Beowulf is an epic poem set in Denmark in 507 A.D. It is not exclusively English although it is regarded as a remarkable survivor of a great literary tradition in the Anglo-Saxon (Old English) language.
The epic poem tells of a brave and strong young man named Beowulf, who set out with a group of soldiers to save the Danes from Grendel, a monster that kept the King Rothgar’s kingdom terrified. Brave, strong, and driven by a burning desire to carve a name for his own, Beowulf indeed proved himself hero when he singlehandedly killed Grendel.
Even Grendel’s mother, who was cunning and wise as she was powerful, did not succeed in avenging her son’s death, for Beowulf overpowered her. Until his last days, Beowulf sacrificed himself to save his people. The epic poem ends with his funeral, where his people weep as they bade him goodbye, thanking him for his last heroic act of fighting a fierce dragon that attacked them.
The same heroic plot was used for the 2007 digital movie entitled Beowulf. However, the movie presents an interesting subliminal central theme: that Beowulf and the other characters of the epic are just ordinary human beings, who are vulnerable to temptations and can also fail.
The movie depicts Beowulf as an ambitious and determined young warrior whose failures are covered by his heroic deeds. His victory over Grendel, over Grendel’s mother, and finally over the fierce dragon, have brought Beowulf the honor and his place in history. However, behind such victories are compromises borne of Beowulf’s vulnerability and weakness as a human being.
Beowulf, young and mighty and aggressive, is attracted to Wealthow, King Rothgar’s wife who reciprocates his affection. Cunning and wise, Grendel’s Mother uses this fact and transforms herself into Wealthow, successfully seducing Beowulf and killing his soldiers. He wakes up from his perceived dream ,shocked as he finds out about the massacre.
King Rothgar reveals to Beowulf the next morning that Grendel’s Mother was the one who came and killed the soldiers, and that Grendel was his son. With this knowledge, Beowulf sets out to attack Grendel’s Mother at the cavern where she lives. And, for the second time, Beowulf weakens at the sight of a lovely lady into which Grendel’s Mother transformed herself, successfully seducing Beowulf. He enters into a truce or compromise with her, leaving her in peace instead of killing her, as she promises him wealth and honor and fame.
The movie continues to show Beowulf bragging about how he killed Grendel’s Mother. However, King Hrothgar, knowing how powerful and wise Grendel’s Mother is, knows in his heart that Beowulf is lying, and decides to end his life with a word that Beowulf will take over his kingdom. Years after, an old and tired Beowulf is shown with remorse, bearing the big lie in his heart for years. The movies ends like the epic poem, with Beowulf’s funeral after his heroic fight against the dragon.
In its original essence, Beowulf is an interesting epic, as it tells of the bravery of a young man and the selflessness of his heart as he risks his life to save others from ferocious creatures against which no one dared fight. On the other hand, the movie’s profound look at the human side of Beowulf is refreshing in that it gives the epic a different perspective as well as provokes analytical thoughts about it. From both perspectives, Beowulf is any man, can be any of us – brave and strong and selfless at times, yet weak and selfish at other times.
“Beowulf for Dummies” from http://csis.pace.edu/grendel/projf981e/story.html
“Beowulf”.Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved November 18, 2007, from Encyclopædia Britannica 2006 Ultimate Reference Suite DVD
“The Middle Ages”. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Seventh Edition, Cornell University, 2000
“The Linguistic and Literary Contexts of Beowulf:An Overview”Norton Topics Online, [http://www.wwnorton.com/college/english/nael/middleages/topic_4/welcome.htm]