Beowulf Characters and Analysis

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Beowulf

The epic hero or protagonist. He is hero of the Geats who defeats Grendel and his Ogress mother. He later slays the great dragon. Beowulf’s feats of heroism and tales of his adventures prove him to be a true warrior rather than one who boasts. He is the epitome of a Great Anglo-Saxon hero: fearless in battle, true to his words, and a great leader during times of peace. Even in old age, his experiences are transformed into wisdom and he becomes a great king.

King Hrothgar

The King of the Danes, or Scylds. He has lived with military victory and led his people to a time of peace. This is interrupted by Grendel and his terrifying raids. Hrothgar represents the wise old warrior-king that Beowulf will one day become.

Grendel

An ogre or demon, Grendel is a descendant of the biblical murderer Cain. He terrorizes Heorot, Hrothgar’s mead-hall and kills the Danes. As a demon who bears the mark of God’s vengeance, Grendel embodies the principle of vengeance in the culture of the poem.

Grendel’s Mother

An ogress, or female demon, she is never named in the poem. She seems to embody pure evil and vengeance. Her only human quality is the desire to avenge the death of her son.

The Dragon

Another evil principle. The dragon marks the third and final test of Beowulf. The final battle which completes the epic cycle of the hero from his early rise, his time of triumph and rule, to his final fall and death.

Scyld Scefing

This is the ancient mythic ancestor of the Danes. As with all epic poems, the time of the poem exists in an epic past. It is disconnected from real history. Scyld Scefing is the figure who ushers in the epic time of Danish culture and the action of the poem.

Unferth

A Danish warrior who would have the legitimate duty to fight Grendel on behalf of his kind. He lacks the courage. He also challenges the legitimacy of Beowulf and loses. Unferth operates as a counter to Beowulf. As Beowulf is the embodiment of warrior virtue, Unferth is the embodiment of one who lacks these virtues.

Wiglaf

A kinsman and knight under Beowulf. He comes to Beowulf’s aid in the fight against the dragon, thus proving his worth as next in succession to Beowulf the king. His place in the poem is to dramatize the cycle of the hero’s deeds that continues beyond the poem. Wiglaf becomes king after the death of Beowulf.

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