Beowulf is not a story that can be easily categorized according to modern terms; if it has a tragic element, however, it is in the fact that its hero does not live beyond the end of the poem, although his deeds survive him. As in the best tragedies, then, there is a "fatal flaw" in Beowulf which leads him to his doom in the final section of the poem.
Beowulf's youth, vigor, and self-confidence, which carried him to victory on previous occasions, cannot do so when he sets himself to the task of fighting the dragon in the third battle of the epic. While Beowulf is depicted as a hero, there is one word in the text which points us toward what the poet feels to be his flaw: ofermod. This is usually interpreted as "pride" but perhaps might better be read as "hubris," a classic example of hamartia.
While the Anglo-Saxons placed a great deal of emphasis upon reputation and the...
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