Beowulf @ Ellis

Jackie D.

 

Board Game of Beowulf: Analysis

            Throughout the poem, Beowulf, Beowulf is subjected to two major trials in order to become a well-to-do king. This game was formed featuring the major trials as the main focus. Many themes such as the Cain and Abel story, religion, good and evil, bravery, and gift-giving are shown in the poem and are incorporated into the game in order to develop a further understanding of the book. As it is a quest to become king.
            In the beginning of the game, the players are faced with a choice, “Your father is becoming old and must pass on the throne; to you or your twin, what do you do?” The question provides a list of choices such as killing your twin, running away, or letting your father choose. If you choose to kill your twin, which is fratricide, then you become Grendel, as told in the poem. The poet of Beowulf states, “Conceived by a pair of those monsters born/ of Cain” (1.105-106). Blatantly told to the readers, the story of Grendel and Unferth reflect similarities to the Cain and Abel story. Cain committed fratricide and therefore was doomed by God. Grendel, a descendent of Cain, was also doomed. Thus, the game needed incorporate a consequence if someone were to commit fratricide. If the player chooses to run away, the player continues or the player becomes Grendel. If a player decides to continue, he or she may be rewarded for their act of compassion. Through the game, players learn about the Cain and Abel story and the story’s value to the Anglo-Saxon culture. This is one minor trial that the player must complete in order to become king.
            Religion plays a prominent role in the poem, in addition to the Cain and Abel Story. Beowulf frequently asks for help and is saved by the Christian god. After defeating Grendel, Beowulf says, “But the Almighty makes/ miracles” (14. 929). To make the point that if a person is faithful, the “Almighty” will help in times of need. In order to show such involvement of religion in the game, Blessing Cards are included. Blessing cards imply that the player receives a blessing from God. Blessings can be traded in order to receive better weapons or to avoid danger from Grendel or Grendel’s mother. A player can start with blessings as did Beowulf in the poem. However, a character like Unferth starts with no blessings because of his past misdeeds, fratricide. The blessing cards not only reinforce the theme of religion in the poem but they also give advantages to players so that they may become king.
            Religion also plays a part in the symbolic theme of good and evil. When the player reaches Herot, the themes of good and evil, light and dark, are put into action. Herot is very open and tall because paint mixed with gold covers the interior and exterior. Because Herot is well lighted and open, the occurrences there are obvious to the viewer. In the poem, Beowulf, the poet describes Herot as having, “gold-covered boards” (11.776). This description provides an example of the emphasis of the gold in Herot.  Grendel’s mother’s lair provides an example of the exact opposite of goodness and light because it is sunken in the depths of the lake. This lake appears in the game, partially covered by weeds and marshes, giving it a foreboding look. Dark is symbolized as the unknown in the poem and, therefore, darkness had to be demonstrated in the game. The theme of good and evil is also displayed in the characters. One of the characters, Beowulf, is very brightly colored with a white cape, which symbolizes light. Grendel, on the other hand, is large, brown and black, and has yellow eyes; he symbolizes darkness. Such differences display the theme of good and evil because good is being represented as light and small, whilst evil is large and dark. With good and evil defined in the game, the players will be able to relate to the poem and understand its symbolism.
            Bravery is another major theme in Beowulf. Many times Beowulf is faced with a decision and only comes through by bravery. When Beowulf hears of the terrors at Herot, he leaves immediately to defeat Grendel. In the board game, the player is faced with the same challenge: “Coward? Prove it wrong! You hear of a monster at a far off place, go and defeat him, or do nothing”. If the player decides to continue, it becomes the sole choice of the poet whether or not to reward the player. Yet if a person decides to do nothing, he or she must give up blessing cards/treasure cards. This decision explores the poem’s theme of bravery. When Beowulf hears of Grendel, the poem states, “[Beowulf] heard how Grendel filled the nights with horror/ and quickly commanded a boat fitted out” (3.197-198). Beowulf quickly “fitted” a boat for the trip without any reservations. Therefore, if a player’s reaction echoes that of Beowulf in the poem, the player receives treasure card(s) for his act of courage. With the main theme of bravery in the poem and game, a person can learn how significant courage was to Anglo-Saxon culture.
            The most important and final trial the player must complete in order to become king, is to be judged. The player receives many treasures throughout the game and must share them. The poet briefs the players that treasure must be shared amongst them. A good king must always be gift-giving to his subjects. If a player comes to the judgment station, and said player was not gift giving (as judged by the poet) then the player loses, and the other player wins automatically. Such drastic measures are taken because in the poem, Beowulf, a person must be gift-giving in order to be a king. For example, a scop retells a sad tune about a brave and honest man named Hermod. The scop says, “His vanity swelled him so vile and rank/ that he could hear no voices but his own” (13. 910-911). His vanity was a result of his treasure hoarding. He could not have been a good king; he had turned greedy and selfish. A player in the game must understand this aspect of Anglo-Saxon culture in order to become a king. This is an excellent test for the present society because gift-giving is not a prevalent act. Therefore, in order to show the importance of generosity, the consequences of greed like Hermod’s result in the expulsion from the game.
            In conclusion, a player must understand the principles of Anglo-Saxon culture. If a player is not brave and generous, or does not understand the difference between good and evil, the player will not win the game. With themes from Beowulf repeated in the game, the game is a good learning tool and fun activity for anyone who wishes to learn about the poem and Anglo-Saxon culture.

 

 

Acknowledgments

  1. Thank you Ms. Dodge for meeting with me and encouraging my idea for a board game. Thank you also for opening my eyes to other literature then the genre I read.
  2. Thank you Dr. Perry for meeting with me to take many pictures of the board game.
  3. Thanks to my mom who took me out to get supplies and played my game when it was finished.
  4. Thank you Michele for playing the game when it was finished.

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