Beowulf is a complex piece of Old English literature that may be difficult to interpret and comprehend at first. The article below can help anyone who is having difficulty understanding the plot of Beowulf or wants a quick summary to save time. Are you prepared to travel back in time 1500 years to a time of magic and bravery, dragons, hostile trolls, and treasure? Dive right in!
Information in General
Beowulf is an ancient English epic poem that depicts Beowulf’s life and exploits. He is a brave legendary warrior who defeats beasts and aids those in need throughout the story. Beowulf is one of the most important works of Old English literature. It contains 3,182 alliterative lines that do not use rhymes but rather use alliteration as a primary literary device to create a sense of unity and rhythm.
The untitled poem was most likely written between 975 and 1025. The events depicted in the poem occurred in the sixth century when Anglo-Saxon tribes began to settle in England. Scholars later proposed naming the poem Beowulf after the main character. The poem incorporates various Anglo-Saxon legends’ historical events, fiction, and elements. Because there are no other works of literature that mention or confirm Beowulf’s existence, the character is primarily fictitious. Even though there is archeological evidence that some of the places and events in Beowulf were real, such as the mead-hall, the various kings, and specific battles and tribes, there is no mention of Beowulf himself. It is also worth noting that parts of the poem contain events and themes similar to those found in various Danish and Scandinavian stories and legends.
Throughout the poem, Beowulf encounters and battles three prominent beasts. They will be viewed as a different milestone in his life and performance as a good commander and warrior.
The First Battle
Grendel, a giant monster, possibly an ogre or a troll, terrorizes Hrothgar and his warriors. Grendel despises joy and happiness, and he hates celebrations. He has been visiting Heorot, a castle built by Hrothgar for himself and his warriors, for the past 12 years. Grendel punishes people who enjoy themselves and celebrate. He eats and kills Hrothgar’s men every day, bringing horror and destruction to Heorot.
Heorot once saved a man from a horrible death. Ecgtheow, Beowulf’s father, was revealed to be this man. When Beowulf learns of Heorot’s troubles, he sets out with 14 men to leave Geatland and aid Hrothgar in his fight against Grendel. Beowulf promises glory to Hygelac, King of the Geats, and vows to return victorious.
When Beowulf and his men arrive in Heorot, they are greeted by Hrothgar’s men, and they drink and overeat, relishing their feast. During the celebration, one thane, a Hrothgar warrior named Unferth, attempts to mock Beowulf for his loss in a swimming contest years before. According to Unferth, Beowulf has no chance against the infamous beast Grendel. Beowulf refutes his mistake, explaining that he got lost in the bottomless sea and went in the opposite direction as his opponent. He managed to kill nine sea monsters on his way back to land.
Grendel arrives at Heorot after everyone has fallen asleep following the celebration. He begins by attacking the mead-hall, killing Beowulf’s men, the Geats. Grendel then attempts but fails to kill and eat Beowulf. On the other hand, Beowulf rips Grendel’s arm with the strength of 30 men and pulls it off his body from his shoulder. Grendel flees the mead-hall, gravely injured. All the men congratulate Beowulf on his victory. In his ecstasy, he suspends Grendel’s claw from the ceiling.
The Second Battle
Everyone rejoices after Beowulf and his brave men defeat the monster. They listen to music, eat delicious food, and drink a lot. Hrothgar and his wife Wealhteow are so impressed with Beowulf’s feat that they present him with a gold collar. After an enormous feast, everyone falls asleep believing that they are no longer in danger from Grendel because he has been killed.
Grendel’s mother, the water witch, disturbs their peace and sleep. She arrives enraged, determined to avenge her son and kill Beowulf. While everyone, including Beowulf, is sound asleep, she snatches Grendel’s arm from the ceiling and kidnaps one of Hrothgar’s men named Aeschere.
They leave Heorot the following day in search of Grendel’s mother. While looking for her tracks, they come across Aeschere’s head on a high mountain. They follow the lead, and Beowulf discovers Grendel’s mother in a deep dark cave. She drags him to the lake’s bottom, where their battle begins. Beowulf is impervious to her attacks because he is shielded by the power of his sword, which was forged by the legendary smith Weland.
It is, however, too weak to harm Grendel’s mother. Beowulf notices another sword lying in the cave, grabs it, and pierces it through her spine and neck. Her blood melts the sword and casts a bright ray of light into the cave. Beowulf discovers a great treasure hidden within but abandons it.
The Third Battle
Beowulf and his men return to Geatland after yet another victory. Hygelac, King of the Geats, and his son are killed in battle, and Beowulf is crowned as the new king, reigning peacefully for 50 years.
One day, this tranquility is shattered by the appearance of another beast. This time, it’s a massive fire-breathing dragon. The dragon is enraged because a sloppy thief stole a goblet from the treasure it has been guarding for centuries. The dragon spreads terror throughout Geatland, burning houses and killing its innocent inhabitants. Beowulf gathers his 11 bravest warriors and the thief who knows where the dragon lives and prepares to battle the beast. The dragon appears to be terrifying, and all of Beowulf’s men flee the battlefield. Wiglaf, Beowulf’s most loyal warrior, is the only one who stays with him. In this tumultuous battle, he remains true to his beliefs and defends his king. Beowulf and Wiglaf defeat the dragon together. Unfortunately, Beowulf dies in the war due to an injury and numerous wounds. His dying wish is to leave his kingdom to Wiglaf — the reward he deserves for remaining loyal to his king in the face of adversity.
Wiglaf, the new king, and the people of Geatland commemorate Beowulf and his achievements by holding a massive funeral procession in his honor. They construct a large barrow to keep his ashes, as his other dying wish was cremated. The barrow also contains numerous treasures that attest to Beowulf’s importance. Another dying wish of Beowulf was for the location of his burial to be visible from the sea so that anyone passing by could see it. The barrow is built near the seashore so that every seaman and ship can view Beowulf’s cliff and pay their respects to him.