In Beowulf, what kind of mood does this long poem convey?

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lmetcalf eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Because it is a long narrative poem, the mood shifts throughout the work, depending on the action or purpose of each scene.  It is certainly a mood of terror and suspense when Grendal attacks the mead-hall and kills yet another of Hrothgar's men, and a somber mood the next day when the men view the aftermath of what happened the night before.  It is a perhaps cautious mood of relief when Beowulf shows up and announces that he has come to battle with the monster.  Hrothgar and his people are wearied by the constant attacks, but chagrined that they themselves have not been able to stop Grendal and now are getting help from an outsider. 

During the battles with Grendal and Grendal's mother there is a mood of suspense and energy.  We are pretty sure we know Beowulf will win, but how?  When?  There is a moment when his men think he may have failed, and the mood is somber, until Beowulf returns from the battle in joyful triumph! 

After the battles there is a mood of joyful celebration and of giving thanks for Beowulf's heroism.  The party is light-hearted and the sentiments expressed between Beowulf and Hrothgar are heartfelt and sincere, which adds a dignity to the mood of the party.

At the end of the tale, at Beowulf's funeral, there is certainly a solemn mood over the people as they respectfully honor their fallen King and mourn his passing.


Jane Ames eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While it is true the mood changes a number of times throughout Beowulf, to answer what mood the poem conveys overall requires consideration of its form. This is an epic poem: long, narrative, and rife with cultural tropes and values. This epic poem contains many tales of glorious victories and conquests, and it valorizes Beowulf's journey. The hero's perseverance and nobility are central to the values of the poem's culture and the overall atmosphere the author tries to create. In this sense, the overall tone of Beowulf may be considered laudatory or reverent.

The author wishes the reader to admire and respect Beowulf throughout his journey. To accomplish this, they endow the story with a certain formal, somber quality to convey the great importance of the hero, his journey, and the story at large. Regardless whether it is a moment of suspense, joy, or violence in the story, we are undoubtedly meant to revere the hero and his values.