Beowulf Fighting the Dragon: Summary

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  • 0:02 Beowulf's Kingdom and…
  • 1:02 The Theft and Ravaging
  • 1:56 Beowulf Fights the Dragon
  • 3:03 The Death of Beowulf
  • 3:39 Analysis
  • 5:13 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Dori Starnes

Dori has taught college and high school English courses, and has Masters degrees in both literature and education.

Fifty years after getting rid of Grendel and Grendel's mother, the epic hero Beowulf faces his third and final monster, a dragon who has been ravaging the countryside. But this battle will be unlike any he's ever seen.

Beowulf's Kingdom and the Dragon

Fifty years have passed since the titular hero of the Old English epic poem, Beowulf and the Geats returned to Geatland, in Sweden, from Denmark. A lot has happened in that time, most notably the deaths in battle of Hygelac, Beowulf's uncle and king of the Geats, and both of Hygelac's sons. The throne passes to Beowulf, and he rules wisely and well for a long, long time. In fact, it's been so peaceful that most of the young warriors have never had to fight at all, and this proves disastrous.

Starting around line 2200 of the great epic poem, this peace and prosperity comes to an abrupt end when a dragon emerges from the hole it's been hiding in for hundreds of years. This is the last of the monsters that Beowulf must overcome as part of the epic hero cycle. But this battle is unlike the battles the young warrior ever faced, and the outcome is very different than his earlier triumphs. Let's see how the story unfolds.

The Theft and Ravaging

A slave, who is fleeing a beating from his evil master, stumbles upon a dragon and its treasure. Though scared, he snatches a cup as he runs out of the dragon's lair. The dragon wakes up and realizes a cup is gone. It bursts out of its hole in a deluge of fire, desperate to find the slave and its cup.

The dragon never finds the cup. So instead, it flies over Geatland at night, burning everything it can. Even Beowulf's mighty mead hall falls to the dragon's fury. Beowulf believes he must have offended God and prepares to fight the dragon. But fearing the beast, Beowulf requests a special shield made of iron. He believes he can fight the dragon with just a few men and does not raise an army. Instead he and a few hand-picked thanes, or warriors, venture out to rid Geatland of the dragon, with the slave showing them the way.

Beowulf Fights the Dragon

Before heading into the dragon's lair, Beowulf tells his thanes that this is his last battle. Bringing along his sword and special shield, Beowulf enters the lair and tells the men to wait for him. He shouts as he walks in, and the dragon awakes.

Immediately, the dragon breathes fire over Beowulf. The shield holds off the flame, but when Beowulf tries to strike the dragon, his sword fails him, and Beowulf is left unarmed. At this moment, when their king needs them, ten of the eleven thanes who had come with Beowulf flee in fright. Only Wiglaf stays.

The dragon attacks again, covering Wiglaf and Beowulf in fire. Beowulf wounds the dragon, but the dragon stabs his neck with his poisoned tusk. Beowulf is badly wounded. Wiglaf stabs the dragon but is burned in the process. Beowulf manages to pull out a knife tucked in his belt and stabs the dragon. Together, the king and his loyal thane kill the dragon. But the wound in Beowulf's neck begins to burn, and the old king knows he's not long for the world.

The Death of Beowulf

Beowulf collapses. Wiglaf pours water on the wound, but there is not much he can do. Beowulf wishes aloud for a son, but concludes that Wiglaf will stand in. Beowulf asks Wiglaf to bring him some of the treasure from the dragon's hoard so he can see what he is dying for. Wiglaf does, and Beowulf tells him he sold his life for these treasures and sold it well.

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