Shield Sheafson in Beowulf

Instructor: Audrey Farley

Audrey is a doctoral student in English at University of Maryland.

This lesson offers a character analysis of Shield Sheafson, a ruler of the Danes in the epic poem, Beowulf. Shield Sheafson is beloved by his people for conquering enemies and bringing prosperity to the land. This character appears in the poem's Prologue.

Overview of the Narrative

The epic of Beowulf is set in Scandinavia during the Sixth Century. The story portrays the importance of warrior culture and the Heroic Code to Scandinavia. Shield Sheafson is the leader of the Danes when the narrative begins.

The Character of Shield Sheafson

The story of Beowulf begins with a recounting of the Danes' founding. The Danes were enjoying prosperity, after having conquered many other tribes through battle, Shield Sheafson as their leader. He is described as a 'scourge of many tribes, / a wreaker of mead-benches, rampaging among foes' (lines 4-5). The people love him because he has helped them take control of all of the surrounding civilizations. Shield Sheafson is ruthless, destroying the mead-halls (gathering rooms) of nearby tribes, and forcing tributes to be paid to the Danes. He also takes good care of his own tribe, making sure that all of his people have plenty of food, clothing, and treasures from war. Because he cares for his people so well, they, in turn, are loyal to him. This form of kinship, or loyalty, was a crucial component of Anglo-Saxon society.

When Shield Sheafson dies, his fellow Danes are very distraught. The people feel that they have lost a very good and noble king. To honor their leader, the Danes place treasures and precious items along his burial scene. He is decorated with battle-tackle and armor, placed in the finest of ships, and sent off to sea. This gesture signifies his great importance to the people, since treasure was normally saved for use in jewelry and weapons. After his funeral, the Scandinavians are eager to replace their beloved leader with someone who is sure to bring them as good of fortune.

Shield Sheafson is succeeded by Hrothgar. Unlike Shield Sheafson, Hrothgar is very benevolent, showing kindness to neighboring towns and enemies. But, despite his intentions to preserve peace and harmony, Hrothgar eventually becomes a tyrant just like his predecessor.

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