Beowulf @ Ellis

Nicole J.

Analysis: “Beowulf’s Battles: an artistic approach”

           Often artwork depicts literature or literature is written after artwork. A piece of artwork, entitled Beowulf’s Battles: an artistic approach, portrays elements of the epic poem, Beowulf. This booklet of costumes, photography, and collage elements represents the epic through the vibrant costumes, as well as interaction between the characters at battle.
            The costumes represent the four characters in the epic: Beowulf, Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the dragon. The costume for Beowulf is armor that he wears in battle; he wears a chest shield with a cross on the front. This cross represents the Christian faith throughout the epic. Throughout the story, God and fate plays a prominent role, as Beowulf indicates when he says:” may God as good to you forever” (954). The other armor for Beowulf is leg and head protection. Beowulf could be wearing “Hrothgar’s helmet [that] would defend him” (1448). Beowulf’s gear helps to show his role in the epic as a soldier, and his undeniable strength and confidence. The character Grendel, on the other hand, wears a brown colored outfit with brown yarn to reflect him as a fuzzy and hairy creature. In the epic, he is described to have very inhumane qualities that isolate him from the rest of the Danes. Grendel’s mother is portrayed in the story as a “mighty water witch” (1519); she is so fierce, that even the sword named “Hrunting could not hurt her” (1524). In the artwork, Grendel’s mother wears blue to show her dominance in the water, and a pink ribbon to show her femininity, although she is not the typical girl because of her un-human qualities. Beowulf’s last opponent, the dragon, wears a cape in colors and texture that resemble a dragon. It is really, however, the scenery that the dragon exists in that completes the art. The costumes portray some of the artwork because they help the battles to come alive and they add imagery to the scenes, even if all the details are not mentioned in the epic.
            The first page of the booklet, showing the battle between Beowulf and Grendel, reflects the epic through pictures and its overall feeling. The first photograph shows Grendel in his state of existentialism and depression; he finds that the easiest way to ease his feelings is to be aggressive. Grendel’s hatred shows when he “keep[s] the bloody feud alive” (152) providing “twelve winters of grief for Hrothgar, king of the Danes” (147-48) because he has murdered Hrothgar’s people. Then, Beowulf, a young Geat warrior, comes to the rescue of the Danes by confidently volunteering to take on Grendel; Beowulf says that “Grendel is no braver, no stronger than [he] is/[He] could kill him with [his] sword, [he] shall not” (677-78). The second picture shows this dispute between Beowulf and Grendel. In fitt eleven, the battle is described as sweeping “down the aisles, angry, and wild” (769-70). The battle continues until Grendel grows weak with Beowulf’s efforts, illustrated in the third picture. A shift of mood occurs when “the sounds change” (783) and Grendel is caught in Beowulf’s “arms…who of all the men on earth/ [is] the strongest” (789-90), as he finally kills the deadly monster. Also on this first page is part of Grendel’s costume: his arm. In battle, Grendel’s arm is cut off when “he twisted in pain, and the bleeding sinews deep in his shoulder snapped, muscle and bone split” (815-17). The mood overall on the first page is dark and deep, shown by the darkness in the photos, as well as the dark colored paper. Grendel is a dark creature, an existentialist in a deep state of depression that he cannot escape, perhaps because of the lack of God and fate. The photos represent Grendel’s deep anger, as well as the plot of the epic.
            The second challenge of Beowulf is to fight the mother of his previous opponent, Grendel. Three pictures show the relation between the two characters. The first picture on the page shows Grendel’s mother alone in the water. Grendel’s mother, a descendant of the evil Cain, lives in a “murky cold lake” (1260) and is now in distress because Beowulf has killed her only son. Then Beowulf, chooses to fight Grendel’s mother as he is “ready to dive into battle” (1472). The second picture illustrates Beowulf’s confident attitude when fighting Grendel’s wicked mother. The third picture shows Beowulf after he has defeated Grendel’s mother, as she is shown dead. In the epic, Beowulf finally finds the scene rather peaceful, after a long reign of Grendel’s killings and the actions of Grendel’s angry mother. The author of the epic describes the water to be “calm and clean/the whole huge lake peaceful once the demons who’d lived in it/ were dead” (1620-1622). The series of photos portray the battle to be an easy one because of the confident look of Grendel, but the battle is described in the poem to be more difficult than one would imagine. “For hours [Beowulf] sank through the waves/then she carried him, armor and sword and all to her home/he struggled to free his weapon and failed” (1495-1507). The overall tone on the page does reflect the mood of the epic. The prominent color is blue, which is used for the water, costumes, and background on the page; the blue represents the lake and perhaps the “blue” or sad feeling of Grendel’s mother because she is upset about her son’s death. Pink ribbon and green trim border the page. The pink ribbon represents the fact that Grendel’s mother is female, although she does not have highly female-like qualities. At the bottom of the page, the green trim shows the plants that can now begin to grow back without the threat of Grendel’s mother.
            The last page of the artwork represents Beowulf’s final battle against the dragon. The dragon becomes a threat to the Geats towards the end of Beowulf’s rule. Beowulf “[i]s old with years of wisdom/when a dragon awoke from the darkness” (2208-2210). The dragon “[is] guarding/and dazzled and greedy stole a gem-studded cup/and fled” (2216-18). The dragon is very angry and began to make violent actions, such as destroying everything in sight. He is described in the epic as “vomiting fire and smoke” (2312), as well as “burn[ing] down the [Geats] homes” (2313). In all of the pictures, the dragon appears to be breathing and vomiting fire. The first picture shows the dragon alone with treasures in the background; he is guarding the valuables passionately and fiercely. The second picture shows an older and weaker, but wiser, Beowulf attempting to fight the dragon. Opposed, to Beowulf’s previous two battles, fate is not rooting for Beowulf this time because of his old age and lack of strength that followed that. “Beowulf’s heart [i]s heavy: his soul sense[s] how close fate had come, felt something, not fear but knowledge of old age” (2420-21). This battle is a little different than the first because Beowulf has assistance from his fellow Geats; the strong and determined Wiglaf aids Beowulf in battle. The epic shows that “when Beowulf needed him most, Wiglaf shows his courage/his strength and skill, and [his] boldness” (2694-95). In the end, the dragon’s strength succeeds the strength of Beowulf, but Wiglaf kills the dragon so that the Geats can honor Beowulf in his final moments. The feeling of the artwork shows the idea of end, but yet a new beginning. Though Beowulf’s life and generation is over, the next generation will honor and look up to him as an excellent soldier and a great person. Green is a symbol of fertility, and green is used here to show the end and the new. A patch of the dragon is left behind on the artwork to remember Beowulf fighting the evil dragon and how wise he had become, which he expressed in his final boast.
            The artwork portrays Beowulf’s challenges and achievements in battle. The first page shows Beowulf saving the Danes by killing the monster, Grendel. Beowulf fighting an angry Grendel’s mother is illustrated on the second page. Lastly, the third page shows Beowulf older and wiser battling the dragon. Each challenge and battle shows a different aspect of Beowulf’s character, as well as the development of the story. The battle against Grendel is portrayed as very dark because of the murders that have been going on for twelve years. Beowulf is however, confident, because he is young, strong, and a bit naïve. Beowulf’s pride is only stronger after defeating Grendel, when he goes on to challenge Grendel’s mother. This pride is shown through Beowulf’s confident expressions and the aura that he seems to just spread throughout the painting. This certainty should not, however, be confused for arrogance; Beowulf still takes time to thank God as he is always behind him. Years later, Beowulf goes on to fight the dragon. Though Beowulf is killed in battle, it is his time to go because he has had a long and well-accomplished life. The artwork portrays his challenges through many mediums and it gives viewers a new idea for what Beowulf was truly experiencing.


Works Cited

Beowulf. New York: Signet, 1963.

“How Stuff Works”. 9 March 2008 <>.

Baynham, Dave and Shelagh Baynham. “Diving, Underwater, and Dive’s Photo’s”. 2006. 9 March 2008. <’s/Blue%20Hole%20Under.jpg>.

“Cave”. 2008. 9 March 2008. < cave Pearlsian Gulf.jpg>.

View Project

The Ellis School - 6425 Fifth Avenue - Pittsburgh, PA 15206