Beowulf Summary


Beowulf Summary

The story is a poem about Beowulf, a hero of the Geats. He aids Hrothgar, king of the Danes when Hrothgar’s mead hall is attacked by a monster named Grendel. Beowulf kills the monster, but his mother comes to attack the hall and is defeated. For his bravery, the warrior receives gifts from King Hrothgar and returns home to Hygelac, who gifts him some land to rule. However, Hygelac’s son Heardred dies, and Beowulf takes over the Geatish kingdom. One day, a dragon attacks, and the now elderly Beowulf fights the creature to his death. He also wins the dragon’s treasures for his kingdom before he passes and secures his reputation as a noble and brave king.

The poem of Beowulf was written around 975 to 1025 AD and contains 3182 lines. It was written in a similar style to other Germanic heroic legends. The poem is also quite popular because it is the oldest and longest of all surviving Old English literature and offers insight into writing styles in that era. Scholars can also study Old English through this literary work, and Beowulf has helped inspire many other writers, thus influencing many other modern works. 

Aside from the short Beowulf summary, in the next section, we will lay out a comprehensive plot summary of this heroic tale and note down the major themes and other stylistic devices used to enhance the story. We also have other book summaries you can enjoy, such as our Pride and Prejudice summary.

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Beowulf Characters

Below is an extensive list of the characters in Beowulf:

1. Beowulf- Main Character

Beowulf is the main protagonist in the poem. He is a Geatish hero who fights the three monsters, Grendel, his mother, and a fire-breathing dragon. He is a strong and capable warrior who embodies the heroic values promoted in his culture. He grows into a wise and efficient ruler.

2. King Hrothgar

Hrothgar is the king of the Danes. Under his rule, his kingdom is prosperous and boasts military strength. He is described as an old and wise ruler, as well as a father figure and guide to Beowulf

3. Grendel

Grendel is a demon who terrorizes Hrothgar’s warriors in the mead hall. He is descended from Cain and lives a miserable life as punishment for Cain’s murder of Abel.

4. Grendel’s mother

Grendel’s mother is not named in the poem, but she is described as a swamp hag who terrorizes the Danes after her son dies. 

5. The Dragon

The dragon is an old and powerful serpent who has treasures hidden in a mound. The dragon and Beowulf fight in the last part of the poem when he raids the kingdom.

6. Shield Sheafson

Shield is Hrothgar’s ancestor and is described as a legendary Danish king and founder among rulers. He rose from an orphan to a king and is valued by the people for his heroism and good leadership skills. 

7. Beow

Below is the son of Shield Sheafson and subsequently, the second king. She is described as a gift from god to a nation that needed a leader. 

8. Halfdane

Haldane is the father of Hrothgar, Heorogar, Halga, and the unnamed wife of the king of the Swedes. He takes over after Beow and hence is the second ruler of the Danes. 

9. Wealhtheow

This is Hrothgar’s wife and queen of the Danes.

10. Unferth

Unferth is a Danish warrior who fails to fight Grendel. Due to this, he is seen as a weak warrior, and he grows jealous of Beowulf

11. Hrethric

Hrethic is Hrothgar’s older son, who is in line to take over the throne. However, Hrothulf (his cousin) plans on taking over. Beowulf offers to mentor him and invites him to Geatland.

12. Hrothulf

Hrothulf is Hrothgar’s nephew. He betrays Hrethic, who is the rightful heir to the throne, and takes over the kingdom.

13. Hrothmund

Hrothmund is Hrothgar’s second son.

14. Aeschere

Aeschere is a trusted advisor to Hrothgar. 

15. King Hygelac

Hygelac is the king of the Geats. He is also Beowulf’s uncle and Hygd’s husband. He welcomes Beowulf back once he returns from Denmark. 

16. Queen Hygd

Hygd is the queen of the Geats and Hygelac’s wife. 

17. Heardred 

Heardred is the only son of King Hygelac and Queen Hygd.

18. Ecgtheow

Ecgethweow is Beowulf’s late father and a renowned warrior.

19. Wiglaf

Wiglaf is Beowulf’s retainer and kinsman. Despite him being young, he is brave and remains behind to help Beowulf fight the dragon while the other retainers run away. 

20. King Hrethel

Hrethel is a Geatish king who adopted Beowulf after Ecgtheow died.

21. Breca

Breca is Beowulf’s childhood friend who he beat in a swimming match that Beowulf recounts.

22. King Heremod

Heremod is a legendary evil king. The bard at Heorot describes him as being unlike Beowulf.

23. Queen Modthryth

Modrthy is a wicked queen in the past who punished her enemies. Her character contrasts with that of Hygd.

If you like this Beowulf summary of characters and would like a similar character analysis for other books, do not hesitate to place your order. Our experts are skilled at noting the main traits you need to note down for a better understanding, as outlined in our Fahrenheit 451 summary

Setting of Beowulf

Beowulf is set in 6th-century pagan Scandinavia, in the region that is now known as Denmark and Sweden. In the middle ages, Sweden was known as Geatland, so the story is in line with historical records. Christianity was also spreading in Europe, so there are elements of it in Beowulf. For example, Beowulf says that God is his protector when battling Grendel’s mother. Later in the poem, Hrothgar tells Beowulf that becoming a king is by God’s grace. 

At first, it was orally transmitted, but a written copy was made in the 11th century by an anonymous writer simply referred to as “Beowulf poet.” Recent versions and translations have also been made for more readers.

Beowulf Plot Summary

Below is a plot of Beowulf summarized as per the lines and the events that occur in each group:

1. Lines 1-300

The narrator begins by mentioning Shield Sheafson, the king of the Danes who founded the monarchy in their country. He was an orphan who rose to prominence and had other clans pay him tribute. After his death, he was honored by his subjects, and they placed his body in a boat with treasures and set it into the sea. This is the same way his life began, with him being cast into a water body. 

His son Beow inherited the kingdom, and after him came Halfdane and, later on, Hrothgar. Hrothgar built the mead hall and was recognized by the Geats for the military success and prosperity they enjoyed. The mead hall was meant to distribute booty to retainers and was named Heorot. One day Grendel rose from the swamps to listen to the songs sung by the bard. However, a song about God’s creation angered him, and he attacked, killing thirty men. He did this for twelve years, and Hrothgar was unable to stop him despite giving offerings at pagan shrines. 

News about their troubles travels far, and Beowulf decides to help. He takes fourteen brave soldiers, and they travel to the location. A watchman who sees them approach guesses that Beowulf is a hero and leads him to the kingdom. 

2. Lines 301-709

The party moves to meet Wulfgar at the mead hall, who informs Hrothgar of Beowulf’s arrival. Hrothgar remembers Beowulf and his father and also that Beowulf is said to possess the strength of thirty men in each hand. Beowulf meets Hrothgar, greets him, and offers to fight Grendel unarmed, which Hrothgar accepts after warning him of the other warriors who have done so unsuccessfully. Unferth, who is envious of his kinsmen’s admiration of Beowulf, mocks him for losing a swimming match against Greca. Beowulf recounts slaying nine sea monsters and states that neither of the other men, including Unferth, could have survived this. Beowulf also mocks Unferth for failing to stop Grendel. Night falls, and Beowulf and his men wait for Grendel, who arrives later on and approaches them.

3. Lines 710-1007

Grendel tears the door off Heorot and then tries to grab Beowulf but is shocked at the warrior’s strength. Grendel tries to escape, but Beowulf rips his arm out. Grendel runs off, and Beowulf hangs the monster’s arm on a wall in Heorot as a trophy.

The next morning, the Danes celebrate Beowulf’s victory by racing on horseback. In his honor, a bard sings to him and compares him to Sigmund, who slew a dragon and took its treasures while contrasting his heroic behavior with Heremod, an evil king. Hrothgar sees the trophy and thanks God. He also promises Beowulf rewards, but Beowulf responds modestly, saying that he is disappointed he did not kill the monster instead. The narrator mentions that the monster’s arm looks like it is made of barbed steel, thus disproving Unferth’s claim that he is weak. The Danes also begin to rebuild the great hall.

4. Lines 1008-1250

Hrothgar hosts a banquet to honor Beowulf, where he gifts him and his men treasures, eight fine horses, armor, and weapons. The king’s scop sings about Finn, king of the Frisians who fought the Danes and killed Hnaef in the chaos. The Danes made a truce with the Frisians but revolted in the spring. The scop finishes telling this story, and Wealhtheow emerges wearing a gold crown. She praises her children Hrethric and Hrothmund and hopes that when Hrothgar dies, Hrothulf will treat them well. She gives Beowulf a gold torque(collar) and suit of armor, then asks him to guide her sons. Later on, the warriors sleep in Heorot but are unaware of new dangers lurking. 

5. Lines 1251-1491

Grendel’s mother comes to avenge Grendel’s death. The warriors attack, and the monster panics and carries off Aeschere. Beowulf, who was out arrives and finds that the monster also took her son’s arm. Hrothgar tells Beowulf what happened and where the swamp monster resides. The swamp is described as magical. Not only has the bottom never been reached, but it also has burning water, and animals are afraid of the area. Hrothgar promises Beowulf chests of gold if he succeeds, and Beowulf promises a win. Beowulf and his warriors follow the monster’s tracks, where they find a cliff. They find Aeschere’s head on the cliff’s edge. In the water below are various monsters, one of which Beowulf kills with an arrow. He wears his armor, and Unferth hands him the Hrunting sword, which has never been lost in a battle. Beowulf also asks Hrothgar to care for the Geats and return his property to Hygelac if he dies.

6. Lines 1492-1924

Beowulf swims to the bottom of the lake which he reaches at the end of the day. Grendel’s mother tries to crush him, but the armor protects him. She drags him down, and other sea monsters claw at him. Beowulf tries using Hrunting but fails. He then uses a sword made for giants on the wall and kills the monster, and decapitates Grendel’s corpse. While the Danes wait on land, they notice blood floating to the surface and sadly return to Heorot, but the Geats remain. 

While Beowulf swims back to land, the giant’s sword begins to melt due to Grendel’s blood. The Geats welcome him back and impale Grendel’s head on a spear. The Danes celebrate this, and Beowulf presents the head to Hrothgar, who promises a reward in the morning. The next day, Beowulf returns Hrunting, and Hrothgar gives him twelve treasures. Hrothgar says that Beowulf has united the Geats and the Danes, and asks Beowulf to return soon, but he knows that Beowulf might never return. 

7. Lines 1925-2210

Beowulf and his men return to Hygelac and tell the story of what happened. He also gives the king part of his treasures, and the Geats celebrate his deeds. Hygelac gives him gifts and some land to rule over. After a while, Hygleac dies. This leads Hygd to ask Beowulf to take over, and he does so for fifty years.

8. Lines 2211-2515

In the past, the last survivor of an ancient race buried treasure since h felt it was of no use. A dragon found it and guarded it for three hundred years, but one day a thief stole a goblet. The dragon hunts the thief, and when he fails to do so, he breathes fire on several villages. Beowulf’s throne hall suffers one attack, and he cries, wondering why God is punishing him. The now elderly Beowulf hires an iron smith to make a shield and remembers beating Grendel, so he feels no need to assemble an army. The narrator recalls the death of Hygelac in Friesland and how Hygd asked Beowulf to take over since her son was too young. Beowulf opted to mentor the boy, but he soon died fighting the Swedes, and Beowulf took over and ended the feud with the Swedes. 

Beowulf gathers eleven men who find the thief who takes them to the dragon’s lair. Beowulf suspects he will die soon and recounts his time as a young ward in King Hrethel’s court, the war between the Geats and Swedes, and his days as a warrior working for Hygelac. He vows to fight the dragon if it comes out of its barrow.

9. Lines 2516-2820

Beowulf bids his soldiers farewell and sets off wearing a mail shirt and helmet. Beowulf is weaker than in the past, and Wiglaf comes to help. Beowulf attacks the dragon with his sword Naegling. Wiglaf stabs the dragon in the belly, and the beast scorches him. Beowulf stabs the dragon in his flank, which is a fatal blow. The dragon’s bite is venomous, and Beowulf realizes he is dying, so he asks Wiglaf to bring some of the treasure as Beowulf says it will make his death easier. He thanks God for the treasure and tells Wiglaf to care for the people. He gives Wiglaf his collar and dies.

10. Lines 2821-3182

The poet talks about the dragon’s end as Beowulf and the dragon lay dead on the ground. Wiglaf condemns the other soldiers for their cowardice and claims that foreigners will attack once they hear the news. He also sends a messenger to the Geats, who warn the community of incoming attacks in the future. The Geats build a funeral pyre for Beowulf and set it on a cliff, after which they mourn their dead king. 

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Themes in Beowulf

Below are some major Beowulf themes:

1. Good versus evil

Beowulf represents the good in society, while other characters, such as the dragon, Grendel, and his mother represent evil and other vices. Every single time good triumphs over evil and this lends to the theme in the poem. It is also worth noting that the poet may have been influenced by medieval society to promote these virtues. At one point, the monster Grendel is also associated with evil due to his bloodline and actions, which lead to the warriors attacking him in a battle of good versus evil. 

2. The heroic code versus other value systems

Among the Geats and Danes, heroism is a valued trait likely due to the violence that threatens these communities. Warriors are expected to be strong, courageous, and loyal. The locals also have legends about past heroes and recount their achievements while contrasting them with evil kings and leaders such as King Heremod. However, this heroism also costs many characters their lives, which leaves their relatives grieving. This is the case with Hygd, who loses her son and husband in battle. Heroism also contrasts with the Christian values that characters like Beowulf have, which require them to live in peace and seek glory in the afterlife. As such, it clashes with their pagan moral code.

3. Reputation

In the poem, many are judged based on their past actions, which form their reputation. For example, King Hrothgar has high hopes for Beowulf since he has heard that the warrior has the strength of thirty men in one arm. However, the poet also states that Beowulf is also known for his good deeds and is described as having “no savage mind” (line 2180). Beowulf also chooses to face the dragon alone to preserve his reputation, even in death. 

4. Identity

Many of the characters and tribes mentioned in the poem derive value from their ancestral heritage and reputation. Sons are often judged by their father’s actions, and others take pride in how their ancestors acted. For example, when Beowulf meets Hrothgar, Hrothgar talks about his father’s bravery and concludes that he must be just as strong. Beowulf also follows in his father’s footsteps, likely because he was guided to do so. On the other hand, Shield Sheafson is an orphan and can only form a reputation for himself through his deeds. 

5. Mortality

Due to their lives as warriors, Beowulf, and his peers live lives full of death or the risk of it. At one point, while Beowulf is fighting Grendel’s mother at the bottom of the lake, they view the blood rising to the surface as proof that their leader is dead.

Aside from this Beowulf summary, we have also compiled the themes present in other books in articles such as Lord of the Flies summary. For help, place your order today for affordable and quality help.

Literary Devices Used in Beowulf

1. Beowulf Symbols

One of the main symbols in Beowulf one will encounter is the Mead-Hall. There are two Mead halls in the book, one of which is in Heorot while the other is in Geatland. Here, the community sings and celebrates hence it is a symbol of comfort and safety for the warriors. It also offered community, and many brave warriors' reputation was forged due to the stories told here. Another symbol is the banquet hosted after Grendel’s defeat. It symbolizes the restoration of peace and normalcy to the Danes.

2. Beowulf Motifs

There are several motifs in the poem. One is the use of monsters. In old Christian culture, these birth defects and ugliness were seen as a punishment from God. As such, the monsters were seen as something that should be eliminated from society since they brought hardship and insecurity. It is therefore no surprise that the poet states that Grendel is a descendant of Cain, who was cursed for his misdeeds. 

The second motif used in Beowulf is an oral tradition. These contribute to the theme of identity and reputation. It is through oral traditions that the community passes down its heritage and culture. The poem itself was passed on orally before it was written. Another motif is a treasure. Beowulf gets a share of Hrothgar’s treasure and also takes the dragon’s treasures. However, the dragon hordes his treasures while Hrothgar shares his. As such, it contributes to the themes of heroism and good as reflected in this Beowulf summary sparknotes. 

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Historical/Cultural Context of Beowulf

Beowulf is set in 6th-century pagan Scandinavia during a period marked by wars and conflict among tribes. At that time, the main form of government was monarchy, and there are kings such as Hrothgar in charge of the people. Many literary experts connect the story to a real and famous Danish king named Hrothgar, who ruled the country in the early 6th century. The Ravenswood battle mentioned in the poem also occurred in 510 AD.

The era was also known as the Anglo-Saxon period and is known as the Dark Ages since most of the literature is lost. However, Christianity was spreading, and many regional authoritative bodies were formed. Some tribes were also competing for resources, hence the conflicts described in the tale.

Beowulf Genre

The genre of Beowulf falls into the category of a heroic epic which tells the story of a brave warrior and his adventures. The verse structure is alliterative, meaning that it repeats sounds in each sentence. Alliteration is common in poetry and was also a staple feature of Anglo-Saxon poetry since it unifies the text and brings about rhyme which makes it memorable. An example our Beowulf summary noticed is when the poet states, “to feast his fill on the flesh of men” and “gulped the blood and gobbled the flesh” (558-563). Other poems that fall into this category are Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, The Iliad by Homer, and The Metamorphoses by Ovid. 

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the main conflict in Beowulf?

The main conflict in Beowulf is the clash between man and the supernatural. Beowulf fights Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the dragon, all of which are supernatural beings that threaten the well-being of the community. 

2. What is the main message of Beowulf?

The main message of Beowulf is the illustration of morality from its time. In the medieval era, society praised traits such as heroism, honor, and loyalty all of which Beowulf possessed and led him to a successful life.

3. What are the main events in Beowulf?

The most important events that contribute to the plot, as observed in this Beowulf summary are:

  • Building of Heorot
  • Beowulf’s battle with Grendel proves his skills as a warrior
  • Beowulf’s reign as king of Geatland

4. Why does Beowulf refuse to fight Grendel with any weapons or armor?

Beowulf refuses to fight the demon with weapons because Grendel does not fight with weapons. This relates to the bravery and honor code many warriors had in his time and would prove his skills as a warrior. Grendel is also protected by an enchantment that dulls any sword that attacks him; hence Beowulf uses his hands.

5. Why did Beowulf fight Grendel?

Beowulf wanted to win the treasures that would come with helping the Danes and also build a reputation for himself as a brave warrior. 

6. What does Grendel never know?

Grendel never knew God’s love since he was a descendant of Cain, who was cursed for his misdeeds. As such, Grendel never dared to touch Hrothgar’s throne as it was protected by God but only attacked in anger and was punished for it.

7. Is Beowulf relevant to our modern society?

Yes, as per our summary of Beowulf, the story still contains many elements relevant to our time. For example, it warns about greed, anger, and jealousy and encourages virtues such as honor and bravery. As such, the struggle between good and evil has always existed.


To sum it up, Beowulf is an epic poem of a heroic Geatish warrior in 6th century Scandinavia who gains fame after fighting a monster named Grendel and his mother who were terrorizing the Danes. For this, Hrothgar the Danish king, gifts him several treasures. Beowulf returns to his king Hygelac and eventually takes over when his son dies. Years later, he battles the dragon in his old age but dies in battle. However, he secures the dragon’s treasure for his people. In death, he is honored as a brave king who brought prosperity to his people, and the story ends.

The tale falls within the category of an epic heroic and contains alliteration, which helps create rhythm and sets the pace. The poem also contains themes such as morality, identity, reputation, and the honor code versus other systems. It also contains symbols such as the mead hall and the banquets and motifs such as treasure and oral tradition which contribute to themes such as honor and reputation. If you are tasked with analyzing this famous poem, consider placing an order today for the best Beowulf summary help online. 

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