protagonist and narrator of the novel. A great, bearlike monster,
Grendel is the first of three monsters defeated by the Geatish hero
Beowulf in the sixth-century poem Beowulf.
is a lonely creature who seeks an understanding of the seemingly meaningless
world around him. As an outsider, Grendel observes and provides
commentary on the human civilization he battles.
in-depth analysis of Grendel.
of the Danes. Hrothgar maintains a highly powerful and prosperous
kingdom until Grendel begins terrorizing the area. In Beowulf,
is an exemplary model of kingship, but in Grendel
is more flawed and human. Grendel often describes his war with the
humans as a personal battle between Hrothgar and himself.
harpist and storyteller in Hrothgar’s court. The Shaper provides
the Danes with an image of the world as essentially connected and
purposeful—an image that Grendel finds incredibly seductive, despite
his awareness that the glorious stories of Hrothgar’s court are
built on a foundation of lies. The Shaper represents the power of
art and imagination to create meaning in a meaningless world.
in-depth analysis of The Shaper.
great cranky beast that rules over a vast hoard of treasure. The
dragon provides a vision of the world as essentially meaningless
and empty. Throughout the novel, Grendel frequently finds himself
weighing the fatalistic words of the dragon against the beautiful words
of the Shaper. Some critics hold that the dragon is not actually
a separate character, but rather a personified aspect of Grendel’s
own mind. Although Grendel only visits the dragon once, he feels
its presence throughout the novel.
Geatish hero who comes across the sea to rid the Scyldings of Grendel.
Huge and exceedingly strong, Beowulf is cold and mechanical, showing
little emotion or personality. In the climactic battle with Grendel, Beowulf
appears to sprout wings and speak fire, prompting comparisons to
in-depth analysis of Beowulf.
- A foul, wretched being, and Grendel’s only apparent
family member. Grendel’s mother lives with Grendel in a cave in
a vast underground realm. She desperately tries to protect Grendel
from the humans and his fate. She has either forgotten or never
knew how to speak, though at times her gibberish approaches coherent
Scylding hero who is unable to defeat Grendel in battle. Unferth
believes wholeheartedly in the heroic ideals of his warrior culture.
When Grendel denies Unferth the opportunity to embody those ideals,
he becomes a bitter and broken man.
wife and queen of the Danes. Originally a Helming princess, Wealtheow
represents love, altruism, and an ideal image of womanhood, bringing balance
and harmony to her adopted community.
orphaned nephew. In Beowulf,
Hrothulf usurps Hrothgar’s
son as ruler of the Scyldings. In Grendel,
is a young man who forms ideas of revolution after seeing the aristocratic
thanes subjugate the Danish peasants.
mentor and advisor. A crotchety old man, Red Horse believes that
all governments are inherently evil and that revolution does nothing
but replace one corrupt system with another.
old, blind, Scylding priest. Ork is a theologian—one who studies
the theories behind religion. Mistaking Grendel for the Destroyer,
the supreme Scylding deity, Ork describes ultimate wisdom as a vision
of a universe in which nothing is lost or wasted. Ork is one of
only a few priests in the novel for whom religion is more than an
The fourth priest
- A younger priest who is overjoyed at the news of
Ork’s encounter with the Destroyer. The fourth priest has a vision
of the universe to which Beowulf alludes in his battle with Grendel.
first creature Grendel encounters in the novel. The ram stands stupidly
at the edge of a cliff and will not budge despite Grendel’s repeated
bull that discovers Grendel hanging in a tree
and attacks him repeatedly. The encounter with
the bull is a formative event in Grendel’s
goat that climbs a cliff despite Grendel’s repeated yells and screams.
Grendel tries to bludgeon the goat to death with stones, but it
continues to climb.
legendary king from whom Hrothgar is descended. In Scyld Shefing’s
honor, the Danes are sometimes referred to as the Scyldings.
teenage daughter. Hrothgar plans to marry Freawaru off to Ingeld
in order to avoid a war with the Heathobards.
The Shaper’s assistant
- A young man when he first arrives at Hart with the
Shaper, the young apprentice takes over the Shaper’s duties upon
brother and Hrothulf’s father. When
Halga is murdered, Hrothulf comes to live with his uncle at Hart.
of the Helmings and Wealtheow’s brother. Hygmod, a young king who
is gaining in power and prominence, presents Hrothgar with a constant military
of the Heathobards and an enemy of
of the Geats and Beowulf’s lord.
Finn, Hengest, Hnaef, and Hildeburth
- Characters in a song that the Shaper’s assistant
sings at the Shaper’s funeral.