How do the themes or messages of Beowulf reveal what might be necessary to people during the medieval period? In other words, based on what you read, what do you think people during this time valued in life? Where do you see examples of this in the text?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

When discussing this question, it is useful to keep the sheer scale of the Middle Ages in mind: note that it covers a time frame that is as long as a millennium in duration. Thus, it becomes all the more important to remember that Beowulf itself is a work that largely belongs to the Early Middle Ages, and it is thus to this time period that this answer should be applied.

Firstly, note that the poem itself is primarily interested in depicting a warrior culture, focusing on the achievements of great warriors and kings. This is a society that highly prizes reputation and honor (consider, for example, Beowulf's own boasting upon his arrival at Heorot), but it also is driven by a strong sense of reciprocity, particularly as it understands the concept of kingship. In this honor-based society, one of the key responsibilities of kingship is the public recognition of loyalty and achievement, most notably via gift-giving.

At the same time, Beowulf has a Christian subtext, and though it is a world focused on honor and reputation, it also expects from its heroes the Christian virtue of humility. For example, note the degree to which Beowulf himself will often credit God for his successes, humbly submitting himself under divine authority. It's an interesting tension worth thinking about: the degree to which pride and humility coexist within the poem.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team