“Beowulf” is the most ancient surviving epic poem in English literature and by extension the earliest piece of vernacular Western or European literature. It was composed in the language of the Saxons, which is the ancient English. At the onset, the poem was untitled; in the nineteenth century, scholars began to refer to it as “Beowulf”, which was the name of the Scandinavian hero – the main character of this work of art. The story is mainly fiction, but there are also many historical elements. The poem may have been written in honor of a monarch who passed on in the 7th century, though the identity of the king is still a mystery (Battles 5).
“Beowulf” is among the early pieces of the Middle Ages literature. The character in this poem exemplifies the features of a hero. As a matter of common knowledge, a hero exhibits certain features such as bravery, eagerness to help others, courtesy, courage, superhuman feats and the ability to be proud of his achievements. As per the English tradition, the identity of Beowulf clearly demonstrates the features and qualities of a true hero (Battles 6).
This piece of literature exemplifies the literature of the Middle Ages as it brings out the main features that dominated the literature of the Middle Ages by then. The first characteristic is chivalry, which deals with knights as well as their code of honor, which includes being of service, being honest and helping those persons who are less fortunate in the society. All these traits are clearly brought out in the epic poem’s chief character Beowulf, hence exemplifying the literature of the Middle Ages. The second feature is magic, which came in many forms and which would be considered today as a supernatural phenomenon. The third feature that exemplifies the Middle Age literature in this epic poem is the topic of the love of one’s country and people. Beowulf demonstrates love in multiple ways. For example, he offered a helping hand to the dwellers of the land of the Danes to deliver them from the wrath of the monster that was ravaging and killing them. He made it his personal initiative to approach the king of the land and offer him help (Thayer 9).
Beowulf resides in the land of the Geats. Upon hearing from people that Hrothgar, who was the leader of the Danes at that time, had problems with a monster that was ravaging and killing his men for the past decade, Beowulf offers his help. He approaches the king of the Geats, Higlac, and asks him for permission to let him take some of the best warriors and lead them to the land of the Danes to assist him destroy the monster living there, hence proving that indeed he desired to help others (Thayer 10). Some main characters of other primary Middle Ages texts also tried to help their own people or even their neighbors.
In addition, when Beowulf sets his foot onto the land of the Danes, he demonstrates his courtesy by heaping praises on Hrothgar of his noble birth and telling how brave Hrothgar is for his triumphs in wars. Beowulf further reveals his courtesy when he abandons all his weapons on the shore of the land of the Danes to ensure that the inhabitants of that land understand that he comes in peace. He further leaves behind some of his men by his ships to guard and protect them. Beowulf showcases his courtesy by doing all that Hrothgar’s men ask of him to do. His actions depict true heroism. Finally, Beowulf demonstrates that he is a true hero when he boasts to Hrothgar of his victory, proving that he deserves glory and other praises.
Besides the features that are common to most Middle Age literature works, Beowulf also demonstrates unique and rather peculiar characteristics. To begin with, Beowulf possesses tremendous inhuman strength. He is able to conquer Grendel by ripping his arm off, and he is able to overcome Grendel’s mother by just holding his breath for a very long time. He is renowned for his tremendous strength in wars and in sport competitions.
Another unique trait depicted in this text is the quality of loyalty. Beowulf is loyal to king Hrothgar who is the ruler of the land of the Danes and who once rescued Beowulf’s father. This is clearly demonstrated in his arrival to kill the monsters threatening Herot. He is also loyal to his own king; he brings back to the king of his motherland gifts from Hrothgar. He is also loyal to his own men as he stayed with them in the camp and did not go to sleep in the place of honor. This episode demonstrates Beowulf’s great humility (Battles, 10).
Another unique trait envisaged in this epic poem of the Middle Ages is that of courage. Beowulf courageously approaches the king of the land of the Danes to offer him help. He never doubts whether he should try to. This sort of courage as well as determination is the true description of a hero (Thayer, 15).
Finally, another unique trait depicted in this text is that of gratitude and faith. Beowulf frequently prays to God before a battle and thanks him after victory.
In my responses to the questions, I was using formalism and new criticisms since I have attempted to treat each work as its own distinct piece and free from its environment, era and the author since the keys of comprehending a text exist within the text itself.