Beowulf

Lines 1008-1250

The story also gives the reader a sense of the Anglo-Saxon idea of wyrd, or fate, in which individuals conceive of themselves as directed by necessity and a heroic code that compels them to act in certain fixed ways. The strong discussion of fate in this section is ominous, and the reader quickly gets the sense that the Danes and Geats are a little too exuberant in their rejoicing over the defeat of Grendel. The narrator compounds this troubling feeling by informing us that a reversal of fortune is coming: “how could they know fate, / the grim shape of things to come” (1233–1234). Beowulf’s plot often anticipates itself in this manner. It may even seem to us as though the narrator is giving away the plot and destroying the suspense. For the Beowulf poet, however, the pull of fate is so strong that an event that is fated to happen in the future already has a strong presence. Fate walks among these characters whether they know it or not.

The narrator’s tendency to project forward to future events manifests itself as well in his hints that Hrothulf, Hrothgar’s nephew, will usurp the throne from Hrothgar’s sons. Wealhtheow’s statement that she is certain of Hrothulf’s goodness creates a moment of dramatic irony, as the poet is well aware that Hrothulf has evil in mind. The treachery related in the Finnsburg episode casts a similarly ominous pall over Wealhtheow’s speech and suggests that treachery will mark the future just as it has the past. Such continuity is symbolized in the golden torque that Wealhtheow presents to Beowulf. The poet’s glance forward to Hygelac’s death while wearing the torque (which Beowulf will have given him) reinforces how symbols link the past, present, and future in this culture.