Beowulf Characters: The Major Players of the Epic Poem

Beowulf character listThe Beowulf characters list is quite long, but there is a small number that has speaking parts or importance to the poem. Beowulf is the protagonist, the main and most active character, having the most speaking lines and action.

This article will cover the list of the epic poem, Beowulf main characters, their traits, and roles in the poem in relation to Beowulf. Find out all about them and their various traits, abilities, and relationship to Beowulf here.

Characters in Beowulf: The Overall Rundown of the Major Players

While there are many characters in this poem, here is a list of the main characters in Beowulf.

The main characters are as follows: 

  • Beowulf: the young warrior and protagonist in Beowulf who leads the action
  • Hrothgar: King of the Danes, needs help with Grendel, who keeps killing his people
  • Grendel: the first monster Beowulf comes across, the one who’s plagued the Danes for years, full of revenge
  • Grendel’s mother: this nameless monster comes for revenge after her son’s death
  • The dragon: again this nameless monster comes against Beowulf but only after he’s been king for years
  • Unferth: a young warrior who’s jealous of Beowulf and shows his vindictiveness
  • Halfdane: the father of King Hrothgar
  • Wealhtheow: the queen of the Danes, King Hrothgar’s wife
  • Hygelac: Beowulf’s uncle
  • Wiglaf: Beowulf’s kinsman after Beowulf becomes king
  • Ecgtheow: Beowulf’s father
  • Breca: Beowulf’s childhood friend
  • Hrethric: King Hrothgar’s eldest son
  • King Hrethel: King of the Geats, Beowulf’s people

There are plenty of others, but these are the ones that have the most importance to Beowulf and the story that unfolds in the poem.

Beowulf Character Traits: A More In-Depth View of Beowulf’s Important Characters

Some of the characters mentioned above are not present in the poem, but they still hold importance. This list of characters explains their deeper importance to the protagonist in Beowulf as well as their importance to the story.

  • Beowulf: Beowulf is the main character, and the poem follows his adventures and life as he defeats monsters and becomes king of his own land. He is powerful with almost superhuman strength, and he is also prideful about his abilities
  • King Hrothgar: the king is kind, generous, and he’s grateful for Beowulf’s help. The king gives him advice about his future like a father would give a son. He helped Beowulf’s father and uncle in the past, and so Beowulf feels bound to help
  • Grendel: this monster lives in the darkness, and he plagues the Danes for years out of anger and jealousy. Beowulf defeats him without a weapon and by tearing his arm off
  • Grendel’s mother: Grendel’s mother kills in revenge of her son, and Beowulf hurries after her and kills her in her watery lair
  • Unferth: Unferth brings up a past story that shows Beowulf in a bad light, but Beowulf shuts him down, reminding him of his lack of skills
  • Wealhtheow: Hrothgar’s queen follows tradition and welcomes the Geats with open arms, thanking them for their help against the monsters
  • Wiglaf: at the end when Beowulf fights a dragon, Wiglaf is the only one who helps him. He watches Beowulf die and becomes the successor of the throne after
  • The dragon: this is the final monster Beowulf defeats. It gets into a rage when someone steals something from its treasure lair, and Beowulf must battle it to save his people

These characters also help form Beowulf’s personality and his later role in his life. They help show us even more things about Beowulf and add to the story.

How Do Beowulf Characters Exemplify the Heroic Code in the Poem?

Many of the Beowulf characters are important because they illustrate the heroic code through loyalty, honor, revenge, and more. Beowulf, as the main character, shows his loyalty and honor by rushing to help the Danes fight a monster. Moreover, He exemplifies revenge by fighting against Grendel’s mother as well as the dragon, who was plaguing his people after he became king. Additionally, he shows his value of reputation in heroic culture, as he fights against jealous Unferth who tried to discredit him.

King Hrothgar, on the other hand, shows noble behavior and honor because he thanks Beowulf and grants him treasures for killing Grendel. The king even gives Beowulf a piece of advice about how to behave like a proper leader in the future.

Wealhtheow, the queen of the Danes, also exhibits the heroic code by welcoming the warriors of Beowulf’s group with generosity and kindness. She shows hospitality by offering them to drink from her cup and share it.

Lastly, Wiglaf shows his great loyalty by assisting Beowulf at the end of his life. He is the only warrior who comes through for his king, helping him to battle the dragon despite Beowulf’s injuries and his fear. He is present as Beowulf dies, offering solace, and because of his loyalty, Wiglaf earns the crown.

Foils and Mirrors in Beowulf: Characters Who Make Beowulf Who He Is

In Beowulf, there is a foil as well as a mirror to his character, and these are Grendel and Wiglaf.

Grendel is Beowulf’s foil in the poem because he is the exact opposite of Beowulf. Beowulf is all good while Grendel is all evil. Beowulf’s goodness is shown in greater light when he is compared to Grendel, and Grendel’s evil is also increased by Beowulf’s goodness.

Foils help to enhance the character’s attributes so that the readers can see them more clearly. We know that down to the core, Grendel is evil, and Beowulf’s goodness is also very deep.

Mirror characters in beowulfOn the other hand, Wiglaf is more like Beowulf’s mirror. We can see through his actions of loyalty and honor later in the poem that he is very similar to a young Beowulf.

He has strength, courage, bravery, and honor. Right at the end of Beowulf’s life, we see that his strength has run out. But Wiglaf is young and fresh and ready, and so Beowulf chooses him to take on the king role after his death. He is Beowulf’s mirror, and the power Beowulf had is passed on to another.

Other Beowulf Characters: Less Prominent Characters in the Poem

These are the other, less main characters in Beowulf. They still have importance, but not as much as some of the other main ones.

The list of other characters is as follows: 

  • Sigemund: this is a mythological Norse character, and he slays a dragon. His story is told before Beowulf goes to slay his own dragon
  • King Heremod: this is an evil king who the poet contrasts against Beowulf’s traits
  • Aeschere: this is the advisor for King Hrothgar, king of the Danes
  • Hrothulf: this is Hrothgar’s nephew who tries to usurp Hrothgar’s throne away from his eldest son
  • Hrothmund: this is the second son of Hrothgar
  • Beow: this is Hrothgar’s grandfather and mentioned as a leader granted by God
  • Shield Sheafson: this is a mythological leader who was known as a legendary king who began the strong line of the Danish people

The Quick Summary of the Old, Epic Poem

Beowulf is one of the most important works of literature for the western world. Written between the years 975 to 1025, by an anonymous author, but orally passed the stroy to preceding generations. Scholars don’t know exactly when it was written, and there have been many translations. It takes place in Scandinavia in the 6th century, and it’s a perfect example of the heroic code and warrior culture.

The poem follows the tale of Beowulf, a young and prideful warrior, who goes to help the Danes with a monster. The Danes have struggled with a bloodthirsty monster named Grendel for twelve years. So, Beowulf leaves his own country when he hears the Danes’ problem, and he offers his services. He succeeds in killing the monster, kills the monster’s mother, and earns his treasures.

Later in life, Beowulf becomes king of his own land, and he comes face to face with a dragon many years later. He succeeds again but dies in the process. This poem is a snippet of history at the time, with a mixture of pagan and Christian elements. And it shows just how important the heroic code was to society at the time.

Conclusion

Beowulf charactersTake a look at the main points about the Beowulf characters discussed in the article above:

  • Beowulf has a long list of characters, but there are a few who have more importance than others. The main characters include Beowulf, Hrothgar, Grendel, Grendel’s mother, the dragon, Unferth, Wealhtheow, and Wiglaf
  • One of the most important characters is Hrothgar, king of the Danes because he supports Beowulf and tries to help him be a better man
  • The other important characters are the monsters because they are foils to the “good” Beowulf. They showcase his strengths when he defeats them
  • The dragon is especially interesting as a character because it brings out Beowulf’s last bit of pride as he goes to fight it alone
  • Wiglaf is Beowulf’s kinsman and shows his loyalty to Beowulf at the end of the hero’s life, again showing Beowulf’s strength and goodness
  • That is partially why they are so important. They add to the culture and values of the poem
  • The main foil of Beowulf is Grendel, whose evil highlights Beowulf’s goodness and vice versa
  • Beowulf has also a mirror character, Wiglaf who is like a young Beowulf with his strength and loyalty, the successor of Boewulf’s throne
  • There are other lesser-known characters in the poem, but they are more mentioned to help enhance the story. These characters are either dead or mythological
  • Beowulf is a very famous epic poem written between 975 and 1025 in Old English. It takes place in Scandinavia in the 6th century
  • He is successful, and then he must fight two more monsters throughout the poem

The Beowulf characters each add something special to the famous poem, but they do not all have speaking parts or are even alive during the poem. Some have more importance than others, especially those like King Hrothgar, who try to help Beowulf be a better man and a better future king. All the characters help to showcase Beowulf’s strength and powers, so he is a good main character, but is he the best of them all?

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