Plot in Beowulf

The poem begins with Hrothgar, king of the Danes, who has recently constructed the great hall of Heorot. Hrothgar and his men celebrate the new hall, but their festivities are disrupted by Grendel, a monster who overhears the sounds of joy and grows hostile. Grendel begins killing the Danes in droves. Across the sea in Geatland—a region which corresponds to southern Sweden—the warrior Beowulf hears of Grendel and resolves to take a company of men to kill the troll. Beowulf sails to the now-abandoned Heorot and awaits Grendel’s arrival. Without the use of weapons, Beowulf delivers a mortal wound to Grendel, who returns to his lair to die. Grendel’s mother, enraged, draws Beowulf into a second battle. The poem picks up again fifty years later, after Beowulf has become king of the Geats. When a dragon emerges to attack his people, Beowulf marches off to battle one final time.

Plot Examples in Beowulf:

"and let me know from whence you come..."   (Chapter III)

The presence of an unannounced ship full of heavily armed and armored men threatens Hrothgar's coast-guard. However, he does notice the regal bearing of their leader, our hero, and asks the group to declare their peaceful intentions before he allows them safe passage.

"We are of Hygelac's clan; I am named Beowulf..."   (Chapter V)

As mentioned earlier, ancestry and family were of incredible value at the time. Prior to announcing his own name, Beowulf wants to assure Hrothgar's spokesman that the Geats are a part of the great chieftain Hygelac's clan to establish context for his group to help ensure them passage to Hrothgar.

"Destiny will go as she must...."   (Chapter VI)

Having declared his intentions, Beowulf concludes his speech by stating that whatever happens will proceed according to whatever fate or destiny has already been determined, reinforcing his stoic and brave image in the face of danger.

"I knew him..."   (Chapter VI)

Hrothgar suggests that a young Beowulf visited his court. While possible that Ecgtheow brought a young Beowulf to visit, it is interesting to note that Beowulf himself never indicates that he has previously been to Hrothgar's Hall. However, it does indicate that Hrothgar is familiar with the hero and likely allows Beowulf and his group quicker access to the king.

"“Since I could lift up hand and shield, I never before trusted the guardianship of this noble Dane-Hall to any man—except to you on this occasion...."   (Chapter IX)

Since Beowulf declared his intention to help and impressed the hall with his stories, he has earned the respect of the hall. Hrothgar's giving command of Heorot to Beowulf, a Geat, demonstrates the extraordinary amount of trust he has in Beowulf.

"all slept—save one..."   (Chapter X)

Given the circumstances of Grendel's expected attack, it may seem strange that anyone could sleep. However, despite their bravery, they are all too intoxicated to stay awake after the revelry in the hall. That Beowulf doesn't fall asleep either indicates that he also has a heroic constitution, or that he didn't drink as much as his comrades.

"by any means..."   (Chapter XI)

The battle between Grendel and Beowulf is so fierce that the foundations of Hrothgar's Hall are shaken--something thought impossible by the Danes, who believed the hall to be able to withstand any assault except for fire.

"seized a sleeping warrior in his first move..."   (Chapter XI)

Grendel slays one of the Geats when he first enters the hall--apparently in silence since only Beowulf is aware of the assault. The reason why Beowulf allowed Grendel to kill one of his comrades could likely be attributed Beowulf's distance from the act or that Beowulf wishes to maintain the element of surprise.

"a doomed man in the hall...."   (Chapter XVIII)

The poet uses the concept of fate to foreshadow the death of one of the warriors at the feast. For those living during Beowulf's time, when a man is fated to die, he will die, and there is no action the doomed man can take that will alter his fate.

"Seek it if you dare!..."   (Chapter XX)

Even though Hrothgar doesn't directly command Beowulf to find and destroy Grendel's mother, his challenge is impossible for Beowulf to ignore. Beowulf's honor and reputation are at stake. Since he has inadvertently started this blood-feud, he must resolve it, and the only resolution is either the death of Beowulf or Grendel's mother.

"sorrowful in heart for their ring-giver..."   (Chapter XX)

Hrothgar's speech illustrates two fundamental issues that result from the killing of Aeschere. First, a blood-feud now exists between Hrothgar's people and Grendel's mother, and the only appropriate end for this blood-feud is the death of Grendel's mother. Second, even though Aeschere's men genuinely lament their leader's death, they have also lost a principal source of their wealth with the death of their ring-giver.

"Beowulf girded himself in the armor of battle..."   (Chapter XXI)

When Beowulf chose to fight Grendel without weapons, he did so to further his reputation as a warrior. However, that battle was in Heorot, a human area where Beowulf had the advantage. His decision to wield a sword and wear armor demonstrates appropriate caution since the fight takes place in an unknown location which favors Grendel's mother.

"when they encountered Æschere's head near the lake-cliff...."   (Chapter XXI)

This passage not only establishes the terrifying danger of the area, but it also reveals much of Grendel's mother's plan for revenge. Her leaving Aeschere's head is an indication that she intends to lure her son's killer further into her lair--where she has all the advantages.

"It seems better that each man avenge his friends than to mourn them to no end...."   (Chapter XXI)

Beowulf reaffirms his own values and the values of the culture at the time. Vengeance of a friend or loved one is the appropriate response, not mourning. He is not only reminding Hrothgar of this, but he is also consoling Hrothgar and vowing to kill Grendel's mother. Beowulf's values underscore a major theme in the play: the importance of being honorable through glory and valor.

"as he had exploits in mind...."   (Chapter XXII)

This line indicates that despite Hrunting failing to damage Grendel's mother, Beowulf doesn't lose heart and fights back with his bare hands, keeping in mind his name and reputation.

"Soon..."   (Chapter XXIII)

The poet interrupts Beowulf's scene by returning to the men on the surface waiting for his return. This style helps provide perspective on what Hrothgar's and Beowulf's men are doing during this time and how they respond to the coming of night. Shortly, the poet will very quickly transition back to Beowulf.

"The sword was gory, and the man was pleased with his work...."   (Chapter XXIII)

Recall that Grendel was immune to weapons and that Beowulf's victory came about by battling Grendel on equal footing, hand-to-hand. Similarly, human weapons will not harm Grendel's mother, so Beowulf uses one made by giants. The poet makes it clear that the world of the supernatural differs from Beowulf's, and his success in this realm depends on his using a weapon that is also not from the world of humans.

"You have brought about mutual peace..."   (Chapter XXVI)

While Beowulf's fight with Grendel and his mother is a significant part of the story, the more important result, at least from society's perspective, is that Beowulf has achieved a strong alliance with a traditional enemy and stabilized relationships between them.

"and he ruled it well for fifty winters...."   (Chapter XXIX-XXXI)

The poet frames Beowulf's life with the battles against Grendel and his mother at the beginning and with the dragon at the end. Note how the poet compresses fifty years between the fight with Grendel and the emergence of the dragon. By doing this, the poet implies that nothing of significance happened and that Beowulf's reign as king has been very successful.

"But one soul was burdened with care,..."   (Chapter XXXV)

Even though Beowulf told his men not to interfere, they would have been expected to come to the aid of their king when they realized Beowulf was in trouble. Despite their leaving, one liegeman has remained.

"and that death was near..."   (Chapter XXXVII)

Recall the earlier foreshadowing of Beowulf's death. After defeating Grendel, Beowulf was compared to the legendary hero Sigemund. In that tale, the hero was also killed by a dragon.