Beowulf
Anonymous Anglo-Saxon poet

by contributor

Karim Chandra

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Character Analysis
Beowulf

Beowulf is the main protagonist in the storyline. He is a Geatish Hero who stands out for his achievement in fighting the monster Grendel. He also fights Grendel’s mother, who is a dragon that breathes fire. The encounters of Beowulf show that he is the ablest warrior available, given the great strength and zeal for success that he has. Right from his young age, he appears to have the characteristics of a hero. He plays the role of a warrior that makes him of relevance to the society. At old age, although worn out, he takes up the role of a ruler, given the great extent of wisdom that he has. He, therefore, manages to rule over other people effectively.

The poem, therefore, shows that Beowulf is a perfect hero. At the young age, he was able to go through three conflicts, which he managed to win over successfully. The next phase of his heroism comes in fifty years later when he becomes king. The representation of Beowulf in his young age and old age create two different models that mark the virtues of a hero. For instance, at a young age, he was highly courageous, energetic and ready to take up some of the roles that others could shy off from engaging in. He also dared to engage in swimming against Breca. Beowulf also appears to bear great levels of pride, courtesy, and loyalty. He, therefore, bears the virtues dictated by the Germanic heroic code.  The defeat that he has over Grendel and the mother of the monster play a role in cementing his role as a true hero.

Right at the start of the poem, the story shows that Beowulf is keen on maturing and taking over the role of leadership. Although he is highly successful as a young hero, he does not allow the situation to cloud his ability to reach much higher levels than the ones that are present for him. He, therefore, gets in contact with Hrothgar. Hrothgar is crucial to the life of Beowulf as he plays the role of a father figure. He, therefore, takes the time to advise Beowulf on some of the virtues that are desirable in leadership. He, therefore, shows him some of the concepts that denote a wise ruler. Although Beowulf takes many years to assume the role of a ruler, the experience that he has with Hrothgar is critical in shaping his life and ensuring that he can become a most effective one when the time comes.

The second part of the story is depicted in a setting in Greatland. It denotes the middle of Beowulf’s career. It also shows the very end of the life of the hero. The poem, however, uses a lot of reflection in a bid to show much of what happened in the gap in between his young age and middle age. The reader is, therefore, able to identify some of the measures that Beowulf took to build himself up as both a warrior and a king.

The period that followed after the death of Hygelac marked as an important part of the life of Beowulf. It is a point that marked his transition from a warrior to a king. He fails to follow the actions of Hrothulf. Hrothulf had rushed to seek for kingship himself in Denmark. Beowulf, rather, seeks to support Hygelac son, the rightful heir, to become king. His actions are, therefore, a true mark of loyalty and show that he is not a person guided by greed and the zeal for power at any cost. He also shows that he has great respect for the throne. Thus, people see him a highly worthy to take over the role of ruling over them.

The final part of the poem shows the encounter that Beowulf has with the dragon. In the phase of the poem, the poet is keen to show the differences in the expectations of a king a warrior. Most often, a warrior acts towards his self-gratification to earn fame from people within his community. The king, however, has to act with great restraint and the need to show great value to the people around him to ensure that they are well protected.  He, therefore, needs to go a notch higher and act towards the good of his people. It is a form of sacrifice that Beowulf seems to be willing to take up. However, through reflection, the moral status of Beowulf are marked with ambiguity in the end. Although he is highly celebrated throughout the poem as a great warrior and king, his zeal to fight at the end of the poem appears to be quite rushed. The poem aims to show that by Beowulf has sacrificed himself. His death leaves his people without a ruler. They are, therefore, left vulnerable and susceptible to being attacked by other tribes.

However, putting the personal blame on Beowulf for putting his life in danger negates the role that fate plays at the end of the poem. By engaging the dragon, he was taking part in an action in which he had little or no choice at all. It was also a mark of his warrior culture, a concept that he could not run away from, given the immense role that it played in shaping the kind of person whom he is. He had grown up as a warrior, and that is the one thing that he was fully conversant with. He, therefore, had to stand up for it and be counted as one of the people who came to the aid of others when they needed it the most.

King Hrothgar

Hrothgar is the king of the Danes. He has excellent military success which is cut short by the terror administered by Grendel. Hrothgar is aged and wise. He has a form of leadership that is different from the one depicted by the youthful, Beowulf. He also acts as a father figure to Beowulf. Thus, he acts as a good model and quite critical to the events that led to Beowulf becoming king of the Danes.

Grendel

Grendel is one of the creations in the poem that is highly memorable. He is one of the three monsters which Beowulf engages in battles. He has an ambiguous nature. He has an animal appearance and monstrous attributes. He is, however, guided by human impulses and emotions. One is, therefore, able to see the interior life of the monster, which appears to be quite different from the expectations that readers would hold. Grendel is an outcast who has been exiled to the outside boundaries of the human society. He has since been reinstated as part of the society. Although Grendel seems to have a lot of aggression against the Danes, he is highly jealous and lonely. He is a descendant of the “Cain” generation. The clan is outlawed, and people who stem from it are condemned and outcasts. Grendel, therefore, seems to come from a figure that represents a lot of malice and resentment against other people. The poet tries to do Grendel justice by stating that his bitterness stems from being excluded from the mead-hall owes. He, however, states that Grendel has never shown any form of remorse to that end that would make it necessary to seek to reach his point of position and understand some of the actions that he engaged in with due keen.

Grendel’s Mother

Grendel’s mother is not named in the poem. She seems to have fewer human characteristics compared to Grendel. However, she terrorizes Heorot, which is explained to be a need for vengeance, which is human motivation.

The Dragon

The dragon is an ancient and powerful serpent. It guards treasure contained in a hidden mound. The fight between Beowulf and the dragon is contained in the last part of the poem.

Halfdane

Halfdane is the child of Beowulf and the father of Hrothgar, Halga, and Heorogar. He also has a daughter, who is not named in the poem. The daughter is married to the king of the Swedes. After the death of Beow, Halfdane took over the mantle as a ruler of the people of Dane.

Hrethric

He is the eldest son of Hrothgar. He is next in line of kingship after his father. However, his older cousin, Hrothulf prevents him from taking over the kingship of the Danes after the death of his father. Beowulf, therefore, offers him support by playing a host to him in Geatland and according to him the guidance he needed as a young ruler.

Wiglaf

Wiglaf is a young kinsman of Beowulf who also sums up as his retainer. He assists him in fighting the dragon when other warriors desert him and run away. He appears to have mastered the heroic code better than his peer retainers. He, therefore, practices it much better with the aim of being able to serve his master most effectively. He, therefore, seems to be the most suitable successor to Beowulf. Although featured as only part of a reflection in the young life of Beowulf, he also plays a crucial role in his life and advancement.

The support he accorded Beowulf at the moment of need when faced by the monster was crucial towards determining the great strength of servant skills that he had. It is a strong, reliable and fearless warrior who is not shy about taking up roles, which sometimes could be deemed highly dreadful. He is tied to the calling and aims to serve his master and the people of Denmark in the most effective way that he possibly could. He is also highly loyal, a characteristic that sets him apart from the rest. His character, therefore, makes him a figure to be emulated within Denmark.

He also appears to act in line with the statements that Beowulf gave early in the poem where he stated that it is always better to act than to grieve. Such an action is a representation of a true warrior who is fully committed to dealing with the challenges that he has faced along the way instead of focusing on how the challenges have made him feel.  Wiglaf, therefore, shows the next generation of heroism as well as the future of the kingdom. The heroic acts that he engages in the show some sense of future for the people of Denmark. They can stay and believe that they have, at their disposal, a large number of people who may take over the leadership mantle within the kingdom and ensure that people are ruled most efficiently.

Ecgtheow

He is Beowulf’s father. He is also the brother-in-law to Hygelac. Ecgtheow is also Hrothgar’s friend. He is already dead by the time the poem begins. The information provided is a reflection of him posthumously. However, the roles he played during his lifetime in molding his into a reputable member of the society live on throughout the story. People are, therefore, able to appreciate his role in turning his son into a highly loyal person. By linking Beowulf to King Hrothgar, he can place his hands in the hands of a person who is well knowledgeable on leadership matters. He, therefore, bears the opportunity to lead his son towards the right direction, thereby, ensuring that he can follow through some of the recommendations that may be accorded to him.

Gratiano

He is an evil king of the legend. The bard or scorp at Heorot discusses Heremod in a way that seeks to contrast his behavior and character to that of Beowulf. Beowulf, on his end, was keen on ensuring that he can reach out to the needs of other people. The concept would, therefore, see to it that he identifies some of the ways through which he would reach out for some of the needs they had, concerning being able to serve them much better.

The poem was probably written briefly after England conversion to Christianity. Anglo-Saxon poet, therefore, may have been familiar will paganism and Christianity. This explains why the characters in the poem appear to mix both Christianity and paganism. Some historians claim the story existed as an oral story or before England conversion to Christianity. Regardless of the disparity in the two languages, a keen observer can notice the use of some English words that also exist in modern vocabulary.

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