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Mapping key characters on film and in the poem

Head and shoulders shot Beowulf, wearing a red cloak and a crown Beowulf: strong Geatish
warrior who leads his men to Denmark to fight Grendel.
Image of Grendel reaching out toward the cameraGrendel: said to be descended from Cain after he murdered his brother Abel and was turned out into the wilderness. Grendel kills and eats men.
Close up profile shot of Grendel's mother, almost in profile Grendel's mother: lives in a cave with her son; never comes into the light.
Still image from the film, of King Hrothgar, who wears a norse-style crown and has a long beard Hrothgar: King of the Danes.
Close-up shot of Wealhtheow, who wears a crown. She has a concerned look. Wealhtheow: Wife to Hrothgar
Head and shoulders shot of Unferth, who has long dark hair and a black goatee beard. he looks startled. Unferth: Danish warrior whose suspicion and jealousy land him in trouble.
Close-up of Wiglaf, who wears a helmet. Wiglaf: warrior loyal to Beowulf
  • How would you group these characters?
  • What different categories could you order them into?

You may wish to come back to this after watching the film and compare your ideas. Is there any overlap between categories?

Becoming a Hero
Student Task

Take a close look at the image of Beowulf taken from the film. Next to the image you will find quotations about Beowulf from a translation of the poem; you will also find what Beowulf says about himself, taken from the film trailer.

Shot of Beowulf on a boat. He wears body armour and holds a thick rope"The greatest warrior of his age, Mighty and noble, strongest of men"

"With thirty men's strength in the grasp of each hand"

"Beowulf's deeds were highly praised"

"I am ripper, tearer, slasher; I am the teeth in the darkness and the talons in the night. Mine is strength, and lust, and power: I am Beowulf!"

Think about the quotations from the poem and the image from the film.

  • What ideas have you built up so far about Beowulf's character?
  • What qualities make him a 'hero'? Does he seem to have any flaws?

Add your answers, and any further ideas below

Action Heroes and Villains
Student Task

  • What action heroes do you know of, and how do they generally behave?
  • Are their violent actions justified?
  • From the image and the quotation, how does Beowulf fit into your idea of an  'action hero'? 

Heroes are often defined in contrast to the villains they fight. In the film, Beowulf fights the monster Grendel who has been terrorising King Hrothgar and killing his soldiers. The battle between Beowulf and Grendel is a key moment in both poem and film.

Take a close look at these translations from the poem. What impression do they give you of Grendel?

“Unholy creature, greedy and grim, bent on destruction”

“Cold-hearted Grendel, guilty as he was, Gave no care for his terrible deeds”

“Down through the moors, through rolling mists Cursed Grendel stealthily crept”

Look closely at these still images of Beowulf and Grendel taken from the film.

Beowulf thrusts a torch towards the viewer, whist holding his sword ready

What do you notice first in both images?

What catches your eye?

What information do these stills give us about the two characters and the differences between them?

Image of Grendel reaching out towards the viewer. His skin looks shrivelled and his nails are long and dirty

Can you find any similarities between these two foes, based on the images and the quotations?

Which of the two characters do you feel most sympathy with, and why?