Beowulf Plot Summary
Long ago, at the beginning of creation, two brothers, Cain and Abel lived peacefully, until Cain killed Abel, starting a blood-feud of kin-murder. This legacy of kin-murder was passed down through time, for the murder split the bloodline into two groups: Abel's, whose decendants were human, and Cain's, whose descendants were monstrous and sub-human.
The poem Beowulf begins with this legacy of kin-murder and revenge. In Denmark, an evil monster, Grendel, who is ritually ravaging his kingdom, torments King Hrothgar. Currently, the monster breaks into the castle and eats as many of Hrothgar's men as he can stomach each night. Beowulf, a noted and respected warrior from Geatland, arrives with a ship of his warriors to assist King Hrothgar in stopping Grendel. King Hrothgar accepts Beowulf's pledge to kill Grendel. That night, Grendel comes to the castle and kills some of the men, devouring them. Beowulf meets Grendel, and a battle ensues--Beowulf uses no weapon against Grendel, and fighting barehanded, rips off his arm. Grendel escapes, but when he returns to his underwater lair, he dies. King Hrothgar is utterly grateful to Beowulf for killing Grendel. Grendel's arm is hung in the battlehall as a trophy of his bravery and the victory of mankind over monster.
The danger has not passed; Grendel's mother has become enraged by her son's death. She comes late one night to King Hrothgar's battlehall, grabs one man, eat him, and flees. She also retrieves her son's arm, which had been hanging in the hall as a trophy. Hrothgar is anxious and upset, and calls on Beowulf to aid them once again, offering him much gold and treasure, as well as alliance with his people, for doing battle with Grendel's mother. Beowulf travels with his men to the evil fiery lake where Grendel's mother lives. Beowulf makes a great speech about bravery, citing that God will look after him in his deed, and leaps into the lake wearing armor and carrying a great sword. Beowulf swims down through the lake for many hours, finally coming upon Grendel's mother. They fight for a brief time, Grendel's mother batters Beowulf around, but is unable to harm him through the armor. Beowulf finds his sword to be useless against Grendel's mother, and she swims to her underwater battlehall with him in tow. There, they continue to fight, until Beowulf takes a giant sword off the wall of the battlehall and cuts off her head, killing her. The sword is a magic sword, created by ancient monsters and giants at the beginning of creation. He swims to where Grendel's arm is located and finds the dead Grendel, whose head he decapitates as well, and takes with him as a trophy.
Beowulf swims back through the fiery lake to his men who are waiting for him. Hrothgar's men have already left, sure of Beowulf's defeat. Beowulf's men rejoice, and Beowulf goes back to Hrothgar's battlehall. Hrothgar names him as one of their friends and rewards him with gold and important advice about being a king. Beowulf and his men leave on their ship to go back to Geatland and King Higlac. Beowulf gives his King all the treasure and great weapons he received. Higlac rewards him with a great sword.
Higlac rules a long time, but eventually is killed in battle. His sons rule and are killed as well, and after this, Beowulf is crowned as King of Geatland. He rules long and well. Then, when he is an older man, a runaway slave comes upon a hidden tower in Geatland. An evil dragon lives in the tower, and guards a mighty golden treasure. The dragon had found the treasure many centuries ago, when it was left to be buried with an ancient king, whose people had died out. The slave steals a golden cup from the tower, awakening and enraging the dragon. The dragon leaves its tower, and the next night begins to ravage the kingdom, burning down villages, people, and Beowulf's castle.
Beowulf hears of the horror and vows to once again rid the land of a fiend. He meets the dragon during the day, with many of his warriors by his side. He fights the dragon, but is losing, because he is an old man. His weaponry is melting, and the dragon is burning him up. One of his fellow warriors and men, Wiglaf, runs in to distract the dragon. He brings his shield up to distract the dragon, while Beowulf takes his sword, and with the last of his strength, wounds the dragon. He then slits the dragon down his middle, cutting him in two. But with this victory comes Beowulf's death. The dragon has wounded him, and his poisonous venom is killing the brave Beowulf. Beowulf is dying, and Wiglaf cleans his lord and brings him jewels from the dragon's lair, as his lord has asked. All the rest of Beowulf's men have run away, fleeing when the dragon began to beat Beowulf. Beowulf leaves his kingdom's rule to Wiglaf, giving him his rings and mail. Beowulf dies.
Wiglaf calls to the men that fled, telling them that they were cowards and from this moment on will be banished from Geatland. Then he sends a messenger to the rest of Beowulf's warriors to tell them of Beowulf's death. Beowulf is burnt and his ashes buried in the Dragon's tower. There the jewels are left forevermore. And as Beowulf asked, the tower is built up high and tall, and named Beowulf's tower, so that sailors on the sea may always see the tower as a guide and know of the great Beowulf.