Lines 2,221–2,601 Summary and Analysis
Herdred: Higlac and Higd’s son who is next in line for the throne upon Higlac’s death, although the throne is offered to—and rejected by—Beowulf at that time
Onela: a Swedish king married to the Danish king Healfdane’s daughter, Yrs, making him Hrothgar’s brother-in-law
Herbald: Hrethel’s eldest son; killed by his younger brother, Hathcyn, in a freak hunting accident; both were Higlac’s older brothers; all three brothers are raised with Beowulf as another brother (although he is actually their nephew) from the time he was a young boy
A slave, trying to find a hiding place to avoid the master who beat him, stumbles across a dragon’s lair. He steals a jeweled cup from among the treasures he finds there and flees when he realizes where he is. The treasure belongs to an ancient, lost race. The last remaining member of the race built a stone tower without doors or windows, near the sea beneath a cliff, in which to house the treasure of gold, jewels, swords, armor, and precious cups before his death. It is this tower the slave stumbles upon. After the ancient race became extinct, a flaming dragon discovered the tower, and has been sleeping there for hundreds of years before the slave disturbs him.
The slave brings the cup to his master who is well-pleased with it. However, the dragon becomes enraged at being awakened and robbed, and tracks the slave. Having no success at finding the thief, he attacks the village, burning down the houses with his fiery breath once night arrives. He returns to his tower as daylight breaks. His people come to tell Beowulf that the dragon has burned down his hall. A miserable, guilt-ridden Beowulf immediately begins plotting the Geats’ revenge.
Knowing that wood will be useless against the dragon’s fiery breath, Beowulf orders an iron shield made for himself. He also knows he has not many years remaining to his life, since he has already ruled for 50 years and was not a young man when he became king. Yet, he plans to take the dragon’s life as his own ends (presumably in battle with the dragon), and to do so alone. Escorted by a dozen of his men, he follows the slave, who fearfully leads the way to the tower. A weary Beowulf rests on the shore before entering the tower. He explains that he will not fight the dragon barehanded as he had done with the previous monsters because, this time, he is engaging a fire-breathing dragon and will need to protect himself long enough to kill the beast.
He strides to the entrance of the tower and becomes angry, roaring out a battle cry loud enough for the dragon within to hear. Beowulf waits at the entrance with his shield in front of him as the dragon spits fire and approaches him. Beowulf’s shield holds for a while, then melts under the dragon’s fire and his sword cracks as he attacks the dragon. Although Beowulf draws blood, the dragon wraps him in fire; and Beowulf knows he is dying as all his men but one run away.
Discussion and Analysis
In this particular section of the poem, Beowulf summarizes his life. It seems he is not doing this so much for his people as he is for himself. He is older, has ruled for 50 years after refusing the throne when it was offered to him the first time, and is weary. Rather than seeking fame and glory, although he pays “lip service” to fame in this battle, Beowulf is being methodical and sensible. He realizes barehanded combat makes no sense against a fire-breathing dragon, and that he will need a shield to protect himself while battling the dragon, in order to stay alive long enough to kill the dragon. He also realizes that flammable wood will not do. While he is careful to have an iron shield fashioned for this confrontation, he does seem to be resigned that this will be his final battle. He is tired and acknowledges this to himself as he rests on the shore before facing the dragon.
He is angry, as well, as exemplified when he roars at the entrance of the tower....
(The entire section is 1,088 words.)