Everything you need to know about Beowulf: Summary, Character Analysis, and Literary Devices in Beowulf

All there is about Beowulf: Summary, Character Analysis and Literacy Devices in Beowulf 

Beowulf is an Old English epic poem that was written between 975 and 1025. Beowulf, a warrior and commander, is pitted against frightening beasts and mystical entities in the poem. He battles them to protect others who are in need of assistance and are unable to defend themselves against their foes. The poem is regarded as a significant work of Old English literature. It depicts Anglo-Saxon tribes’ daily lives in the sixth century, offers historical proof for certain occurrences, and connects many Scandinavian legends, historical events, and myths.

Beowulf is a complicated work of Old English literature that can be difficult to decipher and comprehend at first. This page is provided by Smart2write to assist anyone who is having difficulty grasping the plot of Beowulf, character analysis, or fast learning some of the poem’s ideas and symbols. Are you ready to go back in time? Fasten your seatbelts as we travel back in time to a time when dragons, nasty trolls, and magic reigned supreme.

Beowulf’s Summary

Over the course of the poem, Beowulf encounters and battles three big animals. We’ll look at each of them as a different turning point in his life, as well as his accomplishments as a good commander and warrior.

The First Combat

Grendel, a gigantic monster that could be an ogre or a troll, terrorizes Hrothgar and his warriors. Grendel despises joy and gladness, and he abhors festivals. He’s been going to Heorot for the past 12 years, a castle built by Hrothgar for himself and his troops. Grendel punishes those who enjoy themselves and celebrate. Every day, he feeds and murders Hrothgar’s troops, terrorizing and destroying Heorot.

Heorot saved a man from a dreadful death many years ago. Ecgtheow, Beowulf’s father, was revealed to be this man. When Beowulf learns of Heorot’s troubles, he sets off with 14 of his warriors to leave Geatland and assist Hrothgar in his fight against Grendel. Beowulf pledges honor to Hygelac, the Geatish king, and vows to return triumphant.

When Beowulf and his men arrive in Heorot, they are greeted by Hrothgar’s soldiers, who lavishly drink and feast on them. During the celebration, one thane, Unferth, a Hrothgar warrior, tries to make fun of Beowulf for losing a swimming competition years previously. Beowulf, according to Unferth, has no chance against Grendel, the legendary beast. Beowulf refutes his opponent’s claim, claiming that he merely got lost in the endless sea and walked in the opposite direction. He managed to kill nine sea creatures on his way back to land.

Grendel arrives in Heorot after everyone has fallen asleep following the revelry. He begins by attacking the mead-hall, killing one of Beowulf’s Geats. Grendel then attempts but fails to kill and eat Beowulf. Instead, Beowulf grabs Grendel’s arm and pulls it from his body all the way down to his shoulder with the strength of 30 men. Grendel flees the mead-hall, gravely hurt. All of the men congratulate Beowulf on his win. He hangs Grendel’s claw from the ceiling in all his splendour.

Second combat

After Beowulf and his brave men defeat the monster, everyone rejoices. They drink a lot, listen to music, and eat wonderful cuisine. Hrothgar and his wife Wealhteow are so impressed by Beowulf’s performance that they present him with a gold collar. After a large feast, everyone falls asleep, believing that Grendel has been killed and that they are no longer in danger.

Grendel’s mother, the water witch, disturbs their peace and sleep. She arrives enraged, determined to avenge her son and assassinate Beowulf. While everyone, including Beowulf, is dead asleep, she takes Grendel’s arm from the ceiling and kidnaps one of Hrothgar’s warriors named Aeschere.

They depart Heorot the next morning in search of Grendel’s mother. They come across Aeschere’s head on a tall mountain while looking for her footprints. They follow the trail, and Beowulf discovers Grendel’s mother in a deep, dark cave. She leads him to the lake’s bottom, where their fight begins. Beowulf is impervious to her strikes due to the might of his sword, which was forged by the renowned smith Weland.

It is, however, too weak to harm Grendel’s mother. Beowulf comes across another blade laying in the cave, grabs it, and pierces her spine and neck with it. Her blood melts the blade, illuminating the cave with a dazzling ray of light. Beowulf discovers a vast treasure concealed within, but he abandons it.

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Third battle

Beowulf and his soldiers return to Geatland after yet another victory. Hygelac, the Geatish king, and his son were killed in combat, and Beowulf is crowned as the new king, reigning for 50 years in peace.

Another beast comes along one day and disrupts the quiet. A massive fire-breathing dragon this time. The dragon is enraged because a thief took a goblet from the treasure it had been protecting for a long time. The dragon begins to terrorize Geatland, setting fire to homes and murdering its residents. Beowulf collects his bravest men, as well as the thief who knows where the dragon resides, and prepares to fight the beast. The dragon appears to be fearsome, and all of Beowulf’s soldiers flee the battlefield. Wiglaf, Beowulf’s most devoted warrior, is the only one who sticks with him. In this unbalanced combat, he stays faithful to his convictions and supports his monarch. Beowulf and Wiglaf defeat the dragon together. Unfortunately, because to an injury and his numerous wounds, Beowulf does not survive the conflict. His dying wish is to bequeath his realm to Wiglaf, as a prize for remaining loyal to his monarch despite all odds and horrors.

Wiglaf, the new king, and the people of Geatland honor Beowulf and his achievements by organizing a massive funeral procession. His other dying desire was to be cremated, so they built a big barrow to hold his remains. The barrow is also brimming with valuables that attest to Beowulf’s importance. Another last request of Beowulf’s was for his burial site to be visible from the sea, so that anybody passing by may see it. The barrow is constructed along the coast so that every seaman and ship might view Beowulf’s cliff and pay their respects to him.

Beowulf characters

Character Analysis in Beowulf

Character lists in Beowulf

  • Beowulf
  • Grendel
  • Hrothgar
  • Unferth
  • Wiglaf
  • Grendel’s Mother
  • The Dragon

Character Analysis of Beowulf

The poem’s main character is Beowulf. He arrives to assist King Hrothgar, whose army has been scared by Grendel. Grendel is killed by Beowulf, who later kills Grendel’s mother, who has come after Beowulf to revenge her son. He later ascends to the throne of Geatland, but his rule is not without incident, as he is attacked by a fire-breathing dragon. Beowulf is so seriously injured by the monster that he dies from his wounds.

Beowulf is initially and foremost connected with bravery when discussing his character attributes. He demonstrates his fearlessness in battles against monsters and weird beings on countless occasions. We come across a narrative in the book that depicts his bravery:

For example, Beowulf says that his “heart is steadfast,” implying that he is ready to meet the monster and stand up to him, regardless of how powerful the dragon is. This shows that Beowulf is fearless, despite the fact that he knew he couldn’t defeat the dragon on his own.

Beowulf was a young man in search of glory and adventure. Beowulf was known for his bravery among his people, the Geats. Beowulf fought in many wars as a young man, and as a result, he demonstrated his tremendous character to others. Beowulf has a number of qualities that aided him in combat. Beowulf was known as the strongest man alive when he was a young man.

Strength is another character quality that Beowulf possesses.

In battle, his power allowed him to dominate. He would not have been able to defeat Grendel if it hadn’t been for his sheer might, as weaponry would not have worked. He opened himself up to greater praise by fighting Grendel without weapons. Beowulf’s strength was not a hindrance, but the consequences of his strength were.

Despite the fact that it may appear that Beowulf is bragging and that all of his statements are just that, readers will be able to see proof of his testimony throughout the poem. They observe him easily defeat Grendel and his mother, and they realize he is the strongest of all. With the might of 30 men, he ripped Grendel’s arm out of his socket and killed him.

Beowulf is known for being a brave and strong warrior, as well as a wise and ethical ruler who ruled over Geatland. He was able to rid his region and kingdom from tribal warfare and strife. And until he was killed by the dragon, he reigned peacefully for over 50 years.

Beowulf’s job in the poem is to portray a powerful and valiant warrior whose actions speak for themselves. He was a great fighter, as well as a wise and good ruler and a true hero.

Hrothgar

The King of the Danes was Hrothgar. He is portrayed as a wise monarch and a good ruler who is well-liked by his subjects. For his tribe, he constructed a lovely mead-hall. Regrettably, he was too elderly to confront Grendel. Grendel was powerful, and everyone feared him and his rage, especially Hrothgar. Hrothgar’s children, however, were far too young to stand up against Grendel. Beowulf arrived at this point to save Hrothgar, his family, and the army from the terrifying beast. Hrothgar rewarded Beowulf for his faithfulness by giving him armor, horses, wealth, and a variety of other gifts. The author trivializes Hrothgar’s part, despite the fact that he was a great king incapable of confronting the monster.

Wiglaf

When Beowulf, the king of the Geats, chose to face the flame-breathing dragon that terrified his kingdom and people, he surrounded himself with many soldiers who consented to accompany him in the bloody battle. When the dragon appeared, Wiglaf was the only one of the men who stayed and battled beside Beowulf in terrible combat.

Wiglaf swore his allegiance to Beowulf in the book, promising to be with him to the end. Wiglaf followed through on his commitment. He not only fought alongside Beowulf, but he also cleansed his wounds and carried out his final desires before dying. Wiglaf was fully rewarded for his excellent efforts, and he was crowned the next Geatish king. Wiglaf serves as an example of a loyal, kind-hearted, and valiant warrior in the poem, showing readers how they should treat their monarch.

Unferth

The Danes planned a splendid banquet for Beowulf and his army as they arrived at the mead-hall to assist Hrothgar and his army in fighting Grendel. Following various celebrations, one thane, a Danish warrior named Unferth, began denigrating Beowulf, treating him with contempt and scorn. Unferth doubted Beowulf’s ability to perform all of the feats for which he was famous, such as the swimming tournament. Unferth stands in stark contrast to Beowulf. He lacked moral judgment and was envious of Beowulf’s prowess. Unferth gave Beowulf his sword after Beowulf slew Grendel and sent him to kill Grendel’s mother. Unferth’s performance demonstrates that he altered his views and, after all, he wasn’t all horrible. Unferth’s character was designed to highlight what jealously can do to a person, but also to show that everyone has something good within of them that will come out when the time is right.

Ecgtheow

Beowulf’s father was Ecgtheow. He once assassinated a man named Heatholaf. As a result, he got involved in a bloody conflict with a tribe known as the Wulfings. He took sanctuary in the Kingdom of the Danes, headed by King Hrothgar, in order to flee the fight and evade their vengeance. Wulfings pardoned Ecgtheow after Hrothgar took matters into his own hands and apologized to them. Ecgtheow swore an oath of allegiance to Hrothgar in exchange. When Beowulf learned of Hrothgar’s troubles with Grendel, he resolved to assist him by honoring his father’s word and carrying it through even after his death. Beowulf referred to his father as a “great battle-beater” (line 263) and expressed his admiration and love for him.

Character Analysis of Grendel

Grendel was a monster that Beowulf had to battle in order to save Hrothgar. We can see from the quote below that he showed no mercy and scared Hrothgar’s warriors on a daily basis.

Grendel’s temperament was ruthless and merciless. As a descendent of Cain, he was cursed for killing his innocent brother Abel. He was a loner by nature, with no friends and little family. He was envious of the Danes’ good rapport with one another, their laughter, friendships, and celebrations. Every time he heard delight emanating from Heorot, he attacked them. His retort represents an attack on the human species as a whole, as well as the concept of society. Grendel was shown as a ruthless, violent, nasty, and envious beast who thrived solely on killing and destroying. He was a personification of all the world’s evil.

Grendel’s mother

Beowulf’s mother came to revenge him after he slain Grendel. For her son, she embodies anguish, hatred, despair, anger, and love. She determined that blood could only be returned with blood, so she set out to kill Beowulf by duping him into visiting her cave. Beowulf kills her after she fails. She is portrayed in the poem as a “monster-woman” who has gone wild as a result of her loss and is willing to do everything to avenge Beowulf for her son’s death.

The Dragon in beowulf

Beowulf also battled the dragon, which was the final beast he faced. The dragon invaded the Geats after Beowulf’s tranquil reign of almost 50 years. Someone had taken his wealth, and the dragon was furious, destroying everything and everyone in his path. He set fire to people’s homes and killed them. He was merciless by nature, much like Grendel, and nothing could stop him from spreading dread. He was avaricious, the polar antithesis of Beowulf’s benevolence.

There are many other characters in Beowulf that have complicated relationships with one another and have distinct personalities. We only looked at the characters who matter the most and have the most impact on the poem, such as Beowulf himself, King Hrothgar, the loyal warrior Wiglaf, the envious thane Unferth, Beowulf’s father Ecgtheow, and three terrifying beasts: the dragon, Grendel, and his mother, in this article.

Themes in Beowulf’s Literacy Devices

The Importance of Creating a Personal Brand

Because Beowulf is primarily a chronicle of heroic acts, the concept of identity—of which the two most important components are familial legacy and personal reputation—is plainly vital to the poem. The reader is introduced to a society in which every male figure is referred to as his father’s son in the first few paragraphs. Characters in the poem are unwilling to discuss their identities or even introduce themselves without mentioning their ancestors. Because of the poem’s emphasis on kinship relationships, this concern with family history is so evident. Characters take pride in ancestors who have acted valiantly, and they strive to live up to those same standards.

While one’s heritage can serve as a model for behavior and aid to establish identity—as the line of Danish monarchs described earlier in this article—a strong reputation is the most important factor in cementing and augmenting one’s identity. For example, Shield Sheafson, the famous founder of the Danish royal dynasty, was orphaned; as a result of his fatherlessness, valorous exploits were the only way for him to forge an identity for himself. While Beowulf’s pagan warrior culture does not appear to have a concept of the afterlife, it does regard fame as a way of insuring that one’s memory would go on after death—an sensible concern in a world where death seems to be pounding at the door all the time.

The Heroic Code and Other Value Systems: Tensions

Beowulf spends a lot of time explaining and showing the Germanic heroic code, which prizes warriors’ strength, courage, and loyalty; kings’ hospitality, generosity, and political ability; women’s ceremoniousness; and everyone’s excellent reputation. This code, which is both traditional and well-respected, is essential to warrior civilizations’ understanding of their interactions with the outside world and the threats that lay beyond their borders. All of the characters’ moral decisions are based on the code’s requirements. As a result, individual activities can only be classified as adhering to or breaking the code.

By recounting situations that expose the code’s internal contradictions in values, the poem highlights the code’s points of tension. Several stories in the poem deal with conflicted loyalties, situations for which the code provides no practical instruction on how to respond. The poet, for example, tells how the Danish Hildeburh marries the Frisian king. Hildeburh is left doubly grieved when both her Danish brother and her Frisian son are killed in the war between the Danes and the Frisians. The code also frequently clashes with medieval Christian beliefs. While the law maintains that respect is earned via good deeds during life, Christianity claims that glory is only found in the hereafter. Similarly, although warrior culture mandates that retaliation is always preferable to mourning, Christian philosophy supports a peaceful, forgiving attitude toward one’s foes. The poet tries to reconcile these two sets of ideals throughout the poem. Despite his Christian faith, he cannot (and does not appear to want to) refute the story’s underlying pagan ideals.

What Makes a Good Warrior Different from a Good King?

Beowulf grows from a courageous warrior to a wise leader over the course of the epic. His transition indicates that each of his two jobs comes with a different set of values. The disparity between these two sets of ideals is evident early on in Beowulf’s and King Hrothgar’s outlooks. Whereas the young Beowulf seeks personal glory because he has nothing to lose, the elderly Hrothgar seeks protection for his people because he has a lot to lose. Despite the fact that these two viewpoints are diametrically opposed, each character acts in accordance with society’s expectations for his particular function in society.

While Beowulf’s example demonstrates the warrior’s principles throughout the poem, the responsibilities of a ruler to his people are only highlighted in the poem’s more didactic passages. According to the heroic code, a king must reward his warriors’ loyal service with gifts and acclaim. He must also provide them with protection and the sanctuary of a lavish mead-hall, according to the law. In a precarious and chaotic world, Hrothgar’s speeches emphasize the importance of creating stability. He also discusses the king’s diplomatic function, both with his own troops and with foreign tribes.

Many of the same themes are explored further during Beowulf’s reign as king. The conflict between the obligations of a heroic warrior and those of a heroic king is rehashed in his transition from warrior to king, particularly in his final confrontation with the dragon. Beowulf’s daring battle with the dragon is ethically problematic in the view of certain Geats since it condemns them to a state of kinglessness, leaving them open to attack by their enemies. Beowulf, on the other hand, exemplifies kingly restraint when, earlier in his life, he refrains from usurping Hygelac’s throne, instead opting to uphold the line of succession by supporting Hygelac’s son’s appointment. However, because all of these pagan kings were renowned warriors in their youth, conflict between these two crucial tasks seems unavoidable and eventually irreconcilable.

Evil in Beowulf

Many readers have interpreted Beowulf’s monsters as manifestations of evil, implying that evil is a mysterious, inhuman force. All three monsters emerge from the darkness, terrifying and torturing the human characters in the poem. Grendel, in particular, is a close ally of the powers of darkness. He is a descendant of the cursed sinner Cain and is described as a “fiend from hell” (l.100). None of the monsters, on the other hand, act solely out of malice. Grendel’s mother had every right to seek retribution for her son’s death. Even Grendel has “a hard grievance” (l.87), and we understand that Grendel acts out of solitude, envy, and fear, even though his activities are terrible. Beowulf humanizes evil by giving the monsters comprehensible, human motives and even showing us their points of view at times, implying that evil is both an unspeakable threat from the darkness and an ordinary part of human life. When we read the poem’s descriptions of human warfare, such as Beowulf and Hygelac coming from the water to murder their foes, we could wonder if Grendel or his mother are in any way unnatural.

Treasure

Although Beowulf and the other heroic warriors in the poem are motivated by “glory” , they measure their glory in gold. The amount of treasure Hrothgar gives Beowulf as a reward determines the glory of his achievement in killing Grendel. Hrothgar’s glory as a king, on the other hand, can be measured by his generosity with his wealth. When Beowulf gives Hygelac the lion’s share of his reward, he demonstrates how loyal he is to his king, and thus how well he upholds the warrior code, while also demonstrating how good a king Hygelac is. Beowulf, on the other hand, is sceptical of treasure’s worth. The monstrous dragon owns the poem’s largest treasure trove, and it serves him no purpose. Wiglaf finds the hoard “tarnished and corroding” when he enters the barrow to examine it. Many readers have been disturbed by Beowulf’s final longing to view the treasure he has won. It may have been even more disturbing to the poem’s original Christian audience: it’s a reminder that, in his final moments, Beowulf’s mind is on temporary, worldly things rather than God and eternal life.

Mortality

On one level, Beowulf is a poem about facing death from beginning to end. It starts with a funeral and then moves on to a violent monster’s story. Beowulf is a hero who has chosen to face death in order to attain fame. Even Beowulf’s closest companions believe he has died when he confronts Grendel’s mother at the bottom of the mere. Some readers have interpreted his descent to the bottom of the abyss as a symbolic death, relying on the Christian tale of the “Harrowing of Hell,” in which Jesus goes to Hell after dying on the Cross in order to separate the saved from the condemned. The poem’s final third is dedicated to Beowulf’s death and funeral. Some critics claim that the poem portrays pagan mortality as tragic: Beowulf and the other heroes live terrifying, death-filled lives and die without prospect of salvation. Others, on the other hand, have deemed Beowulf even more heroic because he does his actions in the face of certain death, with no possibility of resurrection. Beowulf emphasizes to these readers that a good, heroic life is worth living at any cost.

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Symbolism in Beowulf: Literacy Devices

The Torque of Gold

Wealhtheow’s collar or necklace is a sign of the link of allegiance that exists between her people and Beowulf—and, by extension, the Geats. When we discover that Hygelac died in battle while wearing it, it reaffirms its significance as a symbol of connection and continuation.

The Reception

After Grendel’s defeat, the magnificent supper at Heorot symbolizes the return of order and harmony to the Danish people. The preparations include the reconstruction of the community’s ruined mead-hall, which, together with the dinner itself, represents the community’s rebirth. Speeches and gift-giving, both important aspects of this society’s connections, also contribute to a refreshed sense of wholeness.

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