Courage & Bravery in Beowulf

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Fate in Beowulf: Examples & Analysis

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:03 Bravery in Heroic Poetry
  • 0:46 Courage and Boasting
  • 1:43 Bravery in Storytelling
  • 2:22 Courage in Action
  • 3:54 The Rewards of Bravery
  • 5:10 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Celeste Bright

Celeste has taught college English for four years and holds a Ph.D. in English Language and Literature.

In the epic poem 'Beowulf', courage is the single most important characteristic of a warrior. We will explore why this is true in the context of the poem, as well as some of the ways courage is highlighted in the narrative.

Bravery in Heroic Poetry

Beowulf is a major example of heroic poetry, a form used during the Anglo-Saxon period of English literary history, approximately the fifth through the eleventh centuries. It is set in Denmark, the land of the Danes, and southern Sweden, the land of the Geats. This is not only an era in which men engage in hand-to-hand combat against rival tribes, but, according to the poem, also one in which monsters roam the earth. Accordingly, a warrior must demonstrate extreme courage against diverse threats to defend his kinsmen. In the poem, three monsters terrorize the Danes and Geats, and the text celebrates Beowulf's immense bravery in challenging and defeating each of them.

Courage and Boasting

To win respect at home and abroad, warriors in Beowulf communicate their value to society by boasting of past heroic deeds. This is similar to the way we highlight our accomplishments in résumés today, or try to present ourselves favorably in social media. In the context of Beowulf, the population is largely illiterate, and verbal boasting is the accepted way to build a good reputation, or, when exaggeration is used, to 'image-craft.' For example, when Danish King Hrothgar warns Beowulf about Grendel's defeat of other stalwart retainers (guardsmen), the Geat recounts his victory over nine sea monsters as proof of his valor and capability. He simultaneously corrects the jealous Unferth's deliberately unflattering version of this tale, or 'trash talk.' He also shows bravado in stating that, where Hrothgar's Danish men, including Unferth, have failed to defeat Grendel, he, a Geat, will succeed.

Bravery in Storytelling

During the Anglo-Saxon period, oral storytelling was a way of preserving and sharing history, and much of it celebrated the fearlessness of past heroes. It was customary to have historical stories, songs, and poems performed at major gatherings both as a form of entertainment and to reaffirm a tribe's shared history. After Beowulf slays Grendel, the resident singer of Heorot, the king's mead hall, tells the story of Sigemund, the dragon-slayer, which is a fitting comparison to the Geat warrior's accomplishment. Other performances include accounts of gallantry in past battles with rival tribes, such as those between the Danes and the Frisians.

Courage in Action

Beowulf is already known for his physical strength, but also displays uncommon courage in several degrees and instances. First, he makes the hazardous journey by sea to Heorot, then offers to fight Grendel, and finally wrestles with and kills the creature without the benefit of a weapon. He displays considerable courage, but is additionally tested by two more monsters.

Beowulf is enlisted to destroy Grendel's mother after she has killed again. This time, he fights alone in her territory, a lake so deep it takes him almost a day to reach the bottom. Attacked first by other underwater monsters, he again bare-handedly grapples with Grendel's mother before finally decapitating her with one of her own swords. Success! He can now add 'freshwater monsters' to his résumé of slain aquatic creatures. Incorporating increased fantastical odds against his victory, this portion of the poem shows that Beowulf's courage is even greater than was previously evident.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account