Beowulf: Characters and Cultural Concepts
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Dec 16th, 2019

Beowulf: Characters and Cultural Concepts

The narrative centers around the actions of a hero, Beowulf. Although he is hero of the Geats, he travels to Denmark to deliver King Hrothgar and his people from Grendel, a monster. At first, he is taunted by Unferth, an envious noble Dane.

When Grendel attacked the people, Beowulf killed him. The people praised Beowulf and the king gave him gifts and treasure. Grendel’s mother attacked in revenge of his son but Beowulf killed her too. Beowulf became king of Geats after the death of their king but died while fighting a dragon.

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Notes on style

  • Narrative voice

The story is given from a third person point of view. The narrator moves around in time and give details about the present, future and past. This enhances audience understanding.

  • Characterization

The author utilized direct characterization. The information that help the reader to understand different characters is given directly.

  • Alliterative Verse

Alliterative verse employs alliteration where several words starting with same sound are used. The poem has many incidences of alliteration. For instance, the fourth line of the poem states that

“There was a Shield Sheafson, scourge of many tribes. Three consecutive words start with s.

  • Episodes and Digressions (narratives embedded within the epic)

The use of episodes and digressions in Beowulf enhances the understanding of the story. Lines 884 to 914 where an entertainer sings praise to Beowulf gives the reader insights of the futer encounters of Beowulf.


  • Beowulf

Beowulf is the protagonist in the narrative. He was a brave warrior who defeated Grendel, his mother, and the great dragon. He was fearless, determined, and humble. He was determined to kill Grendel and end the suffering of the Danes. Although he defeated the monsters, he did not boast. He was also wise which made him a great king.

  • Hrothgar

He was the king of Denmark and had a history of military victory. He was also wise which made him a great leader. He was generous to his people and usually showered them with treasures. He rewarded Beowulf for his heroic act of slaying the monsters. He was also kind in that he did a great favor for Ecgtheow, Beowulf’s father.

  • Grendel

He is a monster that terrorized Heorot, which is a mead-hall for king Hrothgar. He is terrifying and filled with vengeance. He killed and devoured the Danes.

  • Grendel’s Mother

She is a female monster who is not named in the poem. She lived in a lake and embodied evil and vengeance, just like his son.

  • Unferth

He was a Danish warrior and a noble citizen. However, he had no courage in battle. He was also envious of other people’s success and that was the reason he challenged Beowulf’s legitimacy as a warrior.

  • Wiglaf

He was a warrior under Beowulf and aided him in slaying the dragon. He showed courage in battle presenting himself as a worth as a future king.

  • Wealhtheow

She was the queen of the Danes. She was presented as charming and kept the guests entertained. She was also hospitable.

  • Hygelac

He was Beowulf’s uncle and king of Geats. He was a warrior and a great leader.

  • Hygd

She was the queen of the Geats. She was a great hostess and entertained guests. She was also hospitable.

Cultural Concepts

  • Burial rites

Burial is an important part of the culture of the people. The dead are either cremated or buried to the ground. The dead are buried with treasure and other valuables.

  • Ring Giver

This was a title given to the king or a person with authority. The warriors received rings and gifts after defeating enemies. The gifts were distributed by the king or chief and hence the name ring giver.

  • Comitatus

This referred to the relationship between rulers and his subjects. It was based on loyalty, respect, friendship, and honor. For instance, Beowulf answered King Hrothgar’s call and was rewarded with treasure.

  • Heroic ideal

The narrative reveals the importance of heroism. The heroes in the community were treasured and praised by all people.

  • Role of Women

Women in the narrative such as Wealhtheow and Hygd are described as hostesses and entertainers that were used to honor and praise the warriors. Grendel’s mother play a role of evil in the community.

  • Werguild

Werguild in the poem is used to describe the act of avenging the death of a family member. It was a way of paying back the death of men.

  • Wyrd (fate)

This concept implies the human destiny. It is used in the poem in several instances to indicate the end of a situation such as the end Grendel and Beowulf.

  • Religion (Christianity / Paganism)

The poem insinuates both Christianity and paganism. Although Beowulf is represented as a pagan, there are instances where biblical concepts of Cain and Abel are mentioned.

  • Theme

The major theme in the narrative is loyalty. Beowulf was loyal to Hrothgar and helped in slaying the monsters. The reason why Beowulf helped was to repay King Hrothgar’s loyalty to Ecgtheow. After king Hygelac’s death, Beowulf remained loyal to the queen and the young king. He refused to take the throne and served them with loyalty. Wiglaf also shows loyalty when he remained behind to help Beowulf slay the dragon.

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