Section One: Grendel Terrorizes Heorot

These lines represent the introductory section of the poem, providing background information necessary to judge the future action in the poem, as well as introducing some of the major characters of the poem.  The poem’s narrator takes on the role of bard or scop, recounting the tale in much the same fashion as it would have been told following the oral tradition, which means that it begins with a description of the genealogy of the poem’s characters.  He begins by introducing the Danish people or Scyldings, who have descended from Shield Sheafson (Scyld Scefing).  Shield Sheafson came to the shores of Denmark as an orphan baby, floating in a ship full of treasure, origins unknown.  One of the interesting things about Shield is that his end, which is described in detail in the poem, is very much like his beginning.  He is said to have arrived as an orphan in a treasure-laden ship.  The poet also describes his funeral, in which he is placed in a ship with a significant treasure and sent sailing into the unknown.  This beginning story helps serve as a reminder of the cyclical nature of life, and also of the inevitability of death.  This will serve as a timely reminder when the poem’s hero is called upon to determine whether or not he will fight the Dragon. 

Through hard work and honor, Shield became the first king of Scyldings.  His son was Beow.  To make things more confusing, Beow is sometimes referred to as Beowulf, but is not the titular Beowulf of the poem.  Like his father, Beow was a respected king.  Beow fathered Healfdane, who had four sons, including Hrothgar, who is the Danish king at the beginning of the story.  Hrothgar has followed in his ancestors’ footsteps to become a successful and well-respected king.  He was tremendously successful and built a mead hall, Heorot, as a place for his people to gather and celebrate their prosperity and peace. 

Heorot actually plays a significant role in the poem.  It is the primary setting of the first part of...

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Essays About Beowulf