LINES 2,200 – 2,400 : Beowulf, King of the Geats
Following the death of Hygelac, his son Heardred took the throne, but his
reign was short-lived and he too was killed.
Beowulf then became King and reigned wisely for fifty years.
A plague then hit the countryside in the form of a fiery dragon that burnt
the land, seeking revenge for the theft of a gold cup from his treasure horde.
Apparently a servant fleeing from his brutal master happened upon the secret
entrance to the dragon’s lair and stole a cup in order to make amends with his master. Although the thief escaped the dragon, the worm bent on revenge laid waste the land.
Originally the treasure horde belonged to a man, but he had no son to leave
his treasure to, and so on his death, the dragon happened upon this treasure trove and took it for its own.
Even the throne of the Geats is destroyed by fire, and Beowulf resolves to
rid his people of the dragon. He devises a plan to kill the dragon and he selects a small party of his best warriors to help him in this task.
Beowulf is confident that he will achieve victory over the dragon, just as he did over Grendel and his mother.
From that time, Beowulf has faced many foes especially since the death of
Hygelac at the hands of the Frisians. He conquered the Frankish people and his fame was such that Hygd, Hygelac’s widow suggested that Beowulf should become King rather than Heardred, but Beowulf chose to
support the rightful heir, rather than take the throne for himself. Heardred fell fighting against the Swedes to the north, and only then did Beowulf become King.
Beowulf’s heroism was widespread and he was able to negotiate peace with his
neighbors rather than engage in combat, although he was still successful when peace broke down and violence was required.
Beowulf orders a battle-shield made of iron to be cast in order to aid him
in his battle against the fire-breathing dragon, as a wooden shield would have no resistance.
There is a definite change of pace from the fast and furious first part of
The plot now moves more sedately and there is much argument over the reason
Some contend that the change in pace is a direct ploy by the author to emphasize the now great age of Beowulf. Others suggest that a separate author wrote this supporting storyline and the two were added together some time later.
Just to confuse the situation further, it is clear from the original
manuscript of 1010 A.D. that the second part of the story is written by a different scribe.
Like most of these riddles, the true situation is probably a combination of
all these factors.
We again have reference to the importance given by warriors to their
The fact that Beowulf orders a splendid new battle-shield to be wrought shows that he is in no hurry to face the dragon. He wishes to pursue this endeavour being totally prepared both with equipment and with men. He will also take his sword, Naegling with him.
Again we note that the poet uses a flashback technique in bringing the
audience up-to-date on the history between his arrival back in Denmark and his becoming King of the Geats. It shows Beowulf as an honorable Thane of the Geats, not wishing to usurp the throne by replacing
Heardred, even though he would have the support of Hygelac’s widow.
The poet clearly wishes to make a distinction between the Geats and the
other tribes in the area where there is continued warring and dishonorable behavior amongst the hierarchy of the various houses, e.g. Heremod the Danish tyrant from line 900.
When Beowulf does come to the throne, he is clearly a King of the people,
and brings peace to the land until the arrival of the dragon.
This section provides some vivid and beautiful poetry, e.g.
“The fiery dragon’s flames had blasted
all the land by the sea, and its safe stronghold,
the fortress of the people. The formidable King
of the Geats now planned to punish him for this''
He gave orders for the making of a marvelous shield
worked all in iron;”
The style of the poetry here is more lyrical than in the first section where
it was harsh and gave the reader an insight into the violent aspect of Beowulf’s deeds.
The poet desires to show a contrast in the character of Beowulf. He is now not just a fame-seeking adventurer, but he has mellowed and has taken the mantle of God’s hero, in particular the passage that deals with Hygd’s offer of the crown thus,
“There Hygd offered him the horde and the kingdom,
the gift-stool and its treasure; not trusting that her son
would be able to hold the inherited seats
against foreign peoples now his father was dead''”
Beowulf: “himself to be Lord of Heardred.
Rather he fostered him among the people with friendly counsel,
with kindliness and respect until he came of age
and ruled the Geats.”
Although it is not made clear in the poem, it is assumed that Beowulf
married Hygd, Hygelac’s widow, but still honored Heardred’s birthright.
It should be noted that the poet predicts Beowulf’s death at the forthcoming
battle with the dragon.