Thursday, February 3, 2011

Option 2 - Actions Well Versed

It is often said that actions speak louder than words. For many individuals this the sole basis for which they judge a person’s merit. As clichĂ© as it is I often live by the idea that “talk is cheap”, the same sentiment is offered in Beowulf as it pertains to the epic’s hero. There are many examples throughout the text in which Beowulf’s credibility is challenged through the advice of his comrades and acquaintances. Furthermore, there are examples of when Beowulf fails to heed such advice, ultimately causing not only his death, but the demise of his empire. The advice that is shared with Beowulf concerning the importance of actions over words, coupled with his inability to heed the words of others causes the reader to be skeptical and challenge Beowulf’s credibility.

As Beowulf arrives in the land of the Danes, he passes a guard along the coast who offers welcome to the Geats. He also imparts his wisdom upon Beowulf and the Geats stating, “Anyone with the gumption and a sharp mind will take the measure of two things: what’s said and what’s done.” This offers the idea that these two premises are held in high regard within that society. They have heard much of the great Geat that is to come and save their society, but they have yet to see his works. Beowulf must weigh the importance of his words and actions in order incur a positive result of these people. Judging from the tone and context in which this advice is lain, it causes the reader to become weary of Beowulf’s extravagant tales.

Moreover, a similar challenge is laid when Beowulf is greeted by Unferth. After receiving good tidings from Hrothgar, Beowulf is questioned by Unferth concerning his dealings with Breca. Unferth states, “no matter… how you have fared in every bout and battle until now, this time you’ll be worsted; no one has ever lasted an entire night against Grendel.” In order for Beowulf to prove himself to the Danes, he must prove himself by taking action against Grendel. Again, Beowulf’s honor is questioned in the same light of word versus action.

There is an occasion where word proves to be more powerful than action. As Hrothgar gives a final discourse to Beowulf on the dangers of power he denotes the impact of pride. Hrothgar pleads Beowulf, “O flower of warriors, neware of that trap. Choose , dear Beowulf, the better part, eternal rewards. Do not give way to pride.” Instead of choosing to heed these warnings Beowulf falls to his own pride. In the closing of the epic, Beowulf chooses to take on the dragon supplementing his own legend. But, as a result, his kingdom would suffer. By choosing to take action as opposed to heeding the warnings of Hrothgar, more damage has been inflicted than the death of Beowulf. The reader again questions Beowulf’s motivation, whether it is self-serving or out of the good of his character.

Having considered these examples from the text, there are many situations in which the reader has cause to question Beowulf based on the warnings and advice of others. Given the fore shadowing of the coastal guard in the first few chapters, coupled with the questioning of Unferth, the reader becomes attentive to the difference between word and action. Beowulf takes the correct course of action to supplement his own heroic path. However, he ignores the wisdom of others when faced with a decision that will supplement his legend or help his community. This ultimately causes the reader to become skeptical of Beowulf’s character.


  1. While you mentioned several examples where Beowulf was tested, you missed one. The fight between between Beowulf and Grendel's mother. Like it was discussed in class, this fight marked the moment where Beowulf doubted himself and in turn doubted God. He decided to use weapons in his fight rather then his own God given strength.

    Good essay overall, I would reread it it though, because I did spot a few syntax & grammatical errors.

  2. The difference between word and action is, indeed, a stark and important contrast in the poem. You're undercutting yourself in important ways, though. You begin with a fairly wordy introduction, and end with some worthwhile but also somewhat wordy generalizations about the poem as a whole. None of this material is bad per se, but it has an important impact: your actual argument, I believe, centers around the idea that Beowulf fails to listen to critical advice (and yet, doesn't he thus show that he values actions over words? Or is it actions in *response* to words which concern you?), and as a consequence falls to pride.

    Many people do, in fact, think that Beowulf falls to pride - others see him as giving himself as a kind of sacrifice for his people. What's missing is the crucial, pivotal argument that Beowulf does, in fact, fall to pride. You assume it, rather than demonstrate it - likely because you're trying to do too much in a very short essay. The approach is good, the idea is fine, but this argument needed to either be much longer, or you needed to focus on the essential elements, trimming the superfluities.