History: Beowulf.


It is therefore impossible to tell just how much of the story is due to the interpretation of the monks, how much of it had been shaped by the society as it became more Christian and what remains of the original culture from which the story originally sprang. In spite of this uncertainty, the behavior of the main characters demonstrates there was already a clear distinction being made between the concepts of barbarism and civility,

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morality and immorality, well before the advent of Christianity. Strong kinship ties reinforced good behavior and helped to codify what was considered bad. Characters who embody these ideals include Beowulf, Hrothgar and Wealhtheow while characters such as Grendel’s mother demonstrate how bonds of kinship can lead one astray.

As it is revealed through the poem, the code of kinship and honor placed significant value on personal characteristics such as physical strength and liege loyalty, expansive hospitality particularly to those associated through kinship ties and smooth political skill in leaders (Tierney-Hynes, 2000). This is how Hrothgar is presented to the reader from the beginning, establishing him as the example by which Beowulf will be able to judge himself later. Before he can accept Beowulf’s help in getting rid of Grendel, Hrothgar has to make it clear that Beowulf’s service is in honorable repayment of past deeds on behalf of Beowulf’s father – kinship ties must be established. He says, “Great was the feud that your father set off when his hand struck down Heatholaf in death among the Wylfings. … I then settled the feud with fitting payment, sent to the Wylfings over the water’s back old things of beauty. against which I’d the oath of your father” (459-61. 470-72).

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