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Beowulf Notes



Beowulf: a Geat and the hero of the poem; son of Ecgtheow; later on he becomes king of the Geats.


Hrothgar: King of Danes; son of Healfdene and brother of Heorogar; he wants to be rid of the monster Grendel but does not know how to do so


Unferth: Son of Ecglaf; killed his brother; he taunts Beowulf early in the poem but technically that is his job. He lends his sword but it fails against Grendel’s mother.


Wiglaf: Beowulf’s faithful man; the only one to stay and fight the dragon with Beowulf in the end. He is left to carry out Beowulf’s last wishes after he is with the King at death



Grendel: The monster who threatens Hrothgar’s kingdom. Beowulf kills him.


Grendel’s Dam: She dwells at the bottom of a mere, a large swampy pond, in a cave. She comes back for Grendel’s arm when he is killed. She fights Beowulf and is eventually slain by him.


Dragon: Guards a vast treasure. He awakens from a deep rest when a slave steals a cup from his treasure hoard. He ravages Beowulf’s kingdom. Beowulf kills him but loses his own life in the process.


Christian VS Pagan

        There is a vague reference to biblical times throughout the story

        There is a synthesis of one God referred to and yet a reliance on a wear or faith which is a pagan quality

        Whether or not Beowulf is Pagan or Christian

o       His eagerness for fame: pagan

o       He wants to be remembered in this life

o       He always thanks one God: Christian

o       He has the Christian virtue of selflessness because he is willing to protect

o       There is a conflict of good and evil

o       Victory’s are attributed to God

o       Beowulf appears as the guardian of God’s gift

        Moderation is a Christian virtue

        Courage is a pagan virtue

        There is the fame seeking quality that is pagan


Comitatus bond: a band of warriors would pledge themselves to a lord who was known for his bravery and generosity. They swore to defend him to their death, and it was considered shameful to leave the battlefield if their chief was slain. According to code if the leader was slain his life must be avenged. They were known for their courage, bravery, and loyalty. In return the lord gave them protection and shared his weapons and wealth with them. Exile from one’s lord meant that one was without a home, friends, and without a livelihood.

        When Beowulf descends into the Dam’s den and does not come up for a long time, his men refuse to give up hope. Even thought Hrothgar’s man leave, Beowulf’s men refuse to and eventually their lord comes back.

        In the end only Wiglaf stays with his lord to fight the dragon, all the other men desert him.

        When Beowulf dies it is like the end of this era



        Good VS Evil


o       Hrothgar is a good King but Beowulf becomes a great king

        Atmosphere of impending doom

o       Society penned in by a hostile world

o       Hero will eventually be overthrown in time

o       Beowulf will fight on unwilling to yield in the face of defeat

        Rise and fall of a nation

o       At the end Beowulf saves his people from themselves

o       He fights a battle that loses his life but saves the people

        Setting of semi-darkness

o       Potential for sudden change

o       Fear of attack

o       Threatened society


Parallel Structure of Hrothgar and Beowulf:

        Both have a 50 year reign

        Both had monsters coming to disturb their reign

        Both seen as shepherds to the people

        Both had generosity, faith, and selflessness

        Hrothgar serves as a model for Beowulf, but Beowulf outreaches him

        In part 1 Beowulf fights for Hrothgar and has faithful men. In part 2 when Beowulf is king and deserves loyalty, his men desert him and he dies which signifies the end of the heroic age


Background and Important facts:

        Most likely originally a folk epic

        Told orally by a scop, and believed to be written down

        It is thought that there were multiple authors

        Another thought is that it was written by a pagan and then later added onto by a Christian

        Since there is such a synthesis to the story the most common idea is that it was written down by a 1 author who was of the pagan society who was coming into Christianity.

        It starts on an ominous note

        It gives a circular note by going from burial to burial

        It is in a tri-part, 3 monsters and 3 parts

        It preludes with the mythical founder of the Dane line, who grew into power and goodness till he was a feared and loved leader

        There is a contrast between youth and age

        The rising and setting of a society

        At the end it is not only the death of a lord but of the heroic civilization

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Beowulf excitement!!