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Healfdenethird Danish king; son of Beow; father of Heorogar, Hrothgar, Halga, and an unnamed daughterWealhtheowqueen of the Danes; wife of HrothgarHrethriceldest son of HrothgarHrothmundsecond son of HrothgarHrothulfHeorogar's son; Hrothgar's nephewUnferthDanish warriorAescheretrusted adviser of HrothgarOther GeatsHygelacking of the Geats; Beowulf's uncleHygdqueen of the Geats; Hygelac's wifeEcgtheowHrothgar's friend (dead before beginning of story); father of Beowulf; brother-in-law of HygelacHrethel former king of the Geats; took Beowulf in after Ecgtheow's deathWiglafservant of BeowulfBrecachildhood friend of BeowulfPlotBeowulf is a folk epic, which means it is about the people of a specific civilization and their commonalities. The setting varies from Denmark to Geatland, which is now southern Sweden. The poem opens with background information on the mythical Scyld Scefing, who was the first king of the Danes. He is an ancestor of the present king in the story, Hrothgar, and he portrays the tradition of bravery and heroism among the Danes. Read the beginning of Beowulf to learn
more about Scyld Scefing.In this passage, we learn that Scyld Scefing began and ended his life in a similar manner—cast adrift on the water. He was well respected, and when he died the people gave him an elaborate funeral, burying him with many treasures.The story goes on to list Scyld Scefing's descendants, Beow, Healfdene, and King Hrothgar. Hrothgar builds a grand mead-hall, Heorot, where the Danes gather nightly. But the swamp monster Grendel begins to terrorize Heorot. Beowulf sails to Denmark to defend the Danes and fights two major battles: the first with Grendel and the second with Grendel's mother. After returning to his homeland of Geatland, Beowulf becomes king and fights his final battle with a dragon.ThemesAs you read Beowulf, you probably noticed certain themes, or recurring subjects or ideas. An author uses themes to help the reader understand the characters and settings on a deeper level.Themes also tie separate parts of a story together.The characters are very loyal to each other. Loyalty is a part of the warrior code, as mentioned earlier.A character's reputation and need to establish an identity is most evident through the main character, Beowulf. To create a heroic reputation for himself, Beowulf defends the Danes.The tribes show generosity and hospitality when Beowulf arrives in Denmark. The Danes are grateful for his arrival and honor him with a celebration.The swamp monster Grendel is driven by envy and demonstrates the theme that envy consumesa person.Major battles in the story stem from the need for revenge, and in these battles, the character who seeks revenge dies, demonstrating the theme that revenge ultimately leads to death. For example, Grendel's mother seeks to avenge the death of her son but is killed when she battles Beowulf.Next, you'll check your understanding of Beowulf and your knowledge of epic poetry.