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Beowulf

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Beowulf

The tale is simple, and yet complex in its telling. It is composed of three main sections that center on a mortal battle: Beowulf's fight with Grendel the monster in the hall of a Danish king; his underwater battle with Grendel's mother, who is bent on revenge; and, finally, 50 years later, Beowulf's death at the hands of a third monster, a dragon accidentally awakened in Beowulf's own kingdom. Each sequence, narrated by an anonymous speaker who is familiar with the customs and laws of the Scandinavian people who make up the epic's characters, follows a similar pattern. First, there is a suspense-producing buildup in which the monster makes its presence known and begins its rampage; then, Beowulf's arrival on the scene and the ensuing battle to the death; and lastly a taking of stock -- in the first two cases, a celebration of the monster's defeat, and in the final sequence, in which the dragon is killed at the cost of Beowulf's life, a period of mourning. Interwoven with these main tales are many diversionary stories, and a series of pronouncements that define the role of the hero and the ethics of war, friendship, and death.