Beowulf Character Analysis
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Beowulf is an epic poem that focuses on Beowulf, a warrior and hero who valiantly fights monsters and protects the weak. The poem is an illustration of the Anglo-Saxon culture, particularly referencing different values that a hero is supposed to embody. Different characters characterize the poem, each playing a unique role and bringing out a particular theme that the author intends. Beowulf, Hrothgar, and Grendel are characters that bring out different perspectives, which the author expresses through the story, permitting the reader to see the character and virtue that a hero possesses, a king, as well as a monster.
Beowulf is the play’s protagonist and main actor. Essentially, his character demonstrates heroism which is seen in his many exploits of strength and valor as he battles monsters and comes to the aid of many. Beowulf’s character is explored in two stages; youth and age. In his youthful stage, Beowulf is portrayed as a fearless warrior who fights supernatural monsters that no one else could dare face (Neidorf, 2021). Beowulf embodies values such as courtesy, loyalty, and pride, making him a perfect depiction of a hero according to the Germanic heroic code. Beowulf defeats Grendel, and Grendel’s mother, further validating his bravery and heroism.
In the latter part of his life, Beowulf matures into a responsible and wise individual who is fit to become king. After Hygelac’s death, Beowulf does not rush to make himself king but supports the rightful heir, who is Hygelac’s son. This shows that he is a patient individual that has virtue and does not use his power to force himself and his reign on others. Ultimately, this gesture of respect and loyalty portrays Beowulf as one that is worthy of being king. Beowulf is also portrayed as a kind king who is ready to defend his people even at the cost of his life. This selfless trait leads Beowulf to fight the dragon that had threatened the people, which leads to his death in a pyrrhic victory where he slays the dragon at the cost of his life.
Grendel is a monster that has an ambiguous nature. His appearance is hideous, being characterized by a grotesque and monstrous figure that scares anyone that sets their sight on the creature. Essentially, Grendel seems to have impulses and human emotions guiding him in his actions (Plecháč et al., 2021). Primarily, his aggression against the people is due to jealousy and loneliness, with the poet hinting that Grendel’s lineage descends from Cain, who was outlawed by the creator and thus became an outcast. The author uses Grendel to showcase how loneliness and jealousy can turn a being into a monstrosity such as Grendel, who is vengeful against the Danes and ruthlessly attacks anyone that enters his domain (Şeker, 2021). Grendel’s enforced isolation is the cause of his deep bitterness and hatred against the Danes, who are free to enjoy companionship as well as other aspects of the world. In turn, this makes him become hostile against the Danes and has no remorse as he kills and tears them apart.
The character of Hrothgar is static, playing the role of stabilizing the social realm. As king, he is humble in the sense that he accepts help from Beowulf, which shows that he puts the interest of his people before any self-interests. Ideally, it is not easy for a king to seek outside help unless he is wise enough to know when he has a bit too much than he can chew. The king is well aware of the danger that Grendel poses to his kingdom, and is aware of his limitation regarding fighting Grendel, thus the reason he seeks the help of Beowulf (Halabi, 2019). The king is well aware of the various dangers of power as well as the privileges, thus serving as an advisor to Beowulf. The author utilizes the character of Hrothgar to showcase the wisdom that comes with age, as he highlights how the king’s mindset on leadership and heroism contrasts that of Beowulf, who is still in his youth.
In sum, the various characters that the author has used have played a role in bringing out different themes which the author intends. Beowulf brings out the theme of bravery and selflessness as he fights monsters to safeguard the people without regard for his life. As Beowulf goes out to fight, he is aware of the danger which lies ahead, yet is not deterred in any way as he valiantly shoulders the weight of fighting the supernatural creatures and saving the people. Grendel depicts a monstrous creature with no remorse and seeks to destroy the Danes and anyone that enters its domain. Grendel is solitary and jealous of other people who have the luxury of companionship, unlike him, who is outlawed by the creator and forced to live by himself. Hrothgar’s character brings out kingly attributes as he portrays a wise ruler who can maintain social stability by guiding the people correctly. The three characters have thus helped the author bring to light themes that characterize the play.
- Halabi, A. (2019). Comparative analysis of epic elements in Boezuname and Beowulf. Comparative Literature Research, 6(4), 147-168.
- Neidorf, L. (2021). The Beowulf Poet’s Sense of Decorum. Tradition, 76, 1-28.
- Plecháč, P., Cooper, A., Nagy, B., & Šeļa, A. (2021). Beowulf’s single-authorship claim is unsupported. Nature Human Behavior, 5(11), 1481-1483.
- Şeker, E. (2021). Altruism, Love, and Justice in Beowulf: A Critical Discourse Analysis with an Evolutionary Perspective. Söylem Filoloji Dergisi, 6(1), 109-127.