Beowulf Summary, Themes, Characters & Analysis

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Beowulf Analysis

“Beowulf”, an Old English epic poem, exudes valor and heroism as it recounts the adventures of its eponymous protagonist.

Set in a world of monsters and warriors, the poem explores themes of loyalty, fate and the fragility of human existence.

Its rich language and dramatic storytelling continue to captivate readers across centuries.

Poem TitleBeowulf
AuthorUnknown (often attributed to a poet referred to as the “Beowulf poet”)
Date of OriginEstimated to be written between the 8th and 11th centuries
GenreEpic poetry
SettingScandinavia, primarily in Denmark and Sweden
LanguageOriginally written in Old English (Anglo-Saxon)

Beowulf Characters

  • Beowulf (Geatish hero)
  • Grendel (monster)
  • Grendel’s mother
  • Hrothgar (King of the Danes)
  • Wiglaf (Beowulf’s loyal companion)

Beowulf Themes

1. Heroism and Bravery – The poem explores the theme of heroic deeds and the bravery of the protagonist, Beowulf, as he battles monstrous creatures to protect his people.

2. Fate and Destiny – Beowulf contemplates the role of fate and the inevitability of death, emphasizing the idea that one’s destiny is predetermined and cannot be escaped.

3. Good vs. Evil – The conflict between good and evil is a prominent theme in Beowulf. Beowulf represents the forces of good, while the monsters such as Grendel and his mother, embody evil.

4. Loyalty and Honor – Loyalty to one’s king and tribe, as well as the pursuit of honor and glory, are essential values explored in the poem. Beowulf and his warriors demonstrate unwavering loyalty to their leaders.

5. Power and Kingship – The poem delves into the responsibilities and challenges of kingship. The actions and decisions of kings, such as Hrothgar and Beowulf, shape the destiny of their people.

6. Ancestry and Heritage – Beowulf’s lineage and ancestry are emphasized, highlighting the importance of family and heritage in shaping one’s identity and reputation.

Watch Full Poem Summary of “Beowulf ” on YouTube

Beowulf Summary

King Hrothgar of Denmark, a descendant of the renowned King Shield Sheafson, has a happy and prosperous reign. Heorot, a vast mead hall, is built for his men to drink, receive presents from their ruler, and listen to stories performed by scops or bards. But Heorot’s joyous commotion enrages Grendel, a dreadful demon living in Hrothgar’s domain’s swamplands. Grendel terrorizes the Danes every night, murdering them and crushing their resistance. Grendel terrorizes, threatens, and kills the Danes for many years. However, a young Geatish warrior, Beowulf, learns of Hrothgar’s situation. Inspired by the challenge, Beowulf sails to Denmark with a small group of warriors, determined to slay Grendel.

Hrothgar, who previously did an excellent service for Beowulf’s father, Ecgtheow, accepts Beowulf’s promise to battle Grendel and organizes a feast in his honour. Unferth, an envious Dane, teases Beowulf & accused him of being undeserving of his fame at the banquet. Beowulf reacts with a pompous account of some of his previous achievements. His confidence inspires the Danish soldiers, and the feast continues late into the night. Grendel, on the other hand, finally comes. Beowulf confronts him unarmed, showing himself more potent than the scared monster. Beowulf severs Grendel’s arm as the beast tries to flee. Grendel, mortally wounded, slinks back into the marsh to die. The severed arm is placed aloft in the mead hall as a victory trophy.

Hrothgar, overjoyed, lavishes Beowulf with presents & treasure during a feast in his honour. Melodic praises of Beowulf resound through the air as songs dedicated to his valour fill the night. The celebration persists, lasting well into the late hours. However, another menace is on the way. Grendel’s mother, a swamp hag in a lonesome lake, seeks vengeance for her son’s murder in Heorot. Before slinking away, she murders Aeschere, one of Hrothgar’s most loyal counsellors. The crew journeys to the murky swamp to revenge Aeschere’s killing, where Beowulf jumps into the water and confronts Grendel’s mother in her underwater cave. He kills her with a blade built for a giant, decapitates Grendel’s corpse and presents the head to Hrothgar as a prize. The Danish countryside stands cleansed and free from the menace of the scary beasts that once plagued its inhabitants.

The Danes rejoice again, and Beowulf’s fame spreads across the realm. Beowulf departs after a tearful farewell to Hrothgar, who has treated him like a son. He returns to Geatland, where he and his soldiers meet their king & queen, Hygelac & Hygd, to whom Beowulf tells of his experiences in Denmark. Beowulf then gives most of his riches to Hygelac, who rewards him.

In a fateful encounter with the Shyflings, Hygelac meets his demise, falling victim to murder during the fierce battle. Following the tragic loss of Hygelac’s son, Beowulf assumes the Geats’ throne, ascending to leadership. For fifty years, he leads wisely, bringing wealth to Geatland. A robber disturbs a barrow, or mound, where a mighty dragon protects a pile of riches when Beowulf is an older man. Enraged, the dragon rises from the barrow and begins wreaking havoc on the Geats. Beowulf goes to confront the dragon because he senses his death is near. He kills the beast with the help of Wiglaf but at a high cost. The dragon bites Beowulf in the neck, and his burning poison kills him minutes later. They burn their deceased king’s body on a gigantic funeral pyre before they bury him with a massive wealth in a mound overlooking the sea, as per Beowulf’s desires.

Beowulf FAQs

What is Beowulf and why it is famous?

Beowulf is an Old English epic poem, believed to be composed between the 8th and 11th centuries. It is famous for its heroic narrative and early English literature significance.

What is the main message of Beowulf?

The main message of Beowulf is the heroic code of honor, the struggle between good and evil and the fleeting nature of fame and life.

What is the problem of the story Beowulf?

The problem of the story “Beowulf” is the monstrous Grendel terrorizing the Danish kingdom, followed by the vengeance-seeking Grendel’s mother and later a dragon.

What did Beowulf fight for?

Beowulf fought for glory, honor and the preservation of his people, battling fearsome monsters and protecting his kingdom from threats.

Who kills Beowulf?

Beowulf is killed by a dragon.

What is the ending of Beowulf?

Beowulf, the heroic Geatish warrior, defeats the dragon but succumbs to his injuries. He is honored and given a grand funeral pyre, marking the end of his epic saga.

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