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 seasons of the year.
But repetition also serves a seemingly opposite purpose: it emphasizes change and difference. Precisely because various events described in Beowulf are so similar, the differences in those similar events become highlighted. For instance, Beowulf opens and closes with the funeral of two different kings, Scyld Scefing and Beowulf. But while Scyld's death comes of old age and founds a dynasty through succession to a son, Beowulf's funeral comes in battle and ends a dynasty because he has no son. Should Beowulf therefore not have fought the dragon, and instead remained to protect this people? Through the contrasts of seemingly similar events, Beowulf highlights how things change and raises questions about characters' decisions and actions.
Repetition and Change ThemeTracker
Repetition and Change Quotes in Beowulf
Grendel who haunted the moors, the wild
Marshes, and made his home in a hell.
Not hell but hell on earth.
He was spawned in that slime
Of Cain, murderous creatures banished
By God, punished forever for the crime
Of Abel's death.
In her heart, that female horror, Grendel's
Mother, living in the murky cold lake
Assigned her since Cain had killed his only
Brother, slain his father's son
With an angry sword.
Must have sent you such words; nothing so wise
From a warrior so young has ever reached
These ancient ears...If your lord,
Hrethel's son, is slain by a spear,
Or falls sick and dies...I say that the Geats
Could do no better, find no man better
Suited to be king, keeper of warriors
and their treasure, than you..., beloved Beowulf.
Horses and treasure—as a man must,
Not weaving nets of malice for his comrades,
Preparing their death in the dark, with secret,
Have gone by as fate willed,...
As I knew how, swearing no unholy oaths,
Seeking no lying wars. I can leave
This life happy; I can die, here,
Knowing the Lord of all life has never
Watched me wash my sword in blood
Born of my own family.
Sealed his ashes in walls as straight
And high as wise and willing hands could raise them...
And the treasures they'd taken were left there too,...
Ground back in the earth.