Essay on Foreshadowing in 'Beowulf'

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The fetish woman, who 'too sang out in grief', provides a rather omenistic foreshadowing into a post-beowulf society, epitomising the fears of an unstable nation following the loss of their 'good king'. Although a drunken statement, Unferth's remark that 'no one has ever outlasted an entire night against Grendel' reminds the reader of Beowulf's unmatched nature, the character depicted as the greatest asset of the Geats, his involvement and subsequent martyrdom likely reducing civilian and warrior death as opposed to another attempting the same feat. The warrior emerges to reverse the typical relationship and outcome of man versus monster, the first altercation between Grendel and Beowulf evoking an overt sense of fear in the monster despite his causation of unadulterated terror and destruction in the land of the Danes. The narrative's psychologizing of Grendel exposes a rather fearful awe regarding Beowulf's equality in his sense of brutality, 'he was desperate to flee...never...cornered like this'. Placing an emphasis on the use of the adverb, 'never', the ever-looming fear of the future can be furthered, especially given the lack of faith towards the warriors of the future in Wiglaf's 'sad-at-heart speech', a tone of ashamedness and disappointment permeating his lines: 'this lord...needs sound men', 'we must bond together'. The narrative goes on to reprimand such fearful behaviour of said warriors in the rather critical and depreciating descriptor 'battle dodgers', Grendel's idea of 'never' thus holds a depressing poignancy, the narrative's scope failing to provide a Beowulf incarnate.

Grendel monopolises on the fear of Danes, dictating their behaviourial patterns in a performative sense of terrorism, 'So Grendel ruled...for twelve winters'..., enforcing a dictorial regime based on his personal desires, pained 'to hear the din of the loud banquet every day'. Moreover, in a rather interesting use of narrative technique, the poet assimilates the reader into Grendel's viewpoint, this tactic amplifying one's fear in a moment of forced voyeurism, 'he saw in the hall many warriors...'. The reader is placed in an non-consensual gaze upon the helpless Danes, reduced, by Grendel, to a source of food: 'he would...devour them, feed on their flesh'. This evocative imagery, furthered by the intention of 'life' being 'ripped' from 'limp' is undeniably visceral, the reader acknowledging and internalising the anguished existence of the denoted society. The unmatched energy and rapidity evoked in this desired attack immediately renders all average warriors useless given the expositional outlining of the 'loss of guards' and 'grabbing of thirty men'. His existence relies on the fear of the Danes, their resistance in retaliation fostering a habit of exploitation on the beast's behalf as exposed by Beowulf, 'he can trample you his heart's content...without fear of reprisal'. Yet this denoted 'fear' is rather symbolic, foreshadowing the likely societal suffering following Beowulf's death, the Danes effectively isolating from their oppressor until a match is met in 'someone different'.

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Within Atlakvida, interestingly it is Gudrun's warnings, mobilised by her fear, that encourage Gunnar's acceptance of Atli's invitation. The invitation, which promised an abundance of material goods in 'shields', 'treasures', to an already rich and prosperous pair is undeniably suspicious, given the known 'inheritance of the Niflungar', their having 'seven halls full of swords'. Indeed, the questioning of the invite, 'What do you advise us', evokes rather a confusion in the purpose of the event, but the symbolism of Gudrun's haired ring provides an immediate answer to Atli's hospitality as the invitation is seemingly elevated to a macarbe challenge. Epitomising her fear, the wolf-hair is asssociated with an impending danger and treachery, acknowledged by the philosophical realization 'our way is wolfish'. Yet, despite her rather foreshadowing fears, this, rather ironically, entices Gunnar to display courage and honour in the face of his unhonourable challenger, the text favouring his fearlessness in behaving 'as a king should'. Gudrun's fear is reiterated in her emotive exclamative, 'Get out of the hall at once', the commanding construction 'Get out' evoking a painful desperation yet sad futility, their being 'betrayed now' suggesting her incapability to alter the procession, her only hope to declare her emotions in an uncontrollable outburst of fear and terror. A sense of fearlessness characterizes Gunnar; where a screaming sister would be expected to evoke fear in one's heart, the emphatic pause within the rather somber declarative 'It's too late now, sister' presents us with a calmly collected individual, fearlessly embracing his fate to die a death of honor heroically protecting the 'inheritance of the Niflungar' for 'those fearless people', rather than adhering to the broken 'oath' treachery of his so-called brother-in-law.

Hogni's rejection of outward fear, he 'laughed as they cut cry out the last thing in his mind' presents, on a superficial level, an admirable courage and fortitude, yet this distinct lack of visible fear speaks to admired masculinity, Hogni epitomising a core warrior value. This debate is expounded with regards to protagonist Gudrun, fear perpetuated in her inability to 'weep'. The 'howl' of Atli's men aptly captures the likely fear of a reader, unsettled by her rejection of expected feminine behaviour of lamenting the dead. Gudrun instead asserts a fearsomely masculine self-control, able to successfully and believably impersonate the common serving woman in her unforgiving exterior, despite presenting her sons 'bleeding corpses mixed with honey'. Yet, the emotional opposition constructed between Atli's overtly fearing men in the face of threat as opposed to the 'brave' Hogni opens a debate of the honourable man versus the cowardly. The Huns can collectively torture and dismember a man, 'they cut him to the heart...laid it on a platter', yet cry in fear when a woman takes her duty of retribution. Perhaps, their fear arrives from the epithetical 'bright-faced woman'; although this can be read as a welcoming facade in her enactment of gendered expectation, viewed in hindsight of her actions, her 'bright face' exists as rather a mark of triumph when paired with her 'darting' nature, evoking a sense of excitement in her actions. The poet re-imagines an aestheticized beauty ideal to fearsomely terrorize the cowardly Huns as Gudrun subverts not only the common serving role but the queen's desired maternity in siring an heir, her murders thus a threat to both patriarchy and political stability.

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Essay on Foreshadowing in ‘Beowulf’. (2024, January 04). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 14, 2024, from
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