Beowulf is a well-known Anglo-Saxon poem that has been in English classes around the United States for almost as long as there have been schools around. Beowulf is not an actual picture of historic Denmark, Geatland, or Sweden around 500 A.D., yet it is on a general view, a self-consistent picture, a construction bearing clearly the marks of design and thought. Beowulf to us can only truly be enjoyed if one reads it in the old English version. The effects of the poem are not the same, although the sense of the heroic beast is very true. The story of Beowulf is still relevant to today?s society and relates to problems faced in current everyday life. In our society we face simple problems and difficult problems and all problems have a good and bad about them. It all depends on the person?s outlook for the course of action that they will take.
Beowulf strikes peculiar reactions among scholars, historians, and professors. The increase in the amount of confusion is caused by new twists to old theories and by new theories. Beowulf was composed for an audience that would take into account the struggles that the main character took, and the audience would see the poem in its own way. Though few can clearly understand the value of the poem, we must realize that judging the poem from a twentieth century point of view would be unjust to the author or authors of Beowulf.
One of the most pleasing trends in recent old English studies has been the increasing awareness of the truth and importance of this simple observation. It is one which often has been overlooked by scholars and the ever growing critics. These people prefer to regard Beowulf as a source book for historians. Some people tend to overlook the meanings of Beowulf and perceive them in a wrong manner. In a profound lecture given by J.R.R.Tolkien in 1963, he tried to do what many people were trying to do, make sense of Beowulf. He gave an amusing and persuasive summary of the variety of theories of Beowulf?s poet?s ideas and aims.
Tolkien said, "Beowulf is a half baked native epic which was killed by Latin learning, it is feeble and incompetent as a narrative."(Crossley.9-17). Tolkien also said much more on behalf of Beowulf?s poet. It is not the fault of the poet but the result of our ignorance of the conventions in which Anglo-Saxon poems were written. We do not know who wrote Beowulf, not even where it was first heard and when exactly. What the author took for granted about the knowledge of the reader will never be known. What is known is that the fundamental assumptions that cannot be proven and established on these elaborate theories cannot be verified and are therefore assumed. The only thing that can be acknowledged is what has been left behind. Beowulf is a work of fiction, centered on a character and his fights with monsters. The hardships and problems that Beowulf undergoes can almost be compared to the fights that people are put through in life. Giant monsters of course do not eat people, but the basics of what a person may stand for, loyalty, honor, chivalry, and courage are constantly being put to the test. As in the poem Beowulf is constantly put to the test of his morals.
Many historical and legendary characters and events are mentioned in the poem, and the Danes, Swedes, and Geats provide the necessary background for Beowulf?s long and eventful life. Both history and legend place the Danes and Swedes within the fifth and sixth centuries A.D.. The North Germanic "Heroic" ages reflect much of the medieval Icelandic prose and poetry. The Danes lived in what is now called Denmark and the southern tip of Sweden. Hrothgar, whose great hall was somewhere on the island of Zealand, is their king in the beginning of the poem. Other characters are accounted for in the course of the narrative in the rest of the poem. The Swedes, whose hostilities among themselves and against the Geats through three generations are featured in the installments during the final third of the poem, live in Sweden north of the Great Lakes.(Rebsamen; 38-35)
The action of Beowulf takes place in Scandinavia, where a troll like cannibalistic creature of the darkness named Grendal takes such a passionate exception to the constant revelry that