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Analysis of Hrothgar's Speech to Beowulf
The story of Beowulf was written somewhere between the 8th and 10th centuries by the Anglo-Saxon people in the midlands of England. England at this time had not yet completed its Christian conversion, retaining aspects of Anglo-Saxon warrior culture up until the beginning of the middle ages, and reflected their cultural norms in their stories. The pagan warrior-king lie at the heart of their society. Warrior-kings with unmatched strength and bravery ruled their kingdoms. They defended their people from all outside forces. To become a leader in this warrior-king culture meant to be the strongest, bravest, most fearless warrior. These aspects were backed up with dramatic speeches and flyting, an exchange of verbal insults meant to highlight a warrior's feats.
King Hrothgar foreshadows Beowulf`s death. Beowulf and Hrothgar share many qualities, but Hrothgar's speech in the Hall of Heorot warns him of his excessive pride, called hubris, which Hrothgar recognizes as Beowulf`s fatal flaw.
Hrothgar was a wise and worthy king
Hrothgar accepted the help of Beowulf, who defeated the monster Grendel and his mother in epic feats of strength and bravery and saved Heorot from ruin. Hrothgar spoke with an insight that only true wisdom could foster. This is vital in pagan warrior culture. The speech to Beowulf in Heorot at the final celebration before Beowulf returned home highlights Hrothgar's status as an eloquent speaker. But more vital to the story, Hrothgar's speech foreshadows Beowulf`s lack of character and his eventual death.
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Hrothgar's speech to Beowulf
After Beowulf slayed the second threat to Heorot, Hrothgar put on another celebration replete with alcohol, flyting, and dramatic speeches, and took the opportunity to give one of the most important speeches of the epic. The following excerpt is taken from The Norton Anthology of English Literature (lines 1758 to 1768):
"O flower of warriors, beware of that trap.
Choose, dear Beowulf, the better part,
eternal rewards. Do not give way to pride.
For a brief while your strength is in bloom
but fades quickly; and soon there will follow
illness or the sword to lay you low,
or a sudden fire or surge of water
or jabbing blade or javelin from the air
or repellent age. Your piercing eye
will dim and darken; and death will arrive,
dear warrior, to sweep you away
A breakdown of these lines points to the true nature of Beowulf's Character.
Analysis of Hrothgar's speech to Beowulf
Hrothgar understands hubris
When Hrothgar told Beowulf to 'beware of that trap", Hrothgar was referring to hubris. Hubris is excessive pride that represents a lack of moral virtue in Beowulf's character. Beowulf was undoubtedly a brave warrior. He saved Heorot twice, in epic fashion, from monsters that no one else could defeat These abilities of warriors are the "flower" that represents the full bloom of their abilities. But as a wise and worthy warrior-king, Hrothgar understood that hubris was a tragic flaw.
Hrothgar's speech foreshadows Beowulf's death
Hrothgar understood that Beowulf`s impressive strength was fleeting when he said, "For a brief while your strength is in bloom, but fades quickly". This strength faded in Hrothgar and was the reason he needed Beowulf to save Heorot from the monsters. Far from showing an inability to protect his people from outside forces, Hrothgar showed great moderation in his pride because he knew that his strength had waned in his old age. Hrothgar knew that Beowulf`s strength was going to slowly whither and wanted to warn Beowulf. "Soon there will follow ...[a] repellent age. Your piercing eye will dim and darken; and death will arrive, dear warrior, to sweep you away", Hrothgar proclaimed. And when the story ends in this repellent age, a distasteful reality that Beowulf refused to admit, swept him away.
In the final lines of the story, as Beowulf aged, he was put in the same predicament as Hrothgar but did not take the same course of action, a choice that would lead to Beowulf's death. A terrible dragon was threatening his kingdom and Beowulf had to act. He did not head Hrothgar's speech. He felt that he needed to defeat the dragon by himself, Something that he could have done in his youth but could not do in his old age. He slayed the dragon but was wounded and died. As a result, he left his kingdom without a king.