Beowulf Characters and Information handout

The Danes
Hrothgar -The aging king of the Danes welcomes Beowulf's assistance in facing the menace of Grendel.
His sermon to Beowulf before the Geat champion's departure is important; his great mead-hall, Heorot,
shows the kingdom's success, civilization, and joy.
Wealhtheow - Hrothgar's queen welcomes Beowulf and is the embodiment of charm and hospitality.
Unferth - One of Hrothgar's top retainers, Unferth insults Beowulf after dipping too deeply into the mead
bowl at the first banquet. He later lends Beowulf a sword for a crucial battle.
Shield Sheafson - The legendary Danish king from whom Hrothgar is descended; Shield Sheafson is the
mythical founder who instates a long line of Danish rulers and embodies the Danish tribe’s highest values
of heroism and leadership. The poem opens with a brief account of his rise from orphan to warrior-king.
Beow - The second king listed in the genealogy of Danish rulers in the beginning; Beow is the son of
Shield Sheafson and father of Halfdane. The narrator presents Beow as a gift from God to a people in
need of a leader. He exemplifies how to behave as a leader.
Halfdane - The father of Hrothgar, Heorogar, Halga, and an unnamed daughter who married a king of the
Swedes; Halfdane succeeded Beow as ruler of the Danes.
Hrethric - As Hrothgar’s elder son, Hrethric stands to inherit the Danish throne, but Hrethric’s older
cousin Hrothulf will prevent him from doing so. Beowulf offers to support the youngster’s prospect of
becoming king by hosting him in Geatland and giving him guidance.
The Geats (Weder-Folk or Weders)
Beowulf - A mighty warrior and noble individual, the poem's hero, with the strength of 30 in his handgrip, comes to the aid of Hrothgar's Danes. Later Beowulf is king of the Geats.
Wiglaf - The only thane to stand with Beowulf against the dragon; he represents the future.
Hygelac - King of the Geats and uncle to Beowulf; his death in battle (*c. 520) is recorded historically,
unlike most of the events in the poem.
Ecgtheow - Beowulf’s father, Hygelac’s brother-in-law, and Hrothgar’s friend. Ecgtheow is dead by the
time the story begins, but he lives on through the noble reputation that he made for himself during his life
and in the dutiful Beowulf’s (the son) remembrances (think of Telemachus and Odysseus from The Odyssey).
Hygd - Hygelac's queen is a perfect hostess in the style of Wealhtheow and exemplifies propriety in
royalty. Beowulf is loyal to her and her young son, Heardred, when Hygelac dies.
Heardred - Despite Beowulf's support, the young king, son of Hygelac and Hygd, is killed in a feud.
Beowulf then becomes king of the Geats.
Breca - A royal member of the Brondings, he and Beowulf engaged in a swimming contest against each
other as adolescents, which Unferth claims Beowulf lost.
Monsters (beings depicted as “alien” to humanity but are in/from humanity)
Grendel's mother
Couple of others to mention
Weland -The legendary, magical blacksmith who made Beowulf's armor.
Sigemund - A figure from Norse mythology, famous for slaying a dragon. Sigemund’s story is told in
praise of Beowulf and foreshadows Beowulf’s encounter with the dragon.
King Heremod - An evil king of legend. The scop, or bard, at Heorot discusses King Heremod—we will
discuss why.
Queen Modthryth - A wicked queen of legend who punishes anyone who looks at her the wrong way.
Modthryth’s story is told for contrast to another character—we will see.
*c. = circa (means around this year or time period)
Character Tribes (or clans)
 Angles (Offa, Eomer)
 Weagmundings (Beowulf, Ecgtheow, Wiglaf)
 Brondings (Beanstan, Breca)
 Danes, AKA the Shieldings (Hrothgar)
 Frisians (Folcwalda, Finn)
 Geats (Hygelac)
 Heatho-Bards (Ingeld)
 Swedes (Ongentheow)
 Wendels (Wulfgar)
 Wulfings, AKA the Helmings (Wealhtheow)
Beowulf, the poem and the story, is a piece of art put together by one or several artists—we’re not certain.
Artists —they are people like everyone and are inspired by whatever inspires them like everyone.
 Based on the work of John Leyerle, University of Toronto
 Beowulf shifts rapidly in terms of place, time with little concern for chronological order
 Composed at a time when great value placed on interlacing design, complexity of which has not
been reached since
Structure of the Poem
 Does not work on principle of iambic foot of modern English
 Poem constructed of phrasal lines
 Two half-lines = one verse line divided by caesura
 Half-lines linked by alliteration on stressed syllables
 Each half-line has two primary stresses, so four per line
 EX: “God-cursed Grendel // came greedily loping”
 Alliterative sounds are not repeated from line to line, emphasis on variety
The Kenning
 Form of poetic imagery
 Characteristic of Old Norse poetry
 Highly compressed figure of speech which allow for alliteration
 EX: “Edges of iron” and “remnants of hammers”= a sword; “whale road” = the sea
The culture surrounding Beowulf
 Blood stained and honor bound – warrior culture
 “The little nations are grouped around their lord; the greater nations spoil for war and menace the
little ones; the lord dies and defencelessness ensues; the enemy strikes; vengeance for the dead
becomes an ethic for the living; bloodshed begets further bloodshed; the wheel turns …” (Heaney,
 “It is always better/ to avenge dear ones than to indulge in mourning” (1384-85).
 Think about the practical issues of having this kind of culture—helpful and not to the people
Christianity/Christian religion references in the poem
 Beowulf unique in being neither steadfastly pagan or staunchly Christian – synthesis of two
worlds, one old and one new
 Anglo-Saxon state founded on paganism, culture respected old families, swords which had been
handed down through generations, etc. Now need to make space for Christian faith – cultural issue
Immense gratitude to Ms. Jones for her gathered information which forms the crux of this page, ,Jan. 2013.
1. Swedes (Scylfings)
2. Geats
3. Danes
4. Heorot
5. Frisians
6. Heathobards
Celtic Knot
Illustration from The Book of Kells (approx. 800 CE)
Church doors: Sognefjord, Norway
Viking brooch (replica based on ancient design)
Again, a debt of gratitude to Ms. Jones for her Powerpoint from which this and the next page were created, Jan 2013.
Interlacing in Beowulf
 Variation of two or more subjects = stylistic interlace
 Examples of interlace:
o Hygelac’s Frisian expedition comes in four parts
o Lines 1202-14, 2501-9, 2501-9, and 2913-21
o Interlacing allows for a juxtaposition not possible with linear narrative
 Beowulf’s gift of golden torque connected to its later loss when Hygelac killed
 Beowulf’s preparation to face dragon connected to Hygelac’s Frisian adventure
 Hygelac’s death seeking treasure parallel’s Beowulf’s death with dragon
Interlacing in the heroic stories within Beowulf
 Only two episodes told in chronological order: killing of Grendel and his mother, and the fighting
of dragon
 Narrative intersected by other stories which provide a different perspective
o As Beowulf prepares to fight dragon, continues allusions to Swedish wars, illustrating the
full consequences of Beowulf’s actions
o Human threat far more menacing than the dragon
 Interlacing allows for connection to circular nature of time, reoccurrence of human actions all told
through a circular medium
Finding Parallels
 Fighting monsters
o Beowulf fights the water monsters when swimming against Braca/battles Grendel’s mother
in the water
o Unferð (mar-peace) issues insult against Beowulf, he responds by saying Unferð killed his
own brother connecting him to Cain, Grendel
 Hospitality
o Grendel breaks hospitality of Heorot/ Freawaru’s marriage to Ingeld results in the erupting
of a feud and Heorot is burned
 Gold
o Leaders give gold to their retainers for their continued allegiance/ monsters like Grendel,
the dragon hoard treasure
o Beowulf does not take treasure from Grendel’s cave –he’s there for revenge/ Hygelac and
Beowulf are later destroyed by treasure (Frisians/dragon)
 Funerals
o Poem begins and ends with death of leaders, bringing it full circle