Beowulf Fate Quotes: Examples & Analysis Video

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  • 0:04 Fate and Free Will
  • 0:42 Fate as an Impersonal Entity
  • 3:25 God's Influence
  • 5:10 Fate Versus God
  • 5:58 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jennifer Mallett Smith

Jennifer has taught high school English for eight years and has a master's degree in curriculum and assessment.

This lesson will identify quotations that demonstrate fate's purpose in the epic poem ''Beowulf.'' It is important that we also explore the role of God in accordance with the role of fate, as God's role seems to conflict with some of the core messages in the poem.

Fate and Free Will

Your dog dies, you lose your job, and your wife leaves you in one day. What do you attribute your bad luck to? Some people would argue that it is your fate, circumstances beyond your control, and that you could have done nothing to stop it. Others think that your previous decisions and free will impact the consequences of your actions. The epic poem Beowulf provides a confusing stance on fate and God's will. It seems that Beowulf could have avoided his death, but his heroism and bravery ultimately lead to his fate. Maybe by the end of the lesson, you'll have come to your own conclusion about the fate of Beowulf.

Fate as an Impersonal Entity

In the poem, Beowulf attributes his wins and losses to both God and the inanimate concept of fate. This can be somewhat confusing, and it raises the question: Did the anonymous author believe that fate was a separate entity to God? While it's most likely that we'll never know for sure, let's explore some examples which highlight Beowulf's unique way of thinking.

Prior to his battle with Grendel, Beowulf has a conversation with Hrothgar in which he proves that he is worthy of killing Grendel. Beowulf asks that he take only his men with him, and he explains that he will engage in a fair fight with the monster: he will not use weapons because the monster will not use weapons. He further states: 'And if death does take me, send the hammered mail of my armor to Higlac, return the inheritance I had from Hrethel, and he from Wayland. Fate will unwind as it must!' Beowulf's reliance on fate is interesting, because while he boasts of his bravery and victories, he also states that it is fate's decision of whether he will live or die in his battles. This leaves us curious because he does not give fate credit for his previous battles. He praises God and boasts of being a great warrior.

Beowulf's fate finally catches up to him when he battles the dragon in his final battle. He enters the battle with the mindset that he is the only man who can destroy the dragon, so it is his duty to fight. Once the battle ensues and he finds himself in danger, we see this quotation: 'And for the first time in his life, that famous prince fought with fate against him.' With these words, it seems that the author is implying that it was Beowulf's fate to die in the battle, and that there isn't anything he could have changed in order to win. Sadly, entangled in this fate is the knowledge that his troops have deserted him.

In another example, Wiglaf, a kinsman who did not run away from the battle with the dragon, is mourning his king's death and is angered that the young soldiers did not come to their king's rescue. Wiglaf seems to have a conflicting view on fate as well. He seems to think that the actions of people should not lead to a painful and lonely death: 'I swear that nothing he ever did deserved an end like this, dying miserably and alone, butchered by the savage beast.' This quotation aligns more with the idea of free will. Wiglaf feels that the soldiers are responsible for Beowulf's death because they have avoided the battle with the dragon. This contrasts with Beowulf's idea that fate is responsible for his demise.

Beowulf finally attributes his death to fate in his final speech: 'My days have gone by as fate willed, waiting for its word to be spoken.' It seems that he has been waiting to discover what fate has in store for him, and he feels that his death was predetermined. He is content to die.

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