Beowulf begins with the story of the first king in the Danish dynasty, Scyld Sceafing. The king
was abandoned as a baby and later went on become a successful, powerful leader of the Danish
people. Following the death of Scyld Sceafing, his son Beowulf (not the Beowulf of this story)
becomes ruler of the Spear-Danes and much like his father, Beowulf is respected and beloved by
his subjects. After a reign of many years, Beowulf dies and his son Healfdene inherits the throne.
Healfdene fathers four children including Heorogar, Hrothgar, and Halfga. Hrothgar succeeds his
father and after achieving much glory and fame as ruler of the Danes, he decides to build a great
mead hall as a monument to his success and symbol of his greatness. He names it Heorot. After
the completion of Heorot, Hrothgar holds a banquet for his subjects where scops sing of the
creation of the Earth by God and the Danes celebrate the peaceful, festive times in which they
After the festivities continue for many years, the singing and music awakens an evil, part-human
monster named Grendel who is a descendant of the biblical Cain. Angered by the noise and
apparent happiness of the Danes, Grendel travels to Heorot at night when the soldiers within are
sound asleep after their day celebrations. Grendel kills thirty warriors and escapes into the night
satisfied with his evil deed. Hrothgar is deeply saddened by the deaths and fears the attack may
be the beginning of a long war with the monster. Grendel continues his murderous rampage the
following night and a war with Grendel ensues which lasts twelve years. Stories of the Danes’
suffering at the hands of Grendel spread to foreign lands. The Danes exhaust all means of
defense against Grendel and attempts to pay the monster to cease his harassment are useless. The
Danes’ desperation becomes so great, they abandon their Christian beliefs and begin worshipping
ancient deities from their pagan past.
When news of the Danes’ troubles reaches Geatland, Beowulf, thane of Hygelac, gathers
fourteen of his strongest, bravest men to voyage across the seas to help Hrothgar and his people.
Upon arriving, Beowulf and his men are greeted by a Danish coast guard sentinel. The sentinel is
alarmed to see armed men approaching the Danish coast and directly asks Beowulf to state his
business. The guard is clearly impressed by the Geat’s armor and weapons and conveys his
respect for the noble men.
Beowulf informs the soldier that he and his men are followers of Hygelac from the clan of the
Geats and explains that he is the son of Ecgtheow, a respected and renowned leader known
throughout the land. Beowulf explains that he has come to help Hrothgar and the Danes. After
learning that the Geat’s intentions are noble, the guard agrees to escort the men to Hrothgar.
Wulfgar, a Danish soldier and advisor to Hrothgar, interrupts the men’s journey to see Hrothgar
and interrogates them about their identity and intentions. Beowulf introduces himself and
explains his purpose. Wulfgar, impressed by Beowulf’s confidence and the appearance of his
men, welcomes the visitors and encourages Hrothgar to meet them.
While receiving Beowulf, Hrothgar explains that he remembers Beowulf as a boy and recounts
several experiences shared with Beowulf??s father, Ecgtheow. Hrothgar views Beowulf’s
prescence as a blessing for the Danes because of his reputation as a great warrior and his noble
ancestry. He offers treasures to Beowulf and the Geats if they can end Grendel’s terror and return
Heorot to its previous glory. Beowulf expresses his desire to challenge Grendel to a battle to the
death and says he will trust in God and will thus refuse weapons or shields.
Reassured by Beowulf’s confidence, Hrothgar recalls further stories of Ecgtheow. He explains
how while new to his throne he helped Ecgtheow avoid a battle by sending treasures to his
enemies. Hrothgar then immediately begins discussing his troubles with Grendel and explains
his displeasure in seeing his mead hall abandoned by his warriors. The Danes and the Geat
warriors then go to Heorot where they are entertained by scops and drink mead.
During the banquet, a courtier of Hrothgar named Unferth is overcome by jealousy of Beowulf’s
reputation and challenges the merit of his courageous feats. Unferth tells of a swimming
competition from Beowulf??s past in which Beowulf was defeated by a warrior named Breca.
Beowulf explains that both warriors were armed only with swords to protect them from sea
monsters and that after match had lasted five nights, the two men became separated. Beowulf
was then attacked by a monster and was forced underwater where he slayed the monster with his
sword and later killed nine additional monsters before ending the competition. Beowulf asserts
that the hindrances with which he was forced to contend during the race justified his late finish
and that his acts of strength and courage validate his reputation. Beowulf also accuses Unferth of
murdering his brothers and explains that he will assuredly suffer the fires of Hell for his crimes.
After being offered mead by the Hrothgar’s wife, Beowulf once again affirms his desire to either
defeat Grendel or lose his life in the battle. Hrothgar is encouraged by Beowulf’s boastfullness
and confidence and proclaims his willingness to put the fate of Heorot in the hands of such a
worthy and noble warrior. He also offers treasures to Beowulf if he is victorious.
The Danes then leave Beowulf and his men alone in Heorot to face the monster. To prepare for
the confrontation, Beowulf expresses his confidence in God, removes his armor, and
relinquishes his weapons. Beowulf’s men, who do not share his confidence, join him in retiring
to bed to await the monster’s arrival.
After breaking down the door, Grendel enters the hall and immediately seizes one of the sleeping
Geat warriors and dismembers and consumes him. Beowulf rushes to attack. He firmly grasps
Grendel’s arm and the creature instantly realizes the strength of his attacker. As Grendel tries to
escape, his deafening shrieks frighten the Danes outside the hall.
The Geat warriors, now awakened by the battle, rush to Beowulf’s defense but find their
weapons useless due to a spell cast on their swords by Grendel. In the struggle to escape, the
monster loses his arm to Beowulf’s mighty grip. Aware that his wound is fatal, Grendel retreats
into the night to die. To commemorate his victory, Beowulf places the arm on the wall of the
mead hall and the triumphant Beowulf celebrates his victory.
Upon learning of Beowulf’s victory, Danish warriors travel to the hall to view the monster’s
severed arm and follow the monster’s footprints from the hall to the boiling, steaming swamp
which has become his grave.
Hrothgar enters the hall to see the arm and is beside himself with gratitude. He exclaims that he
will henceforth consider Beowulf a son and will provide him with whatever earthly possessions
he should desire. Beowulf tells of his struggle with Grendel and asserts his belief that the
monster will suffer in Hell for his crimes against the Danes.
Damage to Heorot done during the struggle is repaired and the hall is prepared for a great
banquet to celebrate the death of Grendel and the end of his reign of terror. Hrothgar presents
Beowulf with various gifts including armor, weapons, horses and ornate saddles.
Hrothgar also offers gifts to Beowulf’s men and offers compensation for the loss of the Geat
warrior to Grendel’s monster-sized appetite. A poet in the hall entertains the warriors with the
story of Finn, a Frisian king. The story begins with the death of many Danes including a man
named Hnaef by followers of Finn. Finn’s wife, the sister of Hnaef and mother of yet another
victim, is angered by the battle and pressures Finn to end the conflict . The poet vividly describes
the cremation of the men and the sadness of the grieving survivors. Hengest, a follower of
Hnaef, does not return home with the other Danish warriors after the battle. He stays and waits
all winter for reinforcements to return in the spring and avenges the killings by murdering Finn.
Wealhtheow, Hrothgar’s wife presents Beowulf with a valuable necklace and praises Beowulf
and graciously asks Beowulf to mentor her two sons. After her oration about Beowulf’s courage
and honor, the Danish warriors retire to the mead hall as they had often done before Grendel’s
Grendel’s mother, enraged by the death of her son, enters the hall after the warriors are asleep,
steals her son’s arm from the hall’s rafters and kidnaps a Danish warrior who is a close
companion of Hrothgar. Beowulf, unaware of what has transpired, is called to Heorot and
politely and innocently asks the king if he has had a quiet night.
Hrothgar is visibly overcome with emotion over the loss of his friend and relates to Beowulf that
the troubles of the Danes have begun again. Hrothgar tells Beowulf of the abduction of his friend
and of the bottomless pool where legends say the two monsters lived for many years. Hrothgar
again calls upon Beowulf to save the Danes and promises riches for avenging the attack.
The warriors travel to the pool and find the head of the kidnapped Dane and discover sea
serpents swimming in the pool. After killing one of the serpents, Unferth offers Beowulf his
sword called Hrunting and apologizes for questioning Beowulf’s courage
After explaining to whom his treasure should be sent if he perishes in the pool, Beowulf
descends for several hours displaying no apparent ill effects from lack of oxygen and upon
reaching the bottom is confronted by the monster. She grasps him and forces him into her lair
where Beowulf learns his sword has no effect on his attacker.
Beowulf, near death, then miraculously discovers a giant sword and beheads the monster. He
finds Grendel’s body and also severs its head. The toxic blood of the dead monster dissolves the
giant sword. Beowulf chooses Grendel’s head from his new collection of severed heads and
returns to the surface with the head and the hilt of his dissolved sword. Beowulf discovers the
Danes had given up hope that he was still alive and had returned home. The hero then returns to
Heorot and presents his trophies to Hrothgar.
Hrothgar examines the sword hilt and learns that it was created by a race of giants from before
the biblical flood. He delivers a long sermon to Beowulf in which he praises him and warns the
hero not to let his success inflate his ego beyond its already unfathomable proportions. He also
tells the story of the king Heremod and warns Beowulf not to end up like this evil king. The
grateful Hrothgar holds another banquet and Beowulf returns Hrunting to Unferth with his
The following day Beowulf thanks the king for his generosity showing a new found modesty and
graciousness learned from Hrothgar’s sermon. He tells the king he will come to the king’s aide if
ever again his assistance is required. Hrothgar thanks the hero for saving the Danes from the two
monsters and expresses his profound sorrow about Beowulf’s imminent departure.
As the Geats travel to their ship with their treasures, they again meet the coast guard sentinel
who wishes the men well and assures them that their homecoming will be greatly anticipated by
their friends in Geatland. Beowulf rewards the kind words with the gift of a sword and the men
board their ship.
Upon returning home, Beowulf gives the treasure to Hygelac, Beowulf’s lord. We then learn of
Hygd, the queen of Hygelac, a benevolent queen who divides the treasure among her subjects.
Their daughter Offa, however, is sadistic and cruel until marrying Thryth of the house of
Hemming. The marriage ends her evil ways and makes her a fair and respected princess.
Hygelac and his queen welcome Beowulf home and express their elation in his safe return. The
king then asks Beowulf to describe his adventures with the Danes. Beowulf recounts his feats of
courage and describes several of gifts given to he and his warriors and begins to explain of
Hrothgar’s efforts to end a conflict with the Hathobards, a rival clan.
Hrothgar continues telling of Hrothgar’s plan to make peace with the Hathobards. The King,
Beowulf explains, has offered his daughter’s hand in marriage to Ingeld of the Hathobard clan.
Beowulf fears, however, that the two people’s differences are too great and that Hrothgar’s
strategy with fail.
Beowulf then expresses his eternal loyalty to his Hygelac and explains that the king is one of his
few close companions. His fondness and respect for Hrothgar, he explains, is overshadowed by
his allegiance to Hygelac, his true king. The treasures obtained for the king in Denmark are then
brought before the king and formally and presented to him. Beowulf’s devotion is rewarded by
the gift of a sword, a mead hall of his own, and other lavish gifts.
After the death of the king and his son, Heardred, Beowulf inherits the throne of Geatland. After
a successful reign of fifty years, a dragon begins to terrorize the Geats much like Grendel’s
aggression against the Danes.
The Dragon’s hatred for the Geats begins when a thief, who is a transient serf, enters the dragon’s
cave and steals a jeweled cup from his hoard of treasures within. The theft awakens and angers
the dragon. The treasure, which had existed for hundreds of years, had previously belonged to a
noble race and had been discovered by the dragon. The beast spreads his fury over the Geatish
countryside and Beowulf is deeply disturbed by the suffering of his people inflicted by the evil
The dragon’s wrath soon reaches Beowulf’s home which is destroyed by its fiery breath. Beowulf
immediately vows vengeance and prepares for battle. We then learn of the circumstances by
which Beowulf became ruler of the Geats. During a war with the Frisians, Hygelac is killed and
his kingdom is offered to Beowulf. The hero graciously refuses the throne, believing the rightful
heir to be the king’s son, Heardred. In a war with the Swedish king Ongentheow, however, the
new king is killed and Beowulf agrees to take his place on the throne.
Ready for battle, Beowulf instructs the thief who had stolen the dragon’ s cup to lead he and
twelve warriors to the dragon’s lair. As the warriors reach the cave, Beowulf becomes fearful
that his strength may have deteriorated in his old age and begins to fear that the battle with the
dragon could bring about his death. His sorrow is compounded by his telling of the story of the
death of Herebald. He explains that Herebald, the eldest son of Beowulf’s adoptive father, was
accidentally killed by an arrow fired by one of Herebald??s other sons. Beowulf regrets the
inability of his beloved father to ever avenge the death of his son.
As if sensing that his death is at hand, Beowulf continues to tell stories of his past and relives
battles with his companions in which he achieved glorious success. He then bids farewell to his
fellow warriors and enters the dragon’s cave to meet his fate. The dragon attacks and Beowulf
finds his specially made iron shield is little protection against the dragon’s breath of fire.
Beowulf strikes the dragon with his sword but finds the dragon’s scale armor too strong to fatally
wound the beast.
Wiglaf, one of the warriors outside the cave, realizes the peril which faces Beowulf and berates
his fellow warriors for failing to assist their king. He prepares for battle and rushes to the hero’s
aid. The dragon responds with a burst of flames which destroys Wiglaf’s wooden shield. After
Beowulf’s sword breaks in the battle, the dragon advances upon the wounded hero and strikes
him in the neck with his poisonous fangs.
Wiglaf skillfully strikes the dragon below the head where the dragon is defenseless and pierces
the beast’s skin. Realizing the dragon has been injured, Beowulf quickly slices the belly of the
beast with his dagger, delivering a mortal wound to his mighty foe. Wiglaf treats the wounds of
the hero, but Beowulf knows he will soon die. He reflects on the worthiness of his
accomplishments and asks to see the treasure he has gained in his struggle with the dragon.
Wiglaf brings the treasure to Beowulf and the hero admires the immense fortune he has gained
for his people. Beowulf orders the construction of a monument to honor his greatness and
achievements. He then praises Wiglaf for his courage, gives him the helmet necklace, and armor
he is wearing, and dies.
As the Geat warriors return from the woods where they had run in cowardice, Wiglaf scolds
them for abandoning their king who had armed them with superior weapons for the fight. He
exclaims that they will be forever known as traitors and cowards.
Wiglaf sends word of the outcome of the battle to the Geat soldiers awaiting the news. As the
messenger informs the warriors of the death of Beowulf, he conveys his belief that their enemies
will assuredly take advantage of the news and attack. The messenger tells of the many conflicts
which have existed in the violent history of the Geats and predicts the conflict may begin again
with unfortunate death of their king. The warriors travel to the cave to see the corpses of
Beowulf and the dragon.
We learn that the nobles who had placed the treasure in the cave had placed a curse on it which
would last until the last day of the earth. Wiglaf orders the construction of a funeral pyre for
Beowulf and selects seven strong men to throw the dragon’s body off a cliff and load the treasure
onto a wagon.
After placing shields, helmets, and armor around Beowulf’s funeral pyre, the great king is
cremated to the crying of his mourning people. They place the ashes of Beowulf and all of the
dragon’s treasures inside a giant mound of sand where they would be safe from the enemies sure
to attack after hearing of the tragedy. The Danes are left feeling uncertain about the future of
their kingdom after the loss of their great king.