Pride: the Tragic Flaw

Topics: Beowulf, Grendel, Heorot Pages: 5 (2081 words) Published: November 28, 2010
Though sometimes used in stories or fables as something to aspire to, such as being proud of one's work, pride is looked upon as quite the opposite in Beowulf. In Seamus Heaney's translation, pride is depicted as an unfortunate, often fatal, flaw which will eventually lead to tragedy or the untimely demise of the character cursed with this trait. Many of the main characters display this affliction, several examples being Hrothgar, whose pride leads to the deaths of his people, Beowulf, whose pride leads to his demise, and even Wiglaf, whose pride foreshadows tragedy in his future. Even though pride may seem a useful asset at times, it will almost never remain so. In the vast majority of cases, the pride held by a person will lead to tragedy either for themselves, or someone else.

Hrothgar's pride leads to many deaths among his people, as he is too proud to ask for assistance defeating Grendel, instead hoping that the problem will solve itself. Rather than displaying his weakness by asking for help, Hrothgar allows Grendel to murder his people; he hosted a grand feast, which he knows will draw Grendel, every year in the hopes that Grendel will have lost interest and will leave them alone that year. However, no reprieve is given; every day "for twelve winters, seasons of woe/the lord of the Shieldings suffered," until his plight finally becomes known to the rest of the Scandinavian countries, though his pride and refusal to ask for assistance has prevented it from being known sooner. (l. 147-8) Even then, he does not request help, though he does accept the aid of any who journey to his land. This pride leads Hrothgar to resort to strange practices: sometimes "at pagan shrines they vowed/offerings to idols," and "swore oaths/that the killer of souls might come to their aid." (l. 175-7) Hrothgar eventually admits his weakness and petitions aid, but only to Beowulf after his arrival, thus preserving at least some small portion of his pride. He is only able to do this because Beowulf is as close as one could get to being family, as he is the son of Hrothgar's good friend, thus allowing for a greater trust between the two. Furthermore, his pride interferes with his logic yet again after Beowulf emerges as the victor over Grendel and, later, Grendel's Mother. Hrothgar's pride leads him to offer Beowulf, in addition to the great amount of lavish gifts he had already received, his kingdom as a reward for saving it from Grendel and his mother, despite the potential of that action to start a feud between Beowulf and Hrothgar's two sons, which Beowulf wisely declines. Through pride-driven actions such as these, Hrothgar shows, many times over, that pride will only lead to tragedy and mistaken decisions.

Beowulf's most memorable characteristic is also his ever-present pride. Beowulf is one who enjoys showing anyone possible how important he is to them, or how much more powerful he is than anyone else. Before a fight, he, quite predictably, readies himself, and those around him, with a long round of boasting and vows as to how he will defeat his enemy. Before his fight with Grendel, he abandons weapons and armor, proclaiming that "hand-to-hand/is how it will be, a life-and-death/fight with the fiend." (l. 438-440) He does live up to his prideful boast, but his pride also leads to the death of a warrior under his command, as he feels the need to feign sleep and allow Grendel the first blow.

As a youth, Beowulf's pride leads him to show off his strength by entering a race with his friend Breca. Though it is a very close match, with neither of them able to surpass the other for quite some time, Beowulf begins to take the lead. However, due to a storm, he is separated from Breca, and is attacked by sea monsters in the confusion. While Beowulf is trying to return to land, he manages to kill nine sea monsters, clearing the area of danger for local seamen. He apparently boasts of this feat to such an extent that everyone in Scandinavia...
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