When Beowulf dies, the Geats dwell upon his greatness. They see him as a hero, not just because of the things he accomplished, but because of the sacrifices he made for them. The character, Beowulf, is a classic example of someone who fights for pride and glory. He is a brave warrior who is trying to repay his father’s debts to the king of Denmark. Beowulf is a tragic hero because he is noble, has a tragic flaw that leads to his downfall, and sacrifices himself for the good of his people. The achievements that Beowulf accomplishes make the people believe in him as a tragic hero.
To be noble, one has to possess power and authority, but still fulfill obligations to their people. Beowulf stands as a noble king. He earns his power, and leads and fights for his people. At the end of the story, Beowulf battles a dragon that has been troubling his people. This shows us the sacrifice he makes for the Geats to try to save them. After Beowulf is defeated and killed by the dragon, his loyal warrior, Wiglaf, speaks. Wiglaf, the only warrior standing by his side during the fight, tells the other warriors that they have betrayed Beowulf, the king “who showered you with gifts” (2866).
In this quote, Wiglaf is saying that Beowulf has proven his loyalty to his warriors by giving them weapons, armor, and treasure, which in their society was expected of a king or ring-giver. After Beowulf’s death, the Geats realize his nobility, generosity, and bravery. Although Beowulf is a noble king, he, like every tragic hero, has a tragic flaw. In Beowulf’s case it is hubris. Hubris is a characteristic of someone who is over confident or prideful. Pride has a good and a bad consequence for Beowulf. One benefit of pride is that it promotes confidence in battles.
For example, when Beowulf goes to fight Grendel, he says, “now I mean to be a match for Grendel, / settle the outcome in single combat” (425-426). In this quote, Beowulf is saying that he wants to keep the matchup fair between Grendel and himself, so to keep the playing field level he will fight him without any weapons. This is a great example of Beowulf being over confident in himself by saying he doesn’t need weapons to kill Grendel. When he is young, his pride helps him win battles, but at an old age, hubris can be a flaw. This is seen when Beowulf faces the dragon after he has been king for 50 years.
At this old age, Beowulf is still so prideful that he wants to fight the dragon alone. This is an example of how his hubris is a detriment. Because of his hubris, Beowulf does not regard age and thinks he will be victorious just as in previous battles. He finds out this is not so when he is defeated. Beowulf makes many sacrifices in the course of the story to protect his people. The final sacrifice even leads to his death. Near the end of the story, Beowulf hears of a dragon that has been terrorizing his people. To destroy this figure, which the people fear, he goes to fight the dragon with his warriors.
When he arrives to the area where the dragon lives, he turns around to his men and says, “this fight is not yours, / nor is it up to any man except me/ to measure his strength against the monster or to prove his worth” (2533-2535). In this quote, Beowulf tells his warriors he wants to fight the dragon alone. He commands them to stay back so that he may kill the dragon by himself. The main reason why he does this is because he feels responsible for his people and he believes he is the only one that should defend them. His men obey his words, and he goes into battle by himself.
At the end of the fight, Wiglaf sees Beowulf die, and realizes the honorable king he was and the heroic sacrifice that he made for his people. Throughout the story and his many battles, Beowulf displays the characteristics of a tragic hero. He was noble, and made many great sacrifices for his people. Beowulf shows that performing his duty as king was more important to him than his own life. This ultimate sacrifice shows the Geats the true hero he was for them. Beowulf, not only in this book, but in all old English literature is one of the best examples of a tragic hero.
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