themebeo Epic of Beowulf Essay - Theme and Style of Beowulf

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The Theme and Style of Beowulf

Interpretations of Beowulf’s theme vary much more than commentary on the poet’s style. In this essay I hope to state clearly some of the popularly mentioned themes running through the poem, and to carefully delineate many aspects of the author’s style.

“Many critics feel that the speech of Hrothgar between lines 1700 and 1784 encapsulates the moral of the poem….’He does not know the worse – till inside him great arrogance grows and spreads’” (Shippey 38). Is the theme of the poem that pride kills? Hrothgar’s ominous words do come back to haunt the hero more than once. Beowulf is a braggart; he is proud, and nothing seems able to change his basic proud outlook derived from
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Beowulf escaped

by his own strength, did hard sea-duty;

he held in his arms the battle-outfits

of thirty [warriors] when he turned to the sea:

No need to boast about that foot-fight

among the Hetware who bore shields against him;

few returned to see their homes

after facing the brave, the daring man.

Across the seas Ecgtheow’s son,

alone and lonely, swam to his homeland.

Beowulf seems to display absolute confidence in his own strength. So indeed, Shippey may be correct in asserting that Hrothgar’s advice that pride as the downfall of great people especially, is the theme of the poem. But in “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics” Tolkien states another view on the theme:

Let us suppose that our poet had chosen a theme more consonant with “our modern

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