Beowulf

Protagonist

Main ideas Protagonist

Beowulf drives the action of the poem with his desire for fame and glory as a warrior. This desire leads him to travel to Denmark to fight Grendel, and also to accept the challenge of fighting Grendel’s mother. Many years later, Beowulf’s fundamental motive remains unchanged: his desire for fame motivates him to fight the dragon. Some readers have argued that this failure to change over time is a flaw in Beowulf’s character. While a warrior should seek out glorious battles, a king is needed by his people, and pursuing excessive battles can be seen as reckless and prideful. Wiglaf seems to see it this way: “Often when one man follows his own will / many are hurt” (ll.3076-7). Other readers have seen Beowulf’s pride as a flaw in the warrior code itself: the same desire for glory that made Beowulf king also makes him a reckless king. Beowulf’s death leaves his people vulnerable and afraid, suggesting that ultimately Beowulf’s fame and glory is worth little. On the other hand, the poem is itself a monument to Beowulf’s fame.