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What Is the Climax of "Beowulf"?


An epic poem of Anglo-Saxon origin, “Beowulf” tells the story of a warrior who becomes a king. The story’s eponymous hero, Beowulf, enjoys two major victories before becoming King of the Geats. The story follows his long life over the course of several decades, before climaxing in his epic battle with a dragon.

King Beowulf

When only a young warrior, Beowulf responds to the challenge posed by the monster Grendel, a monster or demon descended from the line of Cain. The monster is attacking the hall of King Hrothgar, instilling fear and helplessness in the people of his kingdom. Beowulf sails to Denmark from Geatland, in present-day Sweden, to fight the monster. After successfully defeating both Grendel and his vengeful mother, Beowulf sails back to Geatland. There, after his uncle's and cousin’s deaths, he becomes king.

The Final Conflict

Much later in Beowulf’s life, one of his people steals treasure from the hoard of a dragon living nearby in a mound, or barrow. In response, the dragon emerges and begins to burn and terrorize Beowulf’s kingdom. Beowulf knows he must deal with the threat of the dragon, and he goes to intercept it with his men. Instead of fighting the beast together, however, King Beowulf insists that his men wait for him while he battles it by himself.

The Climactic Fight

Beowulf soon finds he cannot beat the dragon alone. Unfortunately his men, seeing the dragon's might, flee altogether. Beowulf is left with only Wiglaf, one of his thegns, for aid. Together they do manage to kill the dragon, but Beowulf sustains a deep wound in his neck from the dragon’s bite. Beowulf has enough time to pass on his reign to Wiglaf before the venom in the wound overtakes him. He dies on the field of his third and final epic battle.

The Denouement

Beowulf’s death throws his kingdom into distress, as his people fret over whether it will encourage his enemies to attack them. Despite this, they honor him by cremating him on a kingly pyre before burying him along with the treasure hoard, now cursed so no one will touch it, in a barrow overlooking the sea. Beowulf's people remember him as a great king because he was willing to die for his people, losing his life but gaining lasting fame and glory.

References
  • Beowulf: A Verse Translation; trans. Daniel Donoghue and Seamus Heaney
About the Author

Sarah Moore has been a writer, editor and blogger since 2006. She holds a master's degree in journalism.

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