How do the protagonists from Beowulf and Hamlet compare? Though both play a major role in an epic story, they share a few common viewpoints. The outcome of both stories is greatly influenced by the main character’s struggles in life. The situations that occur throughout these stories also impact the narratives. In addition, the various characters in each work influence the protagonists’ choices and lives. Each is involved in themes which can easily relate to those of modern day society, although Beowulf and Hamlet live in completely different times.
Beowulf is the ideal warrior; he is a strong, fearless fighter and a fantastic leader who goes to immutable extremes to protect his people. When his country is threatened by what is thought to be an undefeatable beast named Grendel, Beowulf does the impossible and slays the monster. Hamlet, on the other hand, is not a leader like Beowulf whatsoever. Hamlet is not even a king or recognized as a leader. Hamlet’s father was murdered, and afterwards he simply wants to go back to school to learn. It is not until much thought and preparation that he makes it his mission to have his father’s revenge. If Beowulf was placed in the same situation, he would have instantly killed the man responsible for the murder.
From the beginning of this epic poem, Beowulf is not loved as a child and is told he will never be a leader, thus giving him the motivation to become one of the greatest warriors ever. His only fear is failure, in battle and as a leader. He takes on such a large role as a warrior that his fellow countrymen do not see the need to ever prepare to fight because Beowulf is all the warrior they need. This ultimately results in much pain and struggle when Beowulf finds himself in need of assistance. Hamlet is as much of an introvert as Beowulf is an extrovert. Hamlet prefers to study instead of fight and learn over battle. Hamlet’s parents love him, but his mother is a shallow woman who marries his uncle solely to remain in a place of power. Horatio and Hamlet hold an odd relationship- Horatio is Hamlet’s servant, yet he is a close friend of Hamlet’s.
There are many major events in both of these narratives, but one in each stands out. In Beowulf, at the beginning of the novel he is crowned king and viewed as the leader of all. This is a major event because it puts Beowulf in a position of undivided power which seems to eventually go to his head. Though he is an incredible leader, he believes that he does not and never will need any assistance, which ends up being fatal. In his final moments, Beowulf exclaims “To the everlasting Lord of All, to the King of Glory, I give thanks that I behold this treasure here in front of me, that I have been allowed to leave my people so well endowed on the day I die” (Beowulf, page 189).
A major turning point in Hamlet is the scene where Hamlet speaks with his father’s ghost. Up until this point in the play, Hamlet seems at ease with his father’s death, but after he converses with the ghost he becomes ridden with revenge. This climax turns the entire context of the play from Hamlet wishing to attend school to Hamlet seeking revenge on his uncle which, similarly to Beowulf, leads to his death. Beowulf’s character is rather elaborate. At the beginning of the book, it is said “a boy-child was born to Shield, a cub in the yard, a comfort sent by God to the nation” (Beowulf, page 3). From the beginning, Beowulf is made out to be an undefeatable hero who will stop at nothing to protect his people from danger.
It is easy to relate to Beowulf in the sense that he will always rise to people’s expectations and continue to exceed them, as supported by the text “then Halfdane’s son presented Beowulf with a gold standard as a victory gift…with customary grace bestowed upon Beowulf both sets of gifts” (Beowulf, page 69). But it eventually comes to a point where he simply cannot meet the expectations and is left dumbfounded. As Grendel’s mother returns to take her son’s claw, she is frightened as “The hell-dam was in panic, desperate to get out, in mortal terror the moment she was found, she had pounced and taken one of the retainers in a tight hold, then headed for the fen” (Beowulf, page 91). Even though the monster is scared and running away, Beowulf, simply out of pride, follows her to her home to battle.
Hamlet has no leadership desire at the beginning of the play. He simply wants to study and learn while his dad rules the country. Then Claudius, his uncle, murders his dad and after an encounter with his father’s ghost, Hamlet’s personality changes; he becomes obsessed with restitution. This makes sense because anger is one of the strongest human emotions. It is an axiomatic emotion, referred to as “one of the seven deadly sins.” For Hamlet, this becomes a reality as getting revenge ultimately leads to his own death. A very popular quote, “More than kin, less than kind” (Hamlet, page 3) was originated in Hamlet when he mumbled it to his uncle, who becomes his stepfather.
Beowulf and Hamlet, though composed by different authors and written in different forms, have struggles which parallel many in the world today. Both of the heroes are affected by emotions, the people around them, and the events that occur throughout each work. Beowulf lives in a very violent society where heinous violence is the norm; this compares to certain parts of the world today, such as the Mideast. He also exemplifies the good in good versus evil which most of the modern world still deals with today. Beowulf fought against monsters whereas people today fight against disease and terrorism.
Hamlet’s obsession with revenge is not different from many living today. Although Christians are meant to forgive their neighbors, many find this difficult. We are supposed to learn from history, however, the past seems to repeat itself more often than not. Even though Hamlet and Beowulf live in different eras, their battles with violence, good versus evil, and revenge still hold true today.
Courtney from Study Moose
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