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Beowulf Character Analysis & Description

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Beowulf Character Analysis

“Beowulf” is regarded as one of the oldest surviving vernacular literature in Europe written in English. There is no consensus to the exact time when or the person who wrote the epic poem but most analysts argue that it was anonymously composed between A.D. 975 and A.D. 1025. Beowulf, the lead character in the epic song, is a commander and a warrior tasked with facing deadly and mystical creatures. The character is always ready to fight and protect the ones in need of help and those vulnerable to attacks by enemies. The poem’s plot, structure, literary devices, and meaning have made it a critical significant Old English work. Precisely, the composition depicts routine sixth-century Anglo-Saxon life, offers critical historical evidence of particular happenings, and connects numerous Scandinavian myths, legends, and historical events. The anonymous poet uses several characters to build the poem’s major themes. Notably, the characters in “Beowulf” possess life-affirming attributes that the audience can learn and adopt as they read the epic tale. This essay presents an in-depth analysis of the song’s characters, major and minor alike.

The Character Analysis of Beowulf

  • Beowulf Is a Brave Warrior

Beowulf is the poem’s protagonist and main character. The poet uses the character of Beowulf as an exemplar of a perfect hero’s traits. The song is an exploration of his heroic acts in two approaches—youthfulness and grownup—and in three different and particularly challenging conflicts involving monsters, first with Grendel, then with Grendel’s mother, and lastly with the dragon. Much as readers can perceive the three battles as expressing the heroic code, there perhaps exists a more apparent distinction between the character’s heroism as a youth when he was regarded as an unfettered warrior and his heroics as a grownup, when he becomes a reliable king. The two phases of Beowulf’s life, disconnected by a period of fifty years, are in line with two dissimilar virtue models, and more of the story’s moral reflection are founded on distinguishing the two models, as well as demonstrating how the character transits from one to the next.

Beowulf is a remarkable warrior in his youth, predominately characterized by his courage and feats of strength, including the fabled swimming competition he has with Breca. The character is also a perfect embodiment of the values and manners ascribed by Germanic heroic code, such as pride, courtesy, and loyalty. Beowulf’s defeat of Grendel and his mother helps to validate his reputation as a brave person, establishing him to heroic standards. In the poem’s first part, Beowulf shows a little maturity, considering that he depicts heroic attributes abundantly from the beginning. However, after the character purges the Danish kingdom of its plagues and establishing himself to heroic standards, Beowulf is prepared to transit into another stage of life. Hrothgar, the king of Denmark, becomes his father figure and mentor to young Beowulf, delivering advice on how he must act as a wise leader. Much as he does not become the king until many years pass, Beowulf’s exemplary warring career serves a great effect on preparing him for his assumption to leadership.

  • Beowulf is a Loyal and Respectful Warrior

The second section of the tale, staged in Geatland, takes readers to the middle of the character’s warring career, focusing on the end of his life. Nonetheless, using a series of retrospectives, readers can recover most of what happened in the gap and manage to perceive how Beowulf comforted himself both as a king and a warrior. The period following the death of Hygelac’s son forms a critical transition moment in the character’s life. Precisely, Beowulf chooses to help Hygelac’s son rise to the throne, considering that he was the rightful heir rather than rushing to take the seat himself, as Hrothful did in Denmark. Beowulf proves himself as a worthy king through his acts of respect and loyalty towards the throne.

  • Beowulf is a Careless Warrior

The last episode, Beowulf’s fight with the deadly dragon, provides the poet’s further reflection on how a king’s responsibilities, who is always expected to act in the best interests of his subjects not just glory, are different from those of a heroic warrior. The character’s moral status transform to be somewhat ambiguous as the poem ends in light of these mediations. As much as Beowulf is deservedly celebrated for his heroism and great leadership, his final courageous battle is a little rash. The song indicates that by his sacrifice, Beowulf suddenly leaves his followers without a leader, something he does unnecessarily and, which exposes them to the threat of attack from other tribes. However, to comprehend the character’s death strictly as an individual failure implies critical ignorance to the poet’s overwhelming emphasis to the fate in the song’s ending section. The fight with the dragon comes with an aura of inevitability. Instead of being a conscious choice, the conflict may still be perceived as an issue in which the protagonist has little free will to engage. Furthermore, it is not easy to blame Beowulf for acting in line with the premises of his warrior culture.

  • Character Analysis of Grendel

Grendel is a Murderous Monster

Perhaps the poem’s most unforgettable creature, Grendel is among the three monsters with which Beowulf battles. The character has an ambiguous nature. As much as he has several animal characteristics accompanied by grotesque and monstrous appearances, Grendel appears to be directed by vaguely human impulses and emotions. Furthermore, the creature depicts more of its interior life than everyone might anticipate. The poem indicates that Grendel longs to be reabsorbed after being exiled to the swamplands, where he now lives. The song further hints that jealousy and loneliness are the underlying factors for his aggression against Denmark. One notes reading the poem that Grendel is Cain’s descendant by lineage, a person the creator had condemned as an outcast and further outlawed. For this case, Grendel is a descendant of a figure epitomizing malice and resentment. Much as the song somewhat suggests sympathetically that Grendel’s bitterness concerns his exclusion from the revelry of the mead-hall owes, it also suggests, in part, to the character’s accursed status, has never shown remorse.

  • Character Analysis of Hrothgar

Hrothgar is a Wise King

Readers learn that Hrothgar is an old king of Denmark who allows Beowulf to help him fight Grendel in the story’s first part and guides him to maturity as the poem progresses. The king is relatively a static character, representing a stable force at the realm of the social structure level. As much as Hrothgar is firmly founded on the heroic codes in the same way as Beowulf, his experience with ill fortune and good alike and old age have led him into developing a deeper reflective perspective towards heroism than Beowulf. Precisely, the king is aware of both the dangers and privileges of power, and he warns his younger protégé against giving in to pride, always remembering that a day’s blessing could easily turn to grief the next day. His contemplations on leadership and heroism, which consider a hero’s whole life instead of only his valiant youthfulness, reveal the difference between old age and youthfulness, forming the turning point in how Beowulf develops.  

  • Character Analysis of Grendel’s Mother

Grendel’s Mother is a Revengeful Monster

Like her son, Grendel’s mother is a mysterious creature. The poet introduces her into the song as an avenger, doing son at line 1258. Grendel’s mother seeks redress for her son’s death at Beowulf’s hands. Therefore, some readers consider this character as an embodiment of the tendency of ancient Northern Europe to engage in unending blood conflicts. Still, others suggest that Grendel’s mother is a representation of the suffering women undergo under these conflicts. Prior to her attack, readers learn about the tale of Hildeburh, a princesses the poem suggests lost all her male relations because her brother engaged in constant wrangling with her husbands.

Nonetheless, Grendel’s mother does not by any means only embody the blood conflicts and their failures. Readers understand, reading through line 1362, that she lived in a lair that has an abyss that has never been visited by any human. Some readers may interpret the mere as a significant symbolism of the human subconscious, the mysterious things existing beyond human understanding. This group of readers find Grendel’s mother as a representation of awaiting anyone who seeks confrontation with the unknown, either within themselves or the world.

  • Character Analysis of the Dragon

The Dragon is a Fierce Murderous Killer

The poet paints an image of the dragon as a glamorous and mighty opponent, one who matches Beowulf’s capabilities. Readers understand reading the epic song that the dragon is properly suited to cause Beowulf’s downfall. A number of readers may have perceived the beast as a symbolism of death in itself, the peculiar individual end, which waits for everyone. King Hrothgar prepares readers to have this perception of the dragon, particularly in how he warns the courageous and somewhat careless Beowulf that every warrior should understand that an unbeatable enemy lies in wait, indicating that not even old age should be ignored. Nonetheless, the dragon is also a symbolic representation of the particular fate awaiting the Geats and the pagan community at large.

Readers discover, reading lines 2275-227, that the dragon was tasked with guarding heathen gold through general-long vigilance, although to little avail. Similar to Beowulf, the Dragon’s major advantage is its strength—it uses this energy to amass a large volume of treasure. However, all the wealth does is to cause the beast’s death. The dragon’s treasure also causes Beowulf’s destruction. Perhaps, the song’s Christian persona perceives the hunger for treasure as a type of spiritual demise that pagans who have less love for heaven than wealth suffer. Interestingly, the dragon hoards all its wealth in a lair, a barrow that can only be identified as its grave.

  • Character Analysis of Unferth

Unferth is a Jealous Antagonist

The poet uses the characterization of Unferth to challenge Beowulf’s honor, distinguishing the former from the latter and helping to unearth a number of the heroic code subtleties to which warriors must ascribe. Unferth is the poem’s lesser character, a foil for Beowulf, who is considered as near-perfect. (In literature, foils are characters who have traits contrasting with and accentuating those of other characters.)  Unferth’s bitterness when he chides Beowulf on the swimming match he held against Breca is an apparent reflection of the jealousy he has towards Beowulf for the attention he keeps receiving. The jealousy could also be coming from the shame he feels that he could protect Heorot on his own when Grendel attacked—he was not the type of warrior worth remembrance in legend.

Unferth is a Boastful Protagonist

Boasting is not a new thing in the poem—warriors are found of the character train throughout the heroic code to which most of them ascribe. However, much as to boast is an acceptable and proper way of asserting the self, Unferth uses harsh words, an indication that it should be such that it does not disparage or become bitter to others. Instead of heroism, the kind of blustering the character uses is a critical revelation of resentment and pride. The sword he gifts Beowulf to battle Grendel’s mother may have healed Unferth of his breach of hospitality but it does only so much to better his heroic reputation. Readers discover that unlike Beowulf, Unferth is both unwilling and afraid to face Grendel’s mother on his own.

  • Character Analysis of Wiglaf

Wiglaf is a Fearless Warrior

One of Beowulf’s thanes and kinsmen, the poem presents Wiglaf as the only one sufficiently brave to aid the hero, Beowulf, to deal with the dragon when it strikes and escapes to its lair. Wiglaf shows perfect conformity to the heroic code in the sense that shows the willingness to die, as he attempts to beat the opponent, and most significantly, to rescue his master, Beowulf. In this sense, Wiglaf seems to be a mirror of the youthful Beowulf the readers encounter in the opening part of the poem. He is a loyal, Valiant, fearless, and strong warrior. Readers may also conclude that Wiglaf embodies Beowulf’s statement in the early stages of the song that it was always better for one to act than to mourn. Therefore, the character is a representation of the heroism that would thrive over the next generation and the next generation’s hope that they will be protected against any adversities. Wiglaf’s solid bearing and bravery cause the only glint of optimism that readers can find in the closing stages of the song, which is rife with a tone of despair about the future for a significant section.

  • Character Analysis of Aeschere

Aeschere is a Loyal, Friendly Ex-Warrior

There is little to describe Aeschere’s character traits in the poem. However, readers may appreciate his friendliness, particularly with King Hrothgar. The character is an old Danish fighter who shows much compassion for the king that he chooses to stay in his company for most of his time. He chooses to defend the king’s premises from attacks by Grendel’s mother to a tragic end, leaving the king deeply aggrieved by the event. Therefore, it can be plausibly argued that Aeschere was a loyal and friendly ex-warrior.

  • Character Analysis of Breca

Breca is a Humble Character

The poem presents Breca as Beowulf’s childhood friend. The two enter into a mystic swimming contest in which they take to the open sea, as they wear full armor and bear swords, supposedly to guard themselves against water monsters. According to the poet, it is not apparent who emerged the winner of the contest. However, Unferth indicates in the song that Breca won against Beowulf. Contrarily, Beowulf, in his heated argument with Unferth, claims that the two came shoulder-to-shoulder, matching their strengths when it comes to the swimming aspect but he claims to have killed nine monsters in the expedition. There is no mention of Breca’s reaction to the incident, suggesting how humble he was throughout the poem. The humility is distinctive of the character traits Breca possessed from those they find of Unferth, who despite not having participated in the contest, has the guts to dispute Beowulf’s heroics, mostly because of jealousy.

  • Character Analysis Ecgtheow

 Ecgtheow is a Loyal Warrior

Readers discover that Ecgtheow is Beowulf’s father who gets himself in a fierce conflict with the Wulfings, a warring tribe, because he killed Heatholaf, one of their men. Ecgtheow seeks refuge at the court of King Hrothgar of Denmark who gradually settled the issue by paying—he organized mediations on Ecgtheow’s behalf who pledged allegiance to the king in return. Consequently, the act made Beowulf feel that he was indebted from Hrothgar. Much as there is little to elaborate on his character, readers learn from poem that he loyal, at least to the king even though he was a warrior himself at one time. Loyalty is regarded the most important aspect for most warrior’s success throughout the poem.

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