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Fate in Beowulf: Examples & Analysis

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  • 0:05 Cowboy Up
  • 0:54 References to Fate in…
  • 1:35 Beowulf the Legend
  • 2:38 Good vs. Evil
  • 3:42 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Margaret English

Meg has taught language arts in middle school, high school and college. She has a doctorate in Educational leadership

In this lesson, explore the role of fate in the story of Beowulf's battle against two monsters and a dragon. Discover how Beowulf, an Anglo-Saxon hero, responds to fate by behaving nobly.

Cowboy Up

As anyone who has ever lived in the modern world knows, life happens. Sometimes we can't control life's events, good or bad. The word for this lack of control is fate. Fate refers to final outcome, or destiny. Fate is how life events are explained when there is no one to blame or no apparent cause for good or bad things that happen.

Although the Anglo-Saxons had been converted to Christianity by the time the epic poem Beowulf was written, pagan values such as the belief in fate were very much a part of their worldly view. Beowulf, the legendary Anglo-Saxon hero, embodies an honorable response to fate. In a sense, he demonstrates the behavior of American cowboy culture. He decides to cowboy-up, which means to get back on the horse, behave well, and move forward without looking back.

References to Fate in Beowulf

In Judeo-Christian culture, one god determines the fate of human beings. In the Anglo-Saxon tradition, there are no gods who are interested enough in the events of man enough to try to control their destiny. Beowulf includes several direct references to fate. Referring to his attack on the dragon toward the end of his life, Beowulf says,

''I meant to stand,
Not run from his shooting
Flames, stand till fate decides
Which of us wins.''

When Beowulf reaches the end of his life, his tribe, the Geats, are troubled that he has no heir. Again, this is a matter of fate. The Geats proclaim,

''You're the last of our far flung family
Fate has swept our race away.''

Beowulf the Legend

Beowulf's story takes place in 6th-century Scandinavia. Beowulf, a Geat, came from present-day Sweden. In many ways, Beowulf was just an ordinary guy trying to live a noble life in an uncertain world. When Beowulf learns that King Hrothgar in Denmark needs his help, he travels from his home in Sweden to Denmark. After all, what choices did he really have? In the Anglo-Saxon world, it's important that a person meet his fate with courage, dignity, and honor.

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