At a Glance
- Beowulf, a Geat hero who becomes king after defeating the fiend Grendel in battle.
- Hrothgar, King of the Danes, who accepts Beowulf's help in defeating Grendel and his mother.
- Grendel, the fiend who devours the men of Heorot Hall.
- Grendel's mother, a fearsome monster who attempts to avenge her son.
- Wiglaf, Beowulf's kinsman, who aids him in the battle against the dragon.
- Wealhtheow, the Danish queen, who admires Beowulf and assigns her sons to his tutelage.
- Unferth, Hrothgar’s advisor, who envies and admires Beowulf.
Beowulf (bay-eh-woolf), the nephew and thane of King Hygelac of the Geats. A warrior who proves his superhuman strength and endurance in his struggle with the monster Grendel, he exemplifies the ideal lord and vassal, rewarding his own men generously and accomplishing glorious deeds to honor his king, while he fulfills all the forms of courtesy at Hrothgar’s court.
Hrothgar (HROHTH-gahr), the aging lord of the Danes, a good and generous ruler deeply distressed by Grendel’s ravaging visits to Heorot, his great hall. He adopts his savior, Beowulf, as his son and parts with him tearfully in a moving scene; he knows that he will not see the young warrior again.
Wealhtheow (WEE-ahl-thay-oh), his queen, a gracious, dignified hostess to the visiting Geats. She, too, grows fond of Beowulf and commends the welfare of her young sons into his hands.
Unferth (EWN-fahrth), Hrothgar’s adviser, typical of the wicked counselors of folklore. Envious of Beowulf and heated with wine, he taunts the Geat with his failure to defeat Breca in a youthful swimming match. He is won over by Beowulf’s victory against Grendel and lends the hero his sword, Hrunting, for the undersea battle against Grendel’s mother.
Grendel (GREHN-duhl), one of the monstrous descendants of Cain, condemned to wander alone in the wastelands of the world. Given pain by the light and merriment in Hrothgar’s hall, he visits it and regularly carries off warriors to devour until he is mortally maimed in a struggle with Beowulf.
Grendel’s Mother, another monster. She invades Heorot to avenge her dead son and is herself killed by Beowulf after a long and difficult combat in her underwater cave.
Hygelac (HE-guh-lahk), Beowulf’s lord, the wise ruler of the Geats. He is killed while leading a raid in the Rhineland.
Hygd (hihj), his young, accomplished, and intelligent queen. She offers the throne of her young son to Beowulf after Hygelac’s death.
Hrothmund (HROHTH-mewnd) and
Hrethric (HRAYTH-reek), the sons of Hrothgar and Wealhtheow.
Hrothulf (HROHTH-oolf), Hrothgar’s nephew and ward. Although Wealhtheow professes trust in his care of her children, there are hints of his subsequent treachery to them.
Freawaru (FRAY -ah-wah-rew), Hrothgar’s daughter, about to be betrothed to Ingeld of the Heathobards as a political pawn. Beowulf prophesies that only unhappiness will arise from...
(The entire section is 3,780 words.)