Ever since Cain killed his brother Abel, death and murder have been a part of human society. The man always killed the other man, physically or mentally, to gain something for himself, something that may be a tangible things such as food or money, or intangible things such as power or pride. Throughout the British epic poem Beowulf, there are many killings and deaths. Grendel(a gigantic, bear-like ogre) kills Danish thanes, Beowulf – Hygelac’s(King of the Geats) nephew – kills Grendel and his mother. Also Beowulf kills a dragon and gets killed by the dragon. The most important theme of the great epic poem Beowulf is ‘death.’ By the death of the enemy, characters in the poem earn pride and dignity.
The poem is about a hero from the land of the Geats to help the kingdom of Danes. Danes have a place called Heorot, ‘a huge mead-hall, a house greater than men on earth ever heard of(53)’, and one night without warning, Grendel attacks the hall, because of his jealousy of human society. Grendel is a descendant of Cain, a lineage which has long borne marauding monsters, trolls, goblins, and giants – all of which were banished from human society. He envies the fellowship and happiness he sees; he hates living the fens, excluded from the company of men; thus, he stalks the moors, jealous of the pleasure of mankind.
Hrothgar, the King of Danes, is old and physically unable to avenge the deaths of his thanes. When Beowulf hears about Hrothgar’s situation, he decides to help him by fighting with Grendel. First he fights with Grendel in the Heorot when he attacks the hall. Beowulf cracks one of the Grendel’s arms free of its socket, ripping sinews and tearing muscles. Grendel runs away and Beowulf follows his bloody trail but does not find the dead body of Grendel. Heorot is rebuilt and redecorated removing all the marks of Grendel’s attack. King Hrothgar thanks Beowulf for killing Grendel.
One night, Grendel’s mother attacks Heorot and takes one of Hrothgar’s thanes. Beowulf goes to the Grendel’s mother’s home – a boiling, bloody pool – and kills her. He brings Grendel’s head(found in the pool) and a sword to the Danes. King Hrothgar thanks and awards Beowulf with gold and jewelry, and Beowulf goes back to the Geats.
Years pass, and one of the Geats steals an ornamented cup from the hoard of a dragon who has peacefully but zealously, protected his vast treasure for three hundred years. The dragon seeks vengeance, marauding the countryside and spewing fire, burning everything before him, including Beowulf’s home, the throne of Geats. Beowulf decides to fight the dragon. Filled with righteous and heroic anger, Beowulf goes to the dragon’s cave. He kills the dragon and gets killed by the dragon.
“he seized his whole neck between bitter fangs: blood covered him, Beowulf’s life-blood, let in streams. Then I heard how the earl alongside the King in the hour of need made known the valour, boldness and strength that were bred in him. His hand burned as he helped his kinsman, but the brave soldier in his splendid armour ignored the head and hit the attacker somewhat below it, so that the sword went in, flashing-hilted”(136)
When the dragon emerges from his cave, Beowulf tries to fend off the dragon’s scorching breath but his shield is only a little protection. He strikes the dragon with his sword but he miscalculates and fails to pierce the dragon’s vital innards and spews such intense flame that Beowulf winces at the searing heat. The dragon coils and strikes, sinking his fangs into Beowulf’s neck. Beowulf is spattered with his own blood, but he continues to fight with the dragon. Beowulf pulls out a razor-sharp dagger and delivers the death blow, ripping open the dragon’s entrails with the assistance of Wiglaf, ‘the son of Weoxstan, a Waymunding and a kinsman of Beowulf (Index).’
Throughout the poem, there are many bloody deaths of thanes, monsters, and courageous hero. Death occurs to all the living creatures. But there are many different ways of death such as death by accident, by sickness, and by others. When Beowulf dies, it is an heroic death which we cannot see in the modern human society. The most important theme of the story would be ‘heroic death.’ The death of the hero, who revenges the sadness of his people.