The main protagonist, Beowulf, a hero of the Geats, comes to the aid of Hrothgar, the king of the Danes, whose great hall, Heorot, is plagued by the monster Grendel. Beowulf kills Grendel with his bare hands and Grendel's mother with a sword, which giants once used, that Beowulf found in Grendel's mother's lair. Later in his life, Beowulf is himself king of the Geats, and finds his realm terrorised by a dragon whose treasure had been stolen from his hoard in a burial mound. He attacks the dragon with the help of his thegns or servants, but they do not succeed. Beowulf decides to follow the dragon into its lair, at Earnanæs, but only his young Swedish relative Wiglaf dares join him. Beowulf finally slays the dragon, but is mortally wounded. He is buried in a tumulus or burial mound, by the sea. Beowulf is considered an epic poem in that the main character is a hero who travels great distances to prove his strength at impossible odds against supernatural demons and beasts. The poem also begins in medias res ("into the middle of affairs") or simply, "in the middle", which is a characteristic of the epics of antiquity. Although the poem begins with Beowulf's arrival, Grendel's attacks have been an ongoing event. An elaborate history of characters and their lineages are spoken of, as well as their interactions with each other, debts owed and repaid, and deeds of valour. Jane Chance (Professor of English, Rice University) in her 1980 article "The Structural Unity of Beowulf: The Problem of Grendel's Mother" argued that there are two standard interpretations of the poem: one view which suggests a two-part structure (i.e., the poem is divided between Beowulf's battles with Grendel and with the dragon) and the other, a three-part structure (this interpretation argues that Beowulf's battle with Grendel's mother is structurally separate from his battle with Grendel). Chance stated that, "this view of the structure as two-part has generally prevailed since its inception in J.R.R. Tolkien's Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics in Proceedings of the British Academy 22 (1936)." In contrast, she argued that the three-part structure has become "increasingly popular." First battle: Grendel
Beowulf begins with the story of King Hroðgar, who constructed the great hall Heorot for his people. In it he, his wife Wealhþeow, and his warriors spend their time singing and celebrating, until Grendel, a troll-like monster who is pained by the noise, attacks the hall and kills and devours many of Hroðgar's warriors while they sleep. But Grendel does not touch the throne of Hroðgar, for it is described as protected by a powerful god. Hroðgar and his people, helpless against Grendel's attacks, abandon Heorot.Beowulf, a young warrior from Geatland, hears of Hroðgar's troubles and with his king's permission leaves his homeland to help Hroðgar. Beowulf and his men spend the night in Heorot. Beowulf bears no weapon because this would be an "unfair advantage" over the unarmed beast. After they fall asleep, Grendel enters the hall and attacks, devouring one of Beowulf's men. Beowulf has been feigning sleep and leaps up to clench Grendel's hand. The two battle until it seems as though the hall might collapse. Beowulf's retainers draw their swords and rush to his aid, but their blades can not pierce. Grendel's skin. Finally, Beowulf tears Grendel's arm from his body at the shoulder and Grendel runs to his home in the marshes to die. Second battle: Grendel's mother
The next night, after celebrating Grendel's death, Hrothgar and his men sleep in Heorot. Grendel's mother, angered by the death of her son, appears and attacks the hall. She kills Hroðgar's most trusted warrior, Æschere, in revenge for Grendel's death. Hroðgar, Beowulf and their men track Grendel's mother to her lair under a lake. Beowulf prepares himself for battle; he is presented with a sword, Hrunting, by Unferth, a warrior who had doubted him and wishes to make amends. After...
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