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Barron's Booknotes-Beowulf-Free Chapter Summary Synopsis
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VERSES 8-9

Verse 8 introduces the character of Unferth, one of Hrothgar's main courtiers, and the son of Eclaf.

During the banquet that follows the arrival of the Geats, Unferth, jealous of Beowulf's reputation and insecure about his own, publicly accuses the visitor of acting foolishly during a swimming match with Brecca, chief of a tribe known as the Brondings. According to Unferth, Beowulf not only lost the match, he needlessly risked his life. Unferth implies that Beowulf's successes so far have been the result of good luck, not strength or courage, and that the young, Geat warrior will need more than luck if he expects to defeat Grendel.

Beowulf isn't threatened by Unferth's assault on his character. He accuses Unferth of having had too much to drink. He refutes the Danish courtier's version of the story, and uses the episode to extol his own bravery. He says that both he and Brecca knew they were risking their lives, but were too young to know better. For five days, he says, the two young warriors swam together side by side, each of them carrying a sword to protect them from the whales and the needlefish. Then a flood separated the two rivals, and Beowulf was attacked by a monster who dragged him toward the bottom of the sea where Beowulf pierced its heart with his sword. (Compare this scene with Beowulf's underwater battle with Grendel's mother later in the poem.)


Beowulf escapes one sea monster only to be surrounded by others. The poet describes Beowulf offering the edge of his "razor-sharp sword" to the monsters:

But the feast, I think, did not please them, filled Their evil bellies with no banquet-rich food, Thrashing there at the bottom of the sea

(562-64)

Note how the images of "feasting" and "battle" are intertwined throughout the poem.

Beowulf's tone is lighthearted as he describes his escape from the monsters. His self-confidence sometimes seems overwhelming. He sees himself fighting alone, a single individual against the evil in the world. It's not so much that he has faith in God, but that because of his courage, God has faith in him.

After his digression about the sea monsters, Beowulf addresses Unferth directly, accusing him of murdering his brothers and allowing Grendel to ravage his country. He predicts that Unferth's soul will "suffer hell's fires... forever tormented." What right, Beowulf asks, does Unferth have to question his courage, when Unferth himself has done nothing to end Grendel's reign of terror? He calls the Danes a passive nation ("the quiet Danes") compared to the Geats. In each of his speeches Beowulf appears to be working himself up to his eventual meeting with Grendel.

Hrothgar has been listening to the confrontation between Unferth and Beowulf. He has succumbed to Beowulf's boastfulness and charm, certain, now, that the young warrior will fulfill his promise. The atmosphere in the hall, despite the impending battle, is full of good feelings. You have the impression that Unferth has challenged other visitors in the same way, and that the Danish warriors do not take him very seriously.

Queen Welthow, Hrothgar's wife, "a noble woman who knew/What was right" (614), makes her first appearance in the middle of this scene. Despite her aristocratic bearing, her job is to offer mead-a mixture of alcohol, honey, and water-to her husband and his warriors. When the poet describes her as a woman "who knew what was right," he means, in effect, that she knows her place among men. Indeed, the poet's description of Welthow as a "gold-ringed queen" or a "braceletwearing queen" gives us the impression of a mannequin rather than a living human being.

After Welthow fills his cup, Beowulf takes the occasion to boast once again of his determination to defeat Grendel. The ritual of accepting the cup from Welthow, however, gives him added incentive. The agreement between Beowulf and the Danish people has been formalized at last, much in the same way two people might sign a legal document or contract. There are two alternatives: Beowulf will either defeat the monster, or die in the process. "Let me live in greatness/And courage," he says, "or here in this hall welcome/My death!" (636- 38).

As the banquet draws to a close, Hrothgar embraces the Geat warrior, and promises him great treasures if he meets with success.

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