Aspects of Good and Evil in Beowulf In Beowulf, the conflict between good and evil is the poem’s main and most important theme. The poet makes it clear that good and evil do not exist as mutually exclusive opposites, but that both qualities are present in everyone. Beowulf represents the potential to do good, or to perform acts selflessly and in service of others. Goodness is also portrayed throughout this epic as having the ability to cleanse evil. Whereas evil is presented by Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the dragon, who are consumed with a desire to act against people and ultimately destroy them. Even pride, a human quality, is presented in Beowulf as a sign that evil exists. Beowulf takes it upon himself to propose several great deeds that he will perform to aid countries in need. One such deed is his offer to King Hrothgar, in which he proposes to slay Grendel. Beowulf states, “‘Single-handed I’ll settle the strife!’” In this remark, Beowulf is simply stating that he will kill this virulent creature, Grendel. Another selfless act Beowulf states is that he will slay Grendel’s mother. Beowulf declares, “‘And I give you pledge, She [Grendel’s mother] shall not in safety escape to cover.’” Beowulf promises to see to it that Grendel’s mother will be killed. After Beowulf becomes king in Geatland, he demonstrates his benevolence once more by pledging to kill the fire-dragon. “The ring-prince scorned to assault the dragon,” the poet said. Beowulf is said to have pledged to kill the dragon, which has caused a disturbance among his people. These selfless acts offered by Beowulf display much of the goodness that is apparent in Beowulf. Goodness is not only portrayed by selfless acts, but also by it’s ability to purge and cleanse evil. This is first shown after Beowulf slays Grendel. The poet says, “[Beowulf] Had purged of evil the hall of Hrothgar, And cleansed of crime; the heart of the hero.” The good done by Beowulf is shown to have the ability to cleanse Heorot of evil. Another example of good cleansing evil occurs after Beowulf had slayed both Grendel and Grendel’s mother, and is departing to fight his final battle. The poet states, “Purged of evil the hall of Hrothgar And crushed out Grendel’s loathsome kin ” By destroying both Grendel and Grendel’s mother, Beowulf has purified hall of Hrothgar of all evils. Furthermore Beowulf announces that he will purge Heorot of evil. Beowulf says, “‘ That I may alone with my loyal earls, With this hardly company, cleanse Hart-Hall.’” Beowulf means to eliminate all evils in Heorot, and to purify it. The ability goodness has to cleanse evil is very evident in Beowulf.
Evil is represented in Beowulf partly through the creatures in it. Evil is first shown by the monster Grendel. “[Grendel] Slew thirty spearmen asleep in the hall, Sped away gloating, gripping the spoil,” the poet declares. Grendel enjoyed killing these spearmen, making him Beowulf’s first evil creature. Another evil beast in Beowulf is Grendel’s mother. The poet describes her as “a monstrous hag,” giving the idea that she, like her son, represents evil. The fire-dragon also symbolizes evil. “[The fire-dragon] Burned the bright dwellings-the glow of the blaze Filled hearts with horror,” the poet reveals. The fire-dragon’s goal is to strike fear into the hearts of the people of Geatland showing that he is clearly an evil creature. Creatures in Beowulf make up much of the evil that is displayed throughout the poem. Evil is also portrayed in Beowulf as pride. Hrothgar gives Beowulf a lengthy speech warning him about the dangers of pride. He says, “‘And evil assails not-until in his heart Pride overpowering gathers and grows.’” Hrothgar is warning Beowulf not to allow devilish pride to grow in his heart in soul. Hrothgar adds, “‘Since God has granted him glory and wealth He forgets the future, unmindful of Fate.’” Hrothgar is telling Beowulf to use the power God has given him well, but not to forget the future for death is inevitable. Hrothgar concludes his advice to Beowulf on pride by once again warning him of the perils of pride. He advises, “‘Beware of pride! Now for a time you shall feel the fullness And know the glory of strength, but soon Sickness or sword shall strip you of that might.” Hrothgar now is telling Beowulf not to think of himself untouchable because as soon as that happens, his body may fail him and it is too late to make amends for evil things he has done. In Beowulf, pride is presented as an evil, with potentially fatal consequences. Good and evil are both very apparent throughout Beowulf. Good represented by both selfless acts accomplished by Beowulf as well as its’ ability to cleanse evil. The evil creatures that Beowulf encounters as well as pride together portray evil. Together they constitute Beowulf’s most important theme, the conflict between good and evil.
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