There are many characters in Beowulf, and it is important for you to be able to recognize each of them. Because the number of characters if so extensive, the list is not inclusive.
Danish Royal Line:
Hrothgar: Great-grandson of Scyld. Great warrior and king. Orders a mead hall, Heorot, to be built. Aged and old at the time of the story.
Scyld: founder of the Danish Royal line. Arrives as a child on a ship. Grows to be a great king and warrior. Becomes a model for a successful ruler. Returned to sea after his death.
Other Notable Danes:
Wealtheow: Hrothgar’s wife and queen.
Wulfgar: Hrothgar’s herald; functions as a go-between when Beowulf first arrives at the Danish Court.
Unferth: rude warrior in Hrothgar’s court; provokes Beowulf into giving his history and back story; loans Beowulf his sword, Hrunting, when Beowulf goes to kill Grendel’s Mother.
AEschere:one of Hrothgar’s favorite warriors; killed by Grendel’s Mother
Beowulf: hero of the story; travels to the Danish people; slays multiple monsters; becomes king and rules for 50 years; desires most to be remembered by his people.
Hygelac: King of the Geats during Beowulf’s adventure with the Danes; actual historic king who died in 521, rewards Beowulf for his heroic deeds.
Wiglaf:Beowulf’s heir; helps Beowulf defeat the dragon; banishes the cowardly warriors who desert Beowulf; cares deeply about Beowulf’s reputation
Grendel: First great monster that Beowulf defeats; seed of Cain; fights with no weapons or armor;
Grendel’s Mother: wants revenge for her son’s death; sneaks in to mead hall’ uses a weapon against Beowulf
Dragon: Final monster Beowulf faces; upset that a human has stolen a flagon; kills Beowulf
Beowulf Study Guide
Danish Courts and the Raids of Grendel
What attributes does Scyld have that make him a successful ruler of the Danes?
How do the Spear-Danes honor Scyld upon his death?
How does Hrothgar win power and fame?
What does Hrothgar decide to have built, and what is its purpose?
Why does Grendel wreak so much havoc on Hrothgar’s warriors?
How long does Grendel’s reign of terror last?
Allusion: An allusion is a brief reference to a person, event, place, or work of art. Allusions may refer to myth, literature, history, religion, or any aspect of ancient or modern culture.
Beowulf depicts a society where military and tribal loyalties bind the people together. The bravery of warriors and the generosity of its rulers are highly valued. Yet the writer of Beowulf interprets the monster-slaying stories he inherited from the pagan Germanic folklore as struggles between good and evil that his Christian contemporaries could appreciate.
What allusion does the Beowulf poet make about Grendel (65-70)? Summarize the biblical story referred to in the allusion. Why is it significant? Why would the poet choose to use this allusion?
Theme: The underlying meaning of a literary work.
How is the theme of good versus evil set up in this first section of the poem?
What is an additional theme that you think might be considered important to Beowulf?
List an example of each term in this section. List the line number.
The Coming of Beowulf
How is Beowulf described when he hears of Grendel’s actions towards Heorot?
Summarize the preparation that Beowulf and his men make prior to going to Hrothgar?
How does Hrothgar’s guard greet Beowulf and his countrymen?
What does Beowulf request from the guard?
What advice does the guard give Beowulf? Is this advice still relevant today?
Although length and complexity are hallmarks of the epic poem, the most important element is the hero. The hero of an epic is a human being with the characteristics a society admires and often wishes to copy. The hero is considered better in most respects than the common man.
Based on the first introduction that takes place in this section, describe the qualities and attributes that are important to the Anglo-Saxon community that created this epic.
List an example of each term in this section. List the line number.
Beowulf’s Welcome at Hrothgar’s Court
Beowulf must ask permission to speak to Hrothgar. How does Wulfgar feel about the troop of Geats?
Hrothgar recognizes Beowulf’s name. What does the king already know about Beowulf?
What does Hrothgar promise Beowulf and his followers if they tackle Grendel?
How does Beowulf propose to fight Grendel?
Why does Beowulf feel confidence in his ability to fight Grendel?
Summarize the terror that has happened to the Danish people over the last 12 years according to Hrothgar.
What is the meaning of the word “scop,” and why would this job be so important to the Anglo-Saxon society?
Litotes: derived from a Greek word meaning “simple”, is a figure of speech which employs an understatementby using double negatives or, in other words, positive statement is expressed by negating its opposite expressions. Litotes uses ironical understatement in order to emphasize an idea or situation rather than minimizing its importance. It rather discovers a unique way to attract people’s attention to an idea and that is by ignoring it.
In this section of Beowulf, the author employs litotes. List two examples and explain how the litotes emphasize rather than minimize the description.
Unferth Taunts Beowulf
What does Unferth accuse Beowulf at the beginning of this section?
Why does Unferth taunt Beowulf? Why is this action important to the structure of the story?
What is Beowulf’s reaction to this taunt?
What is Hrothgar’s reaction to Beowulf’s declaration?
Flashback: a device in a narrative that enables the writer to insert an event from the past in the current action.
How does that flashback that the Beowulf poet uses in this section give the reader insight into both Beowulf and the culture of the Anglo-Saxons?
Bēot: is Old English for a ritualized boast, vow, threat, or promise. The principle of a bēot is to proclaim one's acceptance of a seemingly impossible challenge in order to gain tremendous glory for actually accomplishing it.
Anglo-Saxon warriors would usually deliver bēots in the mead hall the night before a military engagement. Bēots were usually accompanied by grand stories of one's past glorious deeds. Although other cultures and times might disdain boasting as a sign of arrogance, or sinful pride, the pagan Anglo-Saxons highly regarded such behavior as a positive sign of one's determination, bravery, and character.
Why would the Anglo-Saxon culture admire the warrior’s use of beots?
Beowulf Slays Grendel
What can you infer about Beowulf’s character when Hrothgar leaves Heorot in the care of only Beowulf and his men?
How does Beowulf prepare for his battle with Grendel?
Again Beowulf boasts about his future actions. What commentary does he make about Grendel’s lack of weapons and armor?
How is Grendel’s attack on the mead hall described in this section? What happens to one of Beowulf’s men?
Why couldn’t swords touch Grendel? How does this element add to Grendel’s evil?
Describe the battle between Beowulf and Grendel?
How does Beowulf defeat Grendel? What trophy does Beowulf display for the Danes?
Because of its complicated origin,Beowulfhas elements of both pagan Germanic culture and Christianity. The story ofBeowulfprobably originated as an oral tradition sometime during the 5th and 6th century. But scholars believe that an Anglo-Saxon poet thoroughly versed in the scop’s stock of legends, historical accounts, and poetic devices wrote the only surviving manuscript of Beowulf sometime between the late 700’s and 1000.
List several examples of both paganism and Christianity in this section of the story.
The Joy of the Danes
Where does Grendel stagger off to die?
How does Hrothgar now regard Beowulf?
What is a reason for the author having Beowulf repeat the battle blow for blow?
What is Beowulf’s trophy from the battle, and what do they do with it?
Symbol: Any person, animal, place, object or event that exists on a literal level within a work but also represents something on figurative level.
One of the major symbols in Beowulf is Hrothgar’s mead hall, Heorot. Describe the mead hall and what it represents.
Motif: A significant phrase, description, or image that is repeated throughout a literary work and is related to its theme. Throughout any given piece of literature, there are a number of ideas that repeat. The repetition of these ideas signifies that they are important to the work. Tracing these motifs can lead to interesting analysis and provide ways to see the “bigger picture” of the work—essentially, the main points and themes. Tracking motifs allows a reader to do more than just follow the plot of a piece of literature—in the instance of Beowulf, following certain motifs can show one the larger picture of life and values of the time. Allegiance and loyalty is one motif that is important to Beowulf.
Find examples of the motif to allegiance and loyalty throughout Beowulf. Write the line number and explain its importance to the story and the Anglo-Saxon people. (3 examples)
Independent Reading and Exploration
How is the mead hall described?
Directions: Read and complete the tasks for this section of Beowulf.
Summarize Wealhtheow’s speech.
Here each hero is true to other,
Gentle of spirit, loyal to lord,
Friendly thanes and a folk united,
Wine-cheered warriors who do my will.”
Then she went to her seat….
Based on this section and the rest of the reading that
has been done, what does this culture and
Why is this passage important to the work as a whole?
What has happened to Beowulf’s reputation?
The Troll-Wife Avenges Grendel
How is Grendel described in Christian terms? (809-11)
What is Grendel’s mother’s motivation?
What is Grendel’s Mother’s crime, and how does she get away with it?
Why does Grendel’s Mother take her son’s claw with her?
Setting: The time and place in which the events of a literary work occur.
Hrothgar makes a lengthy speech in the middle of this section. Summarize the speech. How does this speech affect the setting of the next passage?
Beowulf answers Hrothgar’s request. How does Beowulf’s answer the request? How are Beowulf’s beliefs aligned with what is important to the Anglo-Saxon community?
Beowulf and Hrothgar both display qualities that are important in strong leaders. What are the important leadership qualities that have been shown in this work? Choose at least 3 qualities to examine and an example of evidence from the story to write about. Put down line number of the evidence.
Beowulf Slays the Troll-Wife
How does Beowulf prepare for battle against Grendel’s mother? How does he view her as an opponent?
Where does the fight between Beowulf and the Troll-Wife take place?
What happens to Hrunting during the fight?
Summarize what happens in the fight. What happens during the fight that supports the theme of good versus evil in this fight?
Why do Beowulf’s men continue to stay at the lake when all of the Danes leave?
What two trophies does Beowulf take from his victory?
Epic Simile: also called Homericsimile, an extendedsimileoften running to several lines, used typically inepicpoetry to intensify the heroic stature of the subject and to serve as decoration.
Find the example of the epic simile in this section. Write the simile with its line numbers. Explain how this simile intensifies the heroic stature of the subject. Why is it important to the work as whole or to the author?
Beowulf Returns to Heorot
How is Christianity again superimposed upon a basically pagan poem in this section?
How does the narrator interrupt the story (line 1133), and why would the poet want to make this interruption?
On line 1154 there is another biblical allusion. What event is being alluded to by the Beowulf poet?
What has now happened to Beowulf’s reputation?
Beginning on line 1160, Hrothgar has a lengthy speech where he gives advice to Beowulf. Summarize his speech. Why would Hrothgar give this speech to Beowulf? Why would the Beowulf poet insert this speech in this epic poem?
The Parting of Beowulf and Hrothgar
1. How does Beowulf feel about Hrunting?
What examples of human affection appear in this section of Beowulf?
Beowulf Returns to Geatland
Beowulf returns home and gives all of the treasure he received from Hrothgar. What does his king Hygelac give him in return?
The Fire Dragon and the Treasure
How long has Beowulf ruled the Geats? How old do you think Beowulf is during this section? Why?
Why is the dragon so enraged at the Geats?
What is the dragon’s reaction?
What does Beowulf decide to do about the dragon’s terror?
Foreshadowing: The author’s use of hints or clues to prepare readers for events that will happen later in a narrative.
List two examples with line numbers of foreshadowing that occur in this section.
Hrothgar and Beowulf are both warriors and kings over their people. They are both considered good kings and leaders. Consider how Beowulf and Hrothgar are similar and different in their reaction to a monster who attacks their kingdom. Write a paragraph where you discuss these different reactions. Use quotes and examples from the epic to support your ideas.
Beowulf and Wiglaf Slay the Dragon
How is Beowulf’s speech before this battle different from his earlier ones?
Summarize the final battle of Beowulf?
What happens to Beowulf’s warriors that he brought with him?
Who is Wiglaf? Why is he important to Beowulf?
Describe how the battle with the dragon ends.
List an example of each term in this section. List the line number.
How is Wiglaf a different type of hero from Beowulf? What evidence is there to support this conclusion in the poem?
Why would Beowulf want to see the treasure before he died?
What does Beowulf want his warriors to build so that people can remember him?
What is the significance of Beowulf giving his helmet, ring, and byrny to Wiglaf?
What is the punishment that Wiglaf gives the returning men, and why is it such a serious punishment?
Wiglaf is now the new king of the Geats. What disadvantages does he have in becoming king compared to Beowulf and Hrothgar? How is this going to affect the Geat kingdom?
The Messenger Foretells the Doom of the Geats
What does Beowulf’s death mean for the Geat people?
What does Wiglaf want done with the dragon’s hoard? How is this different from what Beowulf wanted done with the treasure? Is this a good decision for Wiglaf?
Describe Beowulf’s funeral. Is this funeral more pagan or Christian? Explain.
What did Beowulf’s people build to honor him?
How will Beowulf be remembered?
What type of leadership is shown in Beowulf? List at least aspects of a leader and a specific example from the story.
Directions: On the page below, answer the following prompt.
Beowulf makes a decision to fight the dragon in his old age. This decision brings many consequences to both Beowulf and his people. Argue whether or not this decision was wise on the part of Beowulf. You need at least 3 clear pieces of evidence to support your position and at least one example of a counter argument. Use line numbers for your evidence.