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Themes and Colors
Family and Tribe Theme Icon
Good Warriors and Good Kings Theme Icon
Fame, Pride, and Shame Theme Icon
Repetition and Change Theme Icon
Christianity and Paganism Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Beowulf, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Family and Tribe

In Beowulf (and in the medieval Germanic culture that produced Beowulf), family and tribal allegiances determine one's identity. Characters are constantly identified as the son, wife, or daughter of a particular man, and as members of this or that tribe. Men or beings without tribes—such as Grendel and Heremod—are described as lonely and joyless. Without a community or family, these men are incomplete. All of the cultural institutions described in Beowulf, from…

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Good Warriors and Good Kings

The narrator of Beowulf emphasizes the importance of both good warriors and good kings. But as the story of Beowulf unfolds, it becomes clear that while good kings and warriors share some similar traits, such as courage, loyalty, selflessness, and might in battle, the values of a good warrior and a good king do not overlap in other fundamental ways.

The differences between good kings and good warriors arise from the different roles that kings…

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Fame, Pride, and Shame

The warriors of Beowulf seek fame through feats of strength, bravery in the face of danger, an utter disdain for death, as well as by boasting about their feats of strength, bravery, and disdain for death. The quest for fame is of the utmost importance to a warrior trying to establish himself in the world.

Yet the quest for fame can lead to harm in two very different ways. First, a quest for fame can…

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Repetition and Change

Beowulf is full of repetitions: the story begins and ends with funerals of kings; Beowulf must fight Grendel and Grendel's Mother; the tale of Sigemund foreshadows Beowulf's battle with the dragon; the feuds related in stories told by the bards echo the feuds of Beowulf's own time. These repetitions emphasize the continuity of the world and show that events are in many ways just variations of previous events, proceeding in endless procession like the…

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Christianity and Paganism

Because of its complicated origin, Beowulf has elements of both pagan Germanic culture and Christianity. The story of Beowulf probably originated as an oral tradition sometime in the 7th century. But the only surviving manuscript of Beowulf was written in the 11th century by Christian scribes, who either inserted the Christian overtones to the story, or were working from a manuscript set down by previous Christians who added the Christian elements. Suffice it to say…

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