Beowulf – the Conflicts
J.D.A. Ogilvy and Donald C. Baker in “Beowulf’s Heroic Death” comment on the hero’s culpability in his final conflict:
. . .the author describes Beowulf and the dragon lying dead side by side and observes rather sententiously that it was a bad business fighting with a dragon or disturbing his hoard. Beowulf, he adds, had paid for the treasure with his life. Some commentators seem to consider this passage, combined with Wiglaf’s remarks about Beowulf’s insistence on fighting the dragon alone, as a criticism of Beowulf’s conduct (69).
Beowulf contains considerable conflict, both external and internal. Conflict is how one describes ...view middle of the document...
Grendel this monster grim was called,
march-riever mighty, in moorland living,
in fen and fastness; fief of the giants
the hapless wight a while had kept
since the Creator his exile doomed.
This “kin of Cain” Grendel could not endure the joy of the Danes and their celebration of God’s creation of the world. Consequently he attacked Heorot and killed 30 warriors the first night. Thus the reader sees a very serious external conflict between this monster and the Danish people. This situation brought about a serious internal conflict within their king, Hrothgar, who was totally frustrated by his inability to get rid of Grendel:
THUS seethed unceasing the son of Healfdene
with the woe of these days; not wisest men
assuaged his sorrow; too sore the anguish,
loathly and long, that lay on his folk,
most baneful of burdens and bales of the night.
The continuing conflict with the monster, after enduring for 12 years, caused another internal conflict. The victimized population initially appealed to their Christian God for relief, and when this was not forthcoming they reverted to pagan sacrifices in an effort to stop Grendel:
Whiles they vowed in their heathen fanes
altar-offerings, asked with words
that the slayer-of-souls would succor give them
for the pain of their people. Their practice this,
their heathen hope; 'twas Hell they thought of
in mood of their mind. Almighty they knew not,
Doomsman of Deeds and dreadful Lord,
nor Heaven's-Helmet heeded they ever,
Thus two conflicts now existed – an external one with the monster and an internal religious or God-centered one.
When King Hygelac’s prince, Beouwlf, expressed his desire to assist the Danes in their external conflict with Grendel, the king expressed his preference that the Danes be allowed to handle their own problem. This minor conflict between the two Geats terminated with the hero’s departure for the Danes. There follows a generally cordial reception in King Hrothgar’s court, with the exception of a minor conflict with a drunken Unferth who loudly denounces Beowulf as a weakling who was bested by Breca in a swimming contest previously:
UNFERTH spake, the son of Ecglaf,
who sat at the feet of the Scyldings' lord,
unbound the battle-runes. -- Beowulf's quest,
sturdy seafarer's, sorely galled him;
ever he envied that other men
should more achieve in middle-earth
of fame under heaven than he himself. --
"Art thou that Beowulf, Breca's rival. . . .
Carol F. Clover in “The Unferth Episode” compares an external conflict between the hero and Unferth in the poem Beowulf with its Norse analogue: “It consists of an exchange of verbal provocations between hostile speakers in a predictable setting. The boasts and insults are traditional, and their arrangement and rhetorical form are highly stylized [based on...