LINES 499 – 701 : The Trap is Set
At the banquet, one of the Danish lords, Unferth annoys Beowulf by reminding
him that he was defeated by Breca in a swimming match, and that Beowulf faces a worse outcome when he meets Grendel.
Beowulf responds by saying that although Breca won the race, he was delayed by fighting nine sea monsters, all of which he killed. He then belittles Unferth by saying that he does not recall the Danish lord having achieved anything heroic on the battlefield.
In a show of nationalism, Beowulf states that the Danes have failed to kill
Grendel and it is now up to the Geats to show their worth.
Hrothgar’s Queen, Wealhtheow joins the feast, and showing due courtesy, she
ensures that her guests have sufficient to drink and she passes round the cup of Hrothgar for them to share. The Queen is dressed in her finest clothes adorned with gold.
The feast ends, and the King and Queen retire to bed closely followed the
Beowulf gives his battle clothes to his servant and then taking a cushion,
he goes back down to the hall to await the arrival of Grendel.
We get the first inkling that not all the Danes welcome Beowulf and his men,
and Unferth attempts to undermine Beowulf’s position. However, this backfires, for Unferth’s only claim to fame is the fact that he murdered his own brother and has no heroic deeds to fall back on.
We also see how civilized and rich the King is and his wealth is duly
displayed by his Queen when she shows off the gold that she possesses. She is a perfect hostess and she is very attentive to the guests within her husband’s home.
Beowulf prepares himself for the battle with the ogre by stripping off his
battle togs and giving them to his servant to look after.
This is a predominantly masculine tale. At this time in history, women
were regarded as mere chattels and used as pawns in the form of arranged marriages in order for feuding warlords to obtain peace.
The lines describing the Queen provide a soft passage of poetry as a prelude
to the harsh lines that will follow describing the conflict between Beowulf and Grendel.
“There was laughter of heroes, harp-music ran,
words were warm-hearted. Wealhtheow moved,
mindful of courtesies, the Queen of Hrothgar,
glittering to greet the Geats in the hall,
peerless lady; but to the land’s guardian
she offered first the flowing cup,
bade him be blithe at the beer-drinking,
gracious to his people; gladly the conqueror
partook of the banquet, tasted the hall-cup.”
The lines provide a picture of this gracious Queen being the perfect hostess
to her guests, but these are more than guests. The final lines indicate that Hrothgar is passing authority over to Beowulf symbolized by the cup transferring from him to Beowulf, conveyed by his Queen.
He has failed to rid his people of this evil demon. He accedes to Beowulf, considering him to be God-sent, and Hrothgar will retire from the scene, leaving Beowulf on guard to face Grendel.