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Beowulf shows integrity in several ways in the epic poem Beowulf, but first, what characteristics define integrity?

Integrity by its definition means to follow through on one’s word, be honest, loyal, and in general, a person of good moral character. In Beowulf , several characteristics to look for that specifically...

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Beowulf shows integrity in several ways in the epic poem Beowulf, but first, what characteristics define integrity?

Integrity by its definition means to follow through on one’s word, be honest, loyal, and in general, a person of good moral character. In Beowulf, several characteristics to look for that specifically show his integrity include those listed above as well as a few others, such as fairness, reliability, and being respectful. Integrity even finds itself connected with honor (part of the heroic code, which Beowulf follows). A person with integrity is truthful and honest with themselves as well as others and has the best of intentions to not do anything that would be dishonorable.

An example of a person with integrity is someone who means what they say and supports what they say through their actions. Someone with integrity will pay their rent on time, and if for some reason they find themselves unable to one month, they will notify their landlord and work out an agreement to pay the rent. Then, that person follows through by paying the rent as agreed.

A person without integrity neither pays the rent nor notifies the landlord. Instead, they’ll wait for the landlord to contact them and ask for the rent. They will agree to pay based on the landlord's terms, but do not fulfill their promise. They lack honesty, respect, fairness, and reliability.

In Beowulf, there are dozens of examples of Beowulf showing integrity, but we’ll look at just a few. Near the beginning of the poem (part 12),  Beowulf shows integrity in his desire to travel a far distance to help the Danes slay the monster Grendel, then Grendel’s mother, even at the risk of his own life. We first see integrity in Beowulf when he speaks respectfully to the guards on the cliffs by identifying himself, his men, and his intentions. Lines 425–440 of Beowulf are a leading example:

Now I mean to be a match for Grendel,

Settle the outcome in single combat.

And so, my request, O king of the Bright-Danes,

Dear prince of the Shieldings, friend of the people

And their ring of defense, my one request

Is that you won’t refuse me, who have come this far,

The privilege of purifying Heorot,

With my own men to help me, and nobody else.

I have heard moreover that the monster scorns

In his reckless way to use weapons;

Therefore, to heighten Hygelac’s fame

And gladden his heart, I hereby renounce

sword and the shelter of the broad shield,

the heavy war-board: hand-to-hand

is how it will be, a life-and-death

fight with the fiend.

Likewise, Beowulf promises the Danes and King Hrothgar personally that he will free the kingdom of this monster, and he follows through with his promise as seen in lines 736–752:

With open claw when the alert hero’s

Comeback and armlock forestalled him utterly.

The captain of evil discovered himself

In a handgrip harder than anything

He had ever encountered in any man

On the face of the earth. Every bone in his body

Quailed and recoiled, but he could not escape.

He was desperate to flee to his den and hide

With the devil’s litter, for in all his days

He had never been clamped or cornered like this.

And in lines 812 -  819:

Hygelac’s kinsman kept him helplessly

Locked in a handgrip. As long as either lived,

He was hateful to the other. The monster’s whole

body was in pain, a tremendous wound

Appeared on his shoulder. Sinews split

And the bone-lappings burst. Beowulf was granted

The glory of winning . . .

Beowulf then goes into the sea after Grendel’s mother, after she attacks the mead hall. After slaying the mother and returning to the mead hall, Beowulf at one point says:

In keeping with my promise, you and your

company of earls may now sleep without

care, as you formerly slept."

Afterward, King Hrothgar commends Beowulf during his celebratory speech:

Lo! that one may say, who speaks

truth and right and remembers every-

thing of old, that this earl was born better

than others. My friend Beowulf, your

fame is established throughout wide ways.

Additionally, as Beowulf and his men prepare to leave for home, Beowulf says to Hrothgar:

'Lo! we sea-travelers wish to say that

we intend to seek Higelac. Thou hast

been gracious and we have been cared

for here according to our desires. If at

any time, I may gain more of thy love

than I have now, I shall be ready at once

to wage battle.

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After fighting with Grendel in Heorot and mortally wounding the beast. Beowulf was presented with gifts by King Hrothgar and thanked for his valiant service. However, this victory against Grendel forced Grendel’s mother out of her lair to seek revenge for her son’s death. While the people slept in the mead hall, she attacked and killed one of the king’s close confidants. The king asked Beowulf to seek her out and kill the monster.

The task of fighting Grendel’s mother was not a simple task because of where she lived. Beowulf was forced to swim his way to her lair which was underwater. When fighting ensued, Beowulf nearly lost his life. He, however, laid his hands on a magical sword forged by giants which succeeded in killing Grendel’s mother. There were many other precious items in her lair, but Beowulf chose not to sack the place. He only took with him Grendel’s head and the hilt of the magical sword. Beowulf’s decision not to sack the place showed restraint and honor on his part. He did not want to rob those he had conquered.

That lord of the Geats did not take from those halls any precious things, though he saw much, but only the head and the jewel-encrusted hilt; the blade had already melted away, and the decorated sword had burned away, so fiercely hot was that blood, and so poisonous was the hell-spirit that perished there.

In another show of integrity, Beowulf did not speak negatively about Hrunting, an heirloom sword handed to him for the fight and considered highly potent. In reality, the sword was completely useless against Grendel’s mother. However, Beowulf withheld this information and praised the weapon for the benefit of his friends.

The stalwart one then bid that Hrunting be brought to the son of Ecglaf and then had him take that excellent weapon. He gave thanks for the use of it and said that he reckoned it a great help in battle, a war-friend most beloved. He did not speak ill of the blade's edge—he was a noble-hearted man!

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