But Hrothgar had other warriors who helped to defend Heorot from Grendel, "...powerful counselors, the highest in the land, would lend advice, plotting how best the bold defenders might resist and beat off sudden attacks" (171-74). Here, it is evident that Beowulf has told a lie. It is not true that Hrothgar needed defenders. Although Hrothgar had defenders that may have been unsuccessful in the slaying of the monster, that does not...