Study Guide

Beowulf Violence

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Violence is a way of life in the Scandinavian warrior culture of Beowulf. When your hero's goal is to kill a local demon who's been attacking people and carrying off corpses by the dozen, you're going to get a certain amount of circumstantial violence. In Beowulf, battle is not only bloody, it's gory and grimy and sweaty and sinews are tearing apart. Corpses don't just burn on funeral pyres; the fluids and gases ooze and bubble out of the bodies as they're burning. People don't just wrestle, they tear each other's arms out of their sockets. You get the idea.

Questions About Violence

  1. Why are the violent deaths and bloody battles in Beowulf depicted in such elaborate, gory detail?
  2. How common does violence seem to be in the world of Beowulf? What kinds of violence seem to happen on a regular basis to the Dane and Geat peoples? What kinds of violence seem extraordinary even for medieval Scandinavia?
  3. Is Beowulf himself a violent character? If so, how? If not, why not?
  4. Is violence necessarily a bad thing in medieval warrior culture? If not, are there ways that violence can become perverted by evil? Is there a difference between "acceptable" and "unacceptable" types of violence in Beowulf? How does this compare to what we believe today about violence in 21st century culture?

Chew on This

Violence is depicted as a fact of life in Beowulf, something neutral that can be used for good or evil purposes.

Although Beowulf himself is a violent character, violence in the epic of Beowulf always has negative connotations.

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