Tales of Beowulf: Theme’ Analysis Essay

September 29, 2020 by Essay Writer


Beowulf is one of the oldest pieces of poetry known today that was written in the English language. It is the story about the young man overcoming numerous challenges with heroism and sacrifices worthy of the greatest kings of that time. The poetic form reflects the approach of the poets of that epoch to the process of recording and then glorifying noticeable events. The poem is enriched by the tales presented by the author to emphasize the main idea of the good and evil, deception and honesty, sacrifices, and selfishness. Considering the peculiarities of Beowulf, the paper aims at exploring particular themes such as family, fame and shame, changes and cycles, and the theme of religion present in the poem to show how the interpolated tales define the central story.

Theme of Family

One of the central themes in Beowulf is the concept of family and the related belonging of a family to some clan or tribe. The Medieval culture of Germans, presented in the poem, was substantially influenced by the importance of these institutions (Traidl 45). People, who did not belong to some tribe, did not belong to a family as well, as in the case of Grendel, for example, and Heremond. They are depicted in Beowulf as joyless characters who have nobody in their lives (“Beowulf: Theme Analysis” par. 2).

In fact, everything in the poem is based on the values of a family and tribe. The unknown poet writes “… No truce, accepting no settlement, no price/ In gold or land, and paying the living …” (“Beowulf Quotes” par. 1). It was written about Grendel, a vicious monster born to be alone. The need in family and tribe is the central line of the entire poem, which is understandable, considering the way of life people had back then.

Theme of Fame, Exaggerated Pride, and Inevitable Shame

A fame of a decent king and a fame of a decent warrior seem to be based on the same grounds. However, as it is presented in the poem, these concepts have different roots (Alishman par. 6). While Beowulf positions himself as a great warrior, mighty and fearless, and, of course, seeking for fame, Hrothgar is a king who must think of his people to have the fame of the decent king (“Synopsis of Beowulf” par. 16).

In these words of a poet, one can see almost reckless bravery and enormous pride of Beowulf talking about Grendel: “…Beating at my sword blade, would be helpless. I will meet him/ With my hands empty-unless his heart/ Fails him, seeing a soldier waiting/ Weaponless, unafraid” (“Beowulf Quotes” par. 3). That is why Hrothgar hires Beowulf to fight Grendel, the creature terrorizing villagers in Hrothgar’s kingdom. The king cannot risk his life unnecessarily, just for fame. It seems like a shame, but it is the quality of a decent king to be selfless.

Theme of Cycles and Changes

The tales in the poem contain a considerable about of repetitions such as the beginning of the story based on the king’s funeral and the end of it, having the funeral of another king again. The fights of Beowulf with sea monsters, Grendel, Mother of Grendel, Dragon are very similar in the essence as well (Sheehan 227). Such a cyclic narration in the poem presents the continuity of everything around, using the idea that there is nothing new in the world, just events that repeat time after time with different variations. According to the author of the poem, everything is cyclic: “These ancient ears…If your lord,/ Hrethel’s son, is slain by a spear, / Or falls sick and dies…” (“Beowulf Quotes” par. 5). However, these cycles lead to something new every time, symbolizing the inevitable changes.

Theme of Religion

Finally, the theme of religion adds certain controversy to the poem as it was written in the times of paganism (the 7th century) but it is known that the oldest manuscript of Beowulf is dated by the 11th century, and it contains certain overtones inherent to Christianity. Hrothgar, for example, is not aware of God, but he continuously thanks him for fortune (“Structure in Beowulf — Several Possibilities” par. 4). Additionally, the success of Beowulf, according to the author, seems to be the favor of God mostly but not the sole efforts of the hero: “Let God in His wisdom/ Extend His hand where He wills, reward/ Whom he chooses!” (“Beowulf Quotes” par. 5). It is rather obvious addressing to one God, which is strange, considering the time the story was written.


Summing, the paper explored the particular themes such as family, fame and shame, changes and cycles, and the theme of religion present in the poem to show how the interpolated tales define the central story. The poem appeared to be the seamless combination of different tales, having Beowulf, the hero, the king, and the deceiver as the central figure. The tales enrich the life story of Beowulf and add details that are worthy of the audience’s attention. The poem about Beowulf is a good piece of poetry that is interesting to read even today because it is the reflection of the modern life, in metaphorical meaning. Family, fame, shame, changes and repetitions, and, of course, religion, are the eternal themes in poetry as the reflection of the real life.

Works Cited

Alishman, D. L. Beowulf. 2010. Web.

Beowulf: Theme Analysis 2013. Web.

Beowulf Quotes 2015. Web.

Sheehan, John. “The Quest of Everyman: An Analysis of Eriksonian Psychology and Beowulf.” Annual American Men’s Studies Association Conference Proceeding. Harriman: Men’s Studies Press, 2011. 210-222,271. Print.

Structure in Beowulf — Several Possibilities 2016. Web.

Synopsis of Beowulf 2016. Web.

Traidl, Veronika. Telling Tales about Beowulf: The Poem and the Films. Munchen: Herbert Utz Verlag, 2016. Print.

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