Why does boasting seem to be so important in culture of Beowulf?

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gpane | College Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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The concept of boasting in the world of Beowulf does not really carry the negative connotations that it generally does today. Rather, it is seen to perform an important function in a warrior society such as that of Beowulf, where manly valour was so highly prized, and indeed quite necessary in a world full of constant feuds and battles. By talking up his achievements in battle and other feats, a warrior could make a strong impression, he could let his strengths be known, and cement his reputation.  The strong storytelling element involved also fitted in naturally into the oral culture of this society as a whole; there were no written records of a warrior’s deeds, nor of anything else. Boasting was a formal activity in this society, therefore, and certainly was not meant to be empty brag. On the contrary, a warrior would be fully expected to live up to his own claims, to bear out the reputation for strength and valour that he would establish through his boasting.

 In effect, boasting was a kind of career resume for warriors in this society. This is very much relevant to the career of Beowulf, the central hero of the poem. When first he comes to Hrothgar’s aid against Grendel, he offers to fight the monster all by himself and cites his own past feats of valour and strength as illustration of his fitness for such a task. He goes on to prove his bravery through his actions in defeating Grendel and ultimately when he loses his life in fighting the dragon; his words are fully borne out by his actions.

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