Epic of Beowulf Essay - Beowulf as Tragic Hero

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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
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Perhaps the best criticism of Beowulf comes from the mouth of the son of Ecglaf, Unferth. He says: “Are you the same Beowulf who challenged Breca to a swimming match on the open sea? There out of pride you both tested sea-ways, through foolish boasting risked lives on the deep. None could dissuade you, fiend nor foe, keep either of you from that hapless trip, when you two went swimming out of the bay…”(Beowulf p79) But in response to Unferth’s accusations, Beowulf once again proclaims the great deeds he has done. In fact, it appears that he is always looking for an opportunity to boast about the numerous monsters and enemies that he has slaughtered.

Beowulf is always seeking to help his enrich his image. This flaw in his character, as well as his feeling of invincibility leads to his downfall later in life. “Again and again the angry monsters made fierce attacks, I served them well with my noble blade, as was only fitting. Small pleasure they had in such a sword-feast, dark things in the sea that meant to eat me, …I had chanced to kill some nine sea-beasts. I never have heard of a harder night-fight under heaven’s vault, or a man more oppressed on the ocean streams.”(Beowulf p83) It is very apparent here that Beowulf is extremely proud of what he had accomplished, and was not going to let some other person who had done no major heroic deed try to put him down. In fact, he goes on to say that no one in the world has fought such a hard fight as he did that night.

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