What is the plot of Beowulf?


Quick Answer

The epic poem "Beowulf" follows the titular hero on his quest as he saves King Hrothgar's mead hall from the beast Grendel, defeats Grendel's mother, reigns as king and eventually dies gloriously in battle with a dragon. The story follows the archetypal hero's quest structure.

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Full Answer

The story begins with the besieging of Hrothgar's mead hall by the beast Grendel. This state of affairs continues for years as Grendel attacks again and again, killing at will. Beowulf, king of the Geats, arrives and slays Grendel in a wrestling match. Grendel's demonic mother retaliates by kidnapping one of Hrothgar's Danes, but Beowulf pursues her into her lair beneath the water and kills her.

Beowulf returns to the land of the Geats. He becomes king there, succeeding his father, and fights in many wars before making peace at last. With his companion and retainer Wicglaf he reigns uneasily, but justly, until a thief awakens a dragon in the mountains and the beast emerges to burn the countryside and maraud in pursuit of revenge.

Beowulf overthrows and kills the dragon, but the act is his last and Wicglaf alone survives to bear word of the king's heroic death back to the Geats. The poem's ending is a melancholy meditation on the content of Beowulf's life and the ways in which he changed the world through his heroism.

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