The story of Beowulf has been the epitome of controversial debate since its unique manuscript composed in ca 1000
The story of Beowulf has been the epitome of controversial debate since its unique manuscript composed in ca 1000. While there has been a scholarly debate about if the overall content of the poem is either mythical or religious, some may want to look how the poem is structured. Although the beast in Beowulf is important in the poem’s plot, it is through the kings and warriors that critics get their theories. Throughout the poem, several figures come into play when trying to examine how the aspects of money power and respect are used examples being Beowulf himself, Hrothgar, Hrethic, Unferth, Hrethel, and so forth. In regular Anglo Saxon society, one person did not rule Britain and the Anglo-Saxons did not express interrelationships. (BBC Bitesize) Among the Anglo Saxon people, five classes represented inequality. These classes had different roles as well as rights. The class structure of the Anglo- Saxons went from Kings, thanes, creoles, and lastly slaves (BBC). In the poem, we do not see slaves present in this society but we do see the role of kings, thanes, and creoles. Hrothgar is the king of the Danes; though this is Anglo Saxon Literature Hrothgar does not just fall under the characteristics of a king who fell out with others and who flaunted his wealth. He was a provider for his people and once Grendel took over, he realized he needed the help of a warrior to keep others safe. This shows that the hierarchy of power can change. Hrothgar gives power to Beowulf because he sees him as a strong leader. In this poem, the elements of money class power and respect all work together among the Danes and the Geats as well as the kings over them. Looking at the poem from a Marxist approach, I see that Beowulf represents the lower class and rises through the ranks (King Hrothgar) to overpower outside forces (Grendel) and in return acquires money power and respect among those who live in society with him. In this poem, the kings are capitalist in a sense and the warriors and the common people are the workers. The class struggle in Beowulf was an effect of the wealth of the king as opposed to a cause for it. People in Beowulf or the Anglo Saxon community received their class status based on their money but really based on their inheritance. Inheritance by blood is a familiar idea; under this system, power and identity passes along the line of genetic descent, from father to son. Beowulf Scyldinga is not only his father’s only son but also a worthy warrior and king who “earns” his title through his conquests and his contributions to the welfare of the Danish folk; Healfdane is likewise legitimate in both categories. Hrothgar, too, is a king by deeds as well as by blood, although it is possible that his replacement of his brother (the eldest son) in the kingship explains his failure to prepare the ground for the successful continuation of the Danish dynasty. That is, Hrothgar, while legitimately king in every sense, is not equipped enough to be king by blood (or, as we learn after Grendel’s attacks, by deeds). In the simplest form of inheritance by blood, children receive the names and possessions of their parents. Social offices, rights, or titles offered to children selected simply by means of birth. However, blood inheritance in the Anglo-Saxon age was different from familiar processes of blood inheritance in contemporary cultures. These differences are caused by the employment of different sets of rules for determining blood relations. The well-known problems of the date and provenance of Beowulf and the fact that the poem is a literary work and not a historical document prevent us from assuming that the kinship system in Beowulf is identical to that in Anglo-Saxon England, but it seems reasonable to infer broad parallels between Beowulf and Anglo-Saxon culture, particularly because nothing in the poem contradicts those kinship terminology and inheritance relations that are historically documented. Either way this is how Hrothgar comes into power. Because he is king is acquires majority of the wealth. From a Marxist perspective, the one with the wealth is the one with power. This is true in Beowulf. However, with all the wealth and power Hrothgar cannot protect his people from Grendel’s wrath. This is when he calls in Beowulf. Beowulf successfully kills Grendel by ripping his arm out of his socket, gaining worship from Hrothgar and others of the village. We see that there is an unequal distribution of wealth here as Hrothgar only showers Beowulf with some gifts. Because Beowulf is like a worker in a sense, this shows that capitalists (or kings) can control their laborers. We can also see that Grendel symbolizes a greedy king and his way of disturbing the peace of Heorot is like him taking wealth or power that does not belong to him. Hrothgar uses his power in multiple ways throughout the story. In the early medieval north, kingship falls into three stages of development: orality, object literacy (with episodes of new object literacy), and content literacy. In Beowulf Hrothgar creates Heorot with words, plays the harp, 4 and seems to recite. As Beowulf fights Grendel and succeeds Hrothgar seems to get more powerful as king because he had the brilliant idea of bringing this young Geat to come fight for the Danes when no one else was able to. This shows in Beowulf, just after contemplating the inscribed object that indicates the coming of object literacy to his society, Hrothgar, with a lengthy speech, silences the crowd in the hall (1699b), including the matchless hero, Beowulf, who does not reply to the sermon’s warning (Hill 100). From this point in the poem, the court poet is conspicuous by his absence (Beowulf 2458b, 3023b), and Unferth, the king’s official spokesman, speaks no more (Klaeber 149). Further, there are slight hints in the poem that Hrothgar does not allow complete freedom to scops in the Danish realm. Jeff Opland notices that “harpers are confined to Heorot” under the king’s eye, while “the performances in the hall differ from those outside in that they refer to the individual experience of one member of the community or to events that neither performer nor audience witnessed; outside the hall every performance refers to an event that both performer and audience shared in” (“Beowulf’ 461). Spontaneous poetry, including praise of Beowulf, occurs outside of Hrothgar’s court. The apparent lack of muttering against the Danish king, despite the ravages of Grendel, may indicate that his control over scops is generally successful. Here, Hrothgar demonstrates his power over society. Grendel’s mother also demonstrates her power over society by having all creatures of her world respond to her during her battle with Beowulf. In the story, she drags Beowulf to her court, while a mass of sea-monsters claws and bites at him. He tries to use Hrunting to pierce her skin but his attempt is unsuccessful for she is too powerful. This seems to be another class struggle. Grendel mother is the matriarch of her kingdom, with her son behind her, and the sea monsters under him. As power becomes associated with objects, especially inscribed ones, the sense of sight becomes more valuable to kings and to others. The composer of Beowulf frequently uses the verb sceawian (“to look at”) to indicate the Danes’, and particularly Hrothgar’s growing knowledge of the monsters (132b, 840b, 843b, 983b, 1391b, 1413b, 1440b, 1687b). Part of Grendel’s terror comes from the baleful light in his eyes (726b-7). The poet uses the word eage (“eye”) on only three occasions besides line 726b, each a description of royal power: the eyes that may not light upon Modthrith unless they belong to a masterful husband (1935b), Hrothgar’s gratitude for the sight of Grendel’s severed head (1781b), and this king’s description of the onset of death. Revealingly, he interprets life’s end as brightness fading from the eyes (1766b-7a). This is why when Grendel’s mother is defeated He finds that the waters he passes through hold no infestation or darkness and there is now light under the sea. This shows her power has ended. In Beowulf, there are many examples of respect here. There are continuous references to the Lord or God. Because Hrothgar is the king, he gains respect from everyone who follows under his rule. Hrothgar has a great respect for Beowulf because he has come a great journey to help him defeat Grendel. Hrothgar also has respect for Beowulf’s father for they use to be childhood friends. Beowulf has respect for Hrothgar and the way he leads his people and looks us to him as if he were a mentor. There is also the respect that Unferth ends up gaining for Beowulf despite his jealousy at the beginning of the poem. Wiglaf also has respect for Beowulf for his loyal to his friend. Upon his funeral, Wiglaf buries Beowulf the way he asked of him. From a Marxist view, the evils of capitalism or the reason for its fall has to do with alienation. This means there is alienation from the worker and his human beings. While Anglo Saxon people had creoles and slaves, the poem does not mention these figures. It only really focuses on the kings and the thanes. If we look at it from a Marxist perspective, the thanes or the warriors are the workers. Beowulf did work by keeping Hrothgar’s kingdom safe from the dangers of Grendel and his mother. Beowulf became alienated from the people who he was supposed to protect when he died. He could no longer produce his labor or his service to the people of Hrothgar’s kingdom or his own. Beowulf could have done anything differently to have saved his people (if not the dragon, then old age or some other foe would have ended his reign). In addition, the tragedy is not only that he died without an heir. Rather, the tragedy of the cultural world of Beowulf is that it inevitably will end through the failure of inheritance. No system can be eternal. Blood-only replication leads to extinction. Deeds-only replication leads to uncontrollable violence. Hybrid inheritance is better, but in the end, it fails also. There is no escape from the social system because the system defines individual identity. Yet the constitution of the system leads inexorably to its own destruction. The silent barrow evinces the failure of life and lineage that haunts the poem, the poet, and the culture.