Historical Context in Beowulf
The events of Beowulf took place in the 6th century CE. The character of Hrothgar is often connected to a historical figure of the same name who reigned in Denmark in the early 6th century. The poem was written between 700 CE and 1000 CE by an anonymous poet referred to as the “Beowulf poet” out of convenience. The poem blends historical events and figures with mythic elements such as Grendel and his mother, as well as the dragon. It prominently features both Pagan and Christian symbolism and represents the effects of the Christianization of England. The poem was composed in Anglia—a region in southeast England—and was drawn from the the stories of the Saxon and Scandinavian peoples who settled there.
Beowulf was almost lost to the ravages of history. The poem happened to be included in a volume known as the Nowell Codex, housed in the collection of Sir Robert Cotton in London. When a fire broke out in 1731, a quarter of the library was destroyed. Fortunately, the Nowell Codex received little enough damage that Beowulf remained readable.