Academic journal article Researchers World

Beowulf: A Game of Pride, Punishment and Purification

Academic journal article Researchers World

Beowulf: A Game of Pride, Punishment and Purification

Article excerpt


Beowulf , a poem written sometimes between the age of Bede and the eleventh century is still famous for its maturity that deals with the common values and basic human follies, deeply. The effects of actions, good or bad are temporary within the world of Beowulf. Hrothgar's building of Heorot and declaration of his owner of the Hall of all Halls, is quickly undone by Grendel's appearance on the scene. Likewise, Grendel's ravenous attacks are briefly alleviated by Beowulf's arrival and success in removing Grendel and its mother. The journey of rise and fall was completed when Beowulf was doomed by the poisonous attack of the dragon. So the poem is presented as a game of God where Beowulf and Hrothgar are the two major players, and 'Pride' the very natural instinct of human being works as a force to complete the game. This work illustrates how the pride of power entangles the minds of the towering figure of a nation, bringing the eternal wrath to the mundane world. The paper explores the conflict between the imperishable spirit and mortal flesh between which the second suffers, groans and sometimes pines and surrenders, like Hrothgar or clings to till doom, similar to Beowulf.

Keywords: pride, punishment, purification, Hrothgar, Beowulf.


The theme of man's smugness, his selfish acceptance of all the world's gifts without thinking of the Giver, is very common in old English verse; it is the presiding theme of the Junius Manuscript poems where the reversal of fortune is seen as a microcosmic fall of Human being. Pride is a cracking issue in this case that brings disgrace to human life. Repeated warning about the excesses of pride and constant struggle to sustain the line between mortal power and the immortal wrath get tremendous importance in Beowulf.

In it the presence of Pride is acute especially in the two major characters- Hrothgar and Beowulf. It has two phases. The realization of the great king Hrothgar through long suffering in one part, and in another part we get the heroic rise and fall of the great hero Beowulf. "It is divided in consequence into two opposite portions, different in matter, and length..." (Tolkien, 1975:108). Both of their tragic sufferings as well as downfall are the result of their hidden pride.

Pride in early medieval thought is the worst sin possible, the sin of Satan that damns more souls than any other. God hates the sin of pride seemingly more than any other sins. Truly He hates sin, and will punish all sins; irrespective of intensity for God cannot condone anything contrary to His nature. But His hatred seems to go out more forcibly against the sin of pride, as it robs him of His glory; and through His rebellious, sinful creatures it even tries to take Him offHis Throne.

Although the primary focus of the epic is on Beowulf the thane, the concept of kingship is addressed to Hrothgar the good but ineffective elderly king of the Danes in the first section. We get examples of kings who build great halls in which they host and reward their thanes. They were happy and completed their tenure peacefully. But the nexus of change comes when Hrothgar declares him the owner of the hall of all halls by building Heorot, a marvelous wonder of the skilled smiths. His pride stirs God indirectly.

In Beowulf pride was the first sin to destroy the calm of eternity. Satan began to be occupied with his own splendour and beauty, according to Ezekiel 28 and his lofty thoughts led to his expulsion from heaven. "...I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit upon the mount of the congregation...I will be like the most High."(The Bible, New Testament, Today's English Version) Like Satan, Hrothgar starts to think himself a superior one although he never declares it in public. He begins to make the law surpassing the Devine law.

And soon it stood there

finished and ready, in full view,

the hall of all halls. …

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