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Epic of Beowulf Essay – Beowulf as Tragic Hero

Beowulf as Tragic Hero

By definition, a tragic hero is a protagonist that due to some tragic flaw loses everything he has. Throughout history, literature has always been filled with main characters possessing some tragic flaw. In Macbeth, Macbeth’s tragic flaw is his enormous ambition to become king. In Hamlet, Hamlet’s tragic flaw is his need for revenge for the death of his father at the hands of his uncle. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh’s tragic flaw is his need to be remembered. In the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf, Beowulf also has a tragic flaw, excessive pride and the search for fame, which ultimately leads to his demise.

Beowulf was a highly skilled and great fighter, but because of his over-confidence in himself the fire-breathing dragon kills him. Beowulf’s excessive pride is evident from the very beginning of the epic. He is almost always boasting about himself to one person or the other. In the first part of the epic, when Beowulf first travels to Hrothgar’s kingdom to rid him of Grendel, he talks about the mighty deeds he has done in his life. “Hail, Hrothgar, health ever keep you! I am Hyglelac’s thane and kinsman; mighty deeds I have done in my youth…they saw themselves how I came from combat bloodied by enemies where I crushed down five, killed a tribe of giants, and on the waves at night slew water-beasts; no easy task, but I dove out trouble from Geatland-they asked for it, the enemies I killed.”(Beowulf p73) One can easily picture him standing proud and tall in front of a multitude of fellow warriors, proclaiming all the deeds he has accomplished in his lifetime.

Beowulf has no doubt in his mind that he is more than able to kill the wretched Grendel. But because of his overconfidence and populari…

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…soon after his death his kingdom was taken over.

Beowulf perfectly fits the definition of “tragic hero” as evidenced in the epic poem, Beowulf. He is defiantly the hero in the story, but as a result of his tragic flaws of having too much pride and seeking fame, he loses his life and his kingdom falls into the hands of the enemy.

Works Cited and Consulted

Chambers, R. W. Beowulf: An Introduction. Cambridge: Univ. Press, 1967.

Emmerson, Richard K. and Bernard McGinn. The Apocalypse in the Middle Ages. Ithaca: Cornell, 1992.

Garmonsway, et. al. Beowulf and Its Analogues. New York: Dutton, 1971.

Gang, T. M. “Approaches to Beowulf.” RES 3 (1952):.6-12.

Hieatt, Constance B. “Envelope Patterns and the Structure of Beowulf,” English Studies in Canada 1 (1975): 249-265.

Sandars, N. K., trans. The Epic of Gilgamesh. London: Penguin, 1972.

An Analysis of the Epic Poem, Beowulf – Origin and Evolution of Beowulf

The Origin and Evolution of Beowulf

The origin of Beowulf remains a mystery, as both the poet and the year of composition has eluded scholars for centuries. Although “[it] is now widely believed that Beowulf is the work of a single poet who was Christian . . .” (preface, Heaney 29), I see Beowulf as a mosaic of many poets. In this paper, I will argue that with each new translation of this Old English epic, a new author of Beowulf is born. The twenty-first century poet Seamus Heaney, who translated the Beowulf on which this paper is based, injects aspects of his world into this ancient poem. Published in the year 2 000, the inconsistency of this most modern text reveals the messy masterpiece Beowulf is today. I believe that throughout the ages, Beowulf has been altered by each generation it touches. I will provide evidence that the Anglo-Saxon orators, the Christian monk recorders, and the modern-day translators have all contributed to both the conservation and change of Beowulf.

Beowulf began as an oral story passed on by scops, wandering poets of the Anglo-Saxon period who recited the accounts of the great Geat warrior from memory. This allowed for subtle or strong changes by each orator as he formed his ideal and unique Beowulf. One example of possible change can be found in the lines,

He had been poorly regarded

for a long time, was taken by the Geats

for less than he was worth . . . (Heaney 79),

which do not fit the protagonist who has received nothing but praise throughout the rest of the epic. A footnote in Heaney’s translation points out this idea of the “`Cinderella hero’ [as an] . . . example of folklore material, probably circulating orally, that made its way into the poem” (edi…

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…Semus Heaney. New York: W.W. Norton

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