Collage of Various scenes in Beowulf: Analysis
To many readers, the epic Beowulf seems like a typical fantasy about a hero who arrives suddenly and dramatically to defeat the monster, is victorious, and lives happily ever after. However, this poem is quite distant from the stereotypical tales of knights in shining armor of the medieval ages. Instead, it is about the detailed struggles of good versus evil, about Fate versus free will, and about the belief in God and Heaven, using symbols to represent these themes throughout the poem. In my Beowulf project, I created a collage of various scenes from the epic to show many of these ideas using a variety of resources like pastels, wood, and beads. Through this artistic response, I show the symbolism behind the fantasy from important scenes in the epic Beowulf.
My entire art piece is in the form of a tower, which is supposed to be Beowulf’s “lighthouse” that he instructs his thanes to build after his death: “‘Have/ The brave Geats build me a tomb, /. . . Here at the water’s edge, high/ On this spit of land, so sailors can see/ This tower, and remember my name, and call it/ Beowulf’s tower, . . ’” (2802). The tower also represents the home of the dragon that eventually kills Beowulf during battle, which shows that Beowulf was so courageous and loyal to his kingdom, he was willing to die for its safety. I drew the tower with a large base and sloping sides to make the top much narrower. The pictures are put in chronological order, starting from Grendel’s raids on Herot with Beowulf defeating him on the bottom, to Beowulf’s death, which is represented on the top level. This is to show Beowulf’s abilities as a warrior. He begins young, fierce, and strong, but as he ages, his skills dwindle as well, just like the walls of my tower. At the top of the tower, there is another layer beyond the representation of Beowulf’s death. This large structure extends past the walls of the tower, which once again symbolizes that although Beowulf has died, his fame and honor will always be there, hovering above everyone to remind them of all his achievements during his life. On this top piece, the purple Playmobile banner with the dragon on it shows Beowulf’s successful defeat of the dragon. But it’s hung on the tower to show anyone who comes near his lighthouse the story behind that defeat, and that their lord, Beowulf, was killed.
On the bottom level of the tower, I drew a picture of woods with a pasted picture of Grendel on the right hand side. And on the left hand side, I drew a picture of the mead-hall Herot with Grendel’s arm hanging from the ceiling. The forest in the brick on the right represents how Grendel would run back into the forest after slaughtering Hrothgar’s men in Herot. I used dark pastel colors to show how mysterious Grendel was, and huge trees to show how Grendel stayed hidden. But I pasted Grendel’s picture in the center to show how he would emerge from his home completely unexpected, prepared to raid Herot. On the left brick, the drawing of Herot’s interior uses very bright colors in pastels to symbolize how after Beowulf kills Grendel, the mead hall looses its gloomy, dark atmosphere of death during Grendel’s killings. Instead, it becomes a bright, joyful celebration of his defeat. The brown strip of furry material hanging by a gold cord represents how the Danes hung Grendel’s arm in Herot once Beowulf rips it from Grendel’s body: “No Dane doubted/ The victory, for the proof hanging high/ From the rafters where Beowulf had hung it, was/ The monster’s/ Arm, claw and shoulder and all” (834).
On the next level of the tower, the scenes displayed in the two bricks relate to Beowulf’s battle with Grendel’s mother. On the left, drawn in pastel, is a picture of the lake in which Grendel and his mother live. Like the picture of the Grendel’s forest, I used dark colors in order to make it seem more eerie and mysterious. And I also included red in the lake to correspond to the steaming blood that rose up from the bottom of the water. And to show the steam and the bubbles coming from that boiling blood, I used a thin piece of cloth and bubble wrap and put it over the drawing. On the left brick in the level, I showed the scene where Unferth gives Beowulf his adored sword, Hrunting, to fight Grendel’s mother as he is about to literally dive into the battle. In the background, I punched holes in a piece of metallic wrapping paper to symbolize Beowulf’s mail armor. This armor’s chain links represent friendship, which Unferth greatly shows by giving his beloved sword to Beowulf. This especially shows companionship because Unferth does not even like Beowulf when he arrives with the Geats to help fight against Grendel and accuses him of too much pride: “Unferth spoke/. . . (vexed by Beowulf’s adventure, / By their visitor’s courage, and angry that anyone/ In Denmark or anywhere on earth had ever/ Acquired glory and fame greater/ Than his own): ‘You’re Beowulf, are you-the same/ Boastful fool. . .’” (499). The two paper pictures of men are to be Beowulf and Unferth. Beowulf is presented wearing his armor, which shows how he is a devoted, victorious warrior, prepared to fight. And Unferth has a more of a commoner outfit, signifying that he is truly just an ordinary man, who was originally jealous of Beowulf’s warrior abilities is, but learns to accept that and merely helps him instead. Finally, the toy sword in between the two pictures is Hrunting itself.
The next level, above the scenes of Grendel’s mother, is about Beowulf’s battle with the dragon. On the right is a pastel drawing of the dragon with tissue paper flames coming out of his mouth. This simply represents Beowulf’s antagonist, who eventually kills him at the end of the battle. The brick wall on the side of the scene is crumbling and broken to show the dragon’s flames and attacks that destroy Beowulf and break him, which no enemy had ever done before. To the left of the picture is a drawing in pastel of a window built into the side of the tower. Inside this window, I pasted glitter and beads to show the treasure that is inside the dragon’s tower. It represents what Beowulf desired most as he was living his final moments, telling Wiglac to go inside the tower and bring him the gold. The gleaming treasure also represents how after the dragon was defeated, his tower was purged of dark evil and then shining light poured into it: “And over everything he saw/ A strange light, shining everywhere, / On walls and floor and treasure. Nothing/ Moved, no other monsters appeared” (2766). This light is the light of Heaven from God, which symbolizes how only God caused the dragon to be defeated by putting strength in Beowulf. If it weren’t for him, the dragon wouldn’t have been able to be defeated.
Finally, on the last level of the tower, the two bricks pertain to Beowulf’s burial. On the left brick, there is a pasted picture of a building on a hill. This is to symbolize Beowulf’s kingdom in the land of the Geats. Because it is on top of a hill, it shows how Beowulf’s strength is above everyone else’s, and, like the idea of the tower, his name will always hover in the Geats’ mind even after he is dead because he died completing a life of honor and fame. The picture on the right is obviously a wooden cross. This is to show the similarities between the death of Jesus Christ and Beowulf. They both die for someone else. Beowulf dies to protect his kingdom and to make sure his soldiers won’t die instead of him; Jesus died for the sins of his people, giving his own blood for God’s forgiveness. And, like the picture of Beowulf’s kingdom, the cross sits on a hill to show how Jesus will linger above the minds of humans for millions of years because of his sacrifice. Finally, the cross shows the Christian ideals during the time of Beowulf because during this time, Christianity is just starting to make its way into northern Europe, eliminating the old paganistic ways.
My artistic representation of the epic Beowulf reflects many different aspects of the poem. Focusing on Beowulf’s major battles and his death, I created a collage of eight scenes using many different resources. By doing so, I showed how this epic is far beyond the typical medieval fairytale, and it instead is about the belief in God and how he controls everyone’s destiny and about the struggles between good and evil. The events put in chronological order from the bottom to the top of the tower show Beowulf’s life from the battle with Grendel of his youth to his defeat by the dragon in old age. And all of the small details in between represent the complex symbolism that is more than just a fantasy.
Beowulf. Trans. Burton Raffel. New York: Penguin, 1963.
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