An Analysis of the Epic Poem, Beowulf - Social Codes in Beowulf

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Social Codes in Beowulf

In reading Beowulf, one cannot help noticing the abundance of references to weapons and armor throughout the text. Many passages involving weapons and armor contain important messages that the author is trying to convey. These passages involve the choice to use or refrain from using arms, the practice of disarming oneself upon entering another's home, and the idea of a man's worth being measured by his weapons.

First, the theme of choosing to use, or not to use, weapons against an adversary seems to be a major issue in the work. On three different occasions, when Beowulf fights Grendel, Grendel's mother, and the dragon, the choice of
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But I expect here hot battle-fire, steam, and poison. Therefore, I have on me shield and mail shirt" (59). A modern way of communicating the same idea would be, "Don't bring a knife to a gun fight"; again, the basic idea is that no one would speak ill of Beowulf because he kept the fight honorable.

Another important way that weapons are connected to a display of honor in Beowulf is the idea of disarming oneself upon entering another's home. Near the beginning of the poem in "The Coming of Beowulf to Heorot," a guard tells Beowulf's troops, "You may come in your wardress . . . to see Hrothgar. Let your war shields, your wooden-spears, await here the outcome of the talk. " (32). It is a sign of respect to disarm oneself in another person's home, in this case, Heorot, Hrothgar's mead hall. To take advantage of this moral code makes the violator that much more evil as we see when, because there are no weapons present, Grendel is able to kill and eat one of Beowulf's thanes in a surprise attack.

Finally, the idea of a man's having to be worthy of his weapons appears numerous times throughout Beowulf. This is perhaps the most intricate of the ideas because interwoven in this idea are the related ideas of weapons as heirlooms, weapons as indications of a man's stature, and the surrendering of one's weapon to another for use in battle. When the poem's author observes, "The armed band was worthy of its weapons," he clearly illustrates the first
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