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Lecture 3

ENGL 200 Lecture 3 - Beowulf Part 2.docx

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McGill University
English (Arts)
ENGL 200
Wes Folkerth

Beowulf Part II “A bragging quotation” (happened before he fought Grendal and Grendal’s mother)  Formal boasts in this culture and presentation are not really “bragging” utterances; rather they are reminding and announcing the significance and magnitude of the challenge, and that he will try his best to succeed  He is making a contract concerning the task ahead, a promise that things will be done  By boasting, he is making a binding agreement to the task  A commitment is important in this culture, a steeling of oneself to do something – he can no longer walk away from it  However, they also tend to heighten or over-exuberate the tasks  These formal boasts are contracts Balance of Honor Page 51 (Lines 855-862) “…Beowulf’s doings Were praised over and over again. Nowhere, they said, north or south Between the two seas or under the tall sky On the broad earth was there anyone better to raise a shield or to rule a kingdom. Yet there was no laying of blame on their lord, the noble Hrothgar; he was a good king.”  This is after Beowulf has defeated Grendal, and Grendal ran away to his mom to die  This quotation is an example of honor  They don’t mean any disrespect to Hrothgar, but they adore Beowulf, and give him the honor that is due to him  They say that Hrothgar is good, just so that he is not offended, and this is really important  Now, we also notice that Beowulf might be king material, and this is the first time we realize this  It is not just his strength and capacity of a warrior, but he is also a leader, and he has many other qualities Hrothgar to talking to Beowulf Page 53 (lines 945-955) “…So now, Beowulf, I adopt you in my heart as a dear son. Nourish and maintain this new connection, you noblest of men; there’ll be nothing you’ll want for, no worldly goods that won’t be yours. I have often honored smaller achievements, Recognized warriors not nearly as worthy, Lavished rewards on the less deserving. But you have made yourself immortal By your glorious action. May the God of Ages continue to keep and requite you well.”  You also have Hrothgar saying that Beowulf is also great (coming in from other directions)  He also says that he has honored much lesser achievements, so this is quite big  This honor is very a sensitive commodity, this is the currency of fame and immortality in this culture  These accolades are in line with the gift culture in Beowulf (you give rings, treasure, goods, and honor and respect) – either you have it, or you give back someone who has given to you; it is this sort of relationship  If somebody gives you something, you have to give something back to them, you can’t sit on it  In this case, Beowulf saved Hrothgar, therefore he must praise and give him honor  This is in contrast with the dragon, who only takes, but never gives back, therefore the dragon is stingy in comparison to these men  Honor is like manure: it is no good unless you spread it around Page 64 (lines 1383-1389) Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow, spoke: “Wise sir, do not grieve. It is always better To avenge dear ones than to indulge in mourning. For every one of us, living in this world Means waiting for our end. Let whoever can Win glory before death. When a warrior is gone, That will be his best and only bulwark.”  This is Beowulf expressing his investment in the ideas of revenge and fame – important because it sets up Grendal’s mother as partaking in this ethos, something so universal such that even a monster takes part in this  Beowulf and Grendal’s mother are likened to each other in this way  This complicates our response to Grendal’s mother – you find this a lot in allegorical examples of battle  Notions of good and evil start to enter the picture.  The poet is trying to soften our view of Grendal’s mother (albeit an evil mother)  She is described as even less human than Grendal.  She lives in a wet underworld, a weird society  She cannot be stabbed conventionally, can only be killed with rather supernatural means.  However, the author never presents a clear view of what the monster is like – this increases our anxiety, deliberating under-describing her, creating further fear  These techniques are common in many horror works – the idea is just to capture your imagination  All of the events described underwater are difficult to comprehend and mysterious, making us more afraid of the monster  Grendal’s mother comes out of nowhere, surprising everybody, introducing a sense that it is never over.  Just when you feel good, another challenge comes along. This has parallels to the Faerie Queene, where trouble and evil never ends – it just keeps on coming back at you.  Grendal’s mother is strong – she can actually handle Beowulf Unferth Loses Fame Page 65 (Lines 1465-1472) “When he lent that blade to the better swordsman, Unferth, the strong built son of Ecglaf, Could hardly have remembered the ranting speech he had made in his cups. He was not man enough to face the turmoil of a fight under water and the risk to his life. So there he lost fame and repute. It was different for the other Rigged out in his gear, ready to do battle.”  Unferth is punished here, not just because he has lost honor, but because he is no longer worthy of anything  His words are erased from the poem and from history – he is not worthy anymore  He does not represent somebody is considered worthy and noble enough in society  Thankfully, by God’s grace, there is this huge sword in the lair that Beowulf could use to defeat her (alluding to more spiritual powers of God)  Now, it is time for Beowulf to come in and mess with her hall (a sort of revenge), and his armor protects him from getting wounded  His armor represents his faith, Christianity, and this faith has been tested, and that it will protect him from evil  Although Beowulf is not Christian, and that he cannot express his faith in Christian terms, he knows that God is there and that he has some form of faith, that his fate is in the hands of a higher authority, God.  Therefore, it is almost as if God allows him to succeed  Beowulf is also too strong for the weapons that are available for him, and so he prefers to use his own hands  Even the huge sword that he took disintegrates as he kills Grendal’s mother when he decapitates her  Note that this lair is quite weird, and so the hero has to spend some time in the underworld. This has something to do with the hero’s ability to escape death Changing view of Beowulf Page 71 (Lines 1698-1708) “Then everyone hushed As the son of Halfdane spoke this wisdom: “A protector of his people, pledged to uphold Truth and justice and to respect tradition, Is entitled to affirm that this man was born to distinction. Beowulf, my friend, your fame as gone far and wide, you are known everywhere. In all things you are even-tempered, prudent and resolute. So I stand firm by the promise of friendship we exchanged before. Forever you will be your people’s mainstay and your own warriors’ helping hand.”  Beowulf’s actions are always individual in nature – he does things in his own virtue  Another thing is that his actions not only affect him, but they affect the community around him – and this indicates how important heroes are in society  He is no longer just a hero; he might also make a good king. And this second fight will allow people to start to believe that he has additional qualities that do make him king material.  Beowulf is becoming more of a king as he develops characteristics that make him a good leader and politician  Beowulf is setting his alliance – he is saying that his work is done, and if they need any more help, he will have many soldiers in reserve to help them out.  This is a sort of political side to Beowulf Page 72 (1830-1839) Hygelac may be young to rule a nation, but this much I know about the king of the Geats: he will come to my aid and want to support me by the word and action in your hour of need, when honor dictates that I raise a hedge of spears around yo
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