Section Two: Beowulf the Hero

Hrothgar does not know how to respond to the threat that Grendel represents.  Although they have converted to Christianity, many of his people are tempted back to pagan practices in the hope that those practices will give them the power to defeat Grendel.  His meetings with his counselors and advisors show an increasingly frustrated group of men who do not know if they will be able to find help against the monster plaguing them.  His warriors are also suffering greatly.  Though the poem does not discuss the implications of this concern, it becomes clear that Hrothgar’s people are subjected to increasing danger; not only are they plagued by the monster Grendel, but Grendel’s attacks highlight a weakness that any of their enemies might choose to exploit.   

The poem then shifts perspective from Denmark to Sweden (Geatland).  Beowulf, who has already gained a reputation as a strong and powerful warrior, learns that Hrothgar is being tormented by Grendel.  Beowulf is very young; though the poem does not provide the reader with a precise biological age, clues in the poem suggest a man in his early 20s or even his late teen years.  However, he is eager to prove his reputation as a warrior and a hero.  He also owes a debt to Hrothgar, who once helped Beowulf’s father.  So, hearing of Hrothgar’s need for help, Beowulf determines that he will sail to his aid.

Beowulf is a member of the Geatish royal family, though not directly in line for the throne.  He is the nephew of King Hygelac, so he is able to command men, but without the absolute authority of the king.  However, once he takes on men as his warriors, they are obligated to him and he to them under the code of comitatus.  This element becomes significant because this code is actually threatened in Denmark, where Grendel’s continual assault on the kingdom has left people uncertain.  Therefore, that Beowulf can choose warriors under the code points to a contrast between how things are and how they should...

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Essays About Beowulf