Beowulf & Grendel: Compare & Contrast Video

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  • 0:01 Grendel
  • 1:41 Beowulf
  • 2:49 Beowulf & Grendel
  • 3:58 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Emily Russell

Emily has taught writing and literature at the college level and is currently pursuing a PhD (ABD) in medieval and early modern literature.

The hideous monster Grendel lurks in dark caverns and seeks to destroy. Beowulf, warrior and hero, takes on the monster - and wins! These enemies are different in many ways, but they also share some startling similarities. Read on to find out more.

Grendel the Murderous Monster

Grendel is a monster that seems to embody evil. He is given no definite shape and very little personality. He seeks to destroy. He kills without mercy. He cannot be reasoned with. In a scene in which he kills thirty sleeping men, Grendel is described as 'insensible to pain and human sorrow.' He is a 'God-cursed brute' (lines 119-121). Why would Grendel do all of this? There are a few possible reasons. Hrothgar, the king of Heorot Hall, which is the place Grendel keeps attacking, believes that Grendel is just evil by nature. Grendel is called a 'fiend out of hell' and a 'banished monster.' This is how most of the characters in the story understand Grendel. Monsters are destructive - it's just what they do. But there is a more sympathetic way to understand him.

Grendel has lived in the same place for a very, very long time. Hrothgar is new to the neighborhood. When Hrothgar built his mead hall, which is like a castle, he brought a lot of very noisy people to the area. They used the natural resources and disturbed Grendel, and so Grendel got mad (lines 86-90). Not only were the neighbors too noisy, but they sang songs that reminded Grendel about his status as an outcast. He is a 'banished monster' who is 'cursed,' which means that God has rejected him. And all day and night, Hrothgar's people sing about God (lines 90 - 114). One way to understand Grendel is as an outcast who feels harassed by Hrothgar and his people. No matter how Grendel's motives are explained, he poses a threat to Hrothgar and everyone else at Heorot Hall. They need a hero. In walks Beowulf!

Beowulf the Brave

When Beowulf comes onto the scene, he is described as a mighty and accomplished hero and is referred to as 'The man whose name was known for courage' (line 340). He has stood up to monsters more terrifying than Grendel. In fact, we hear about several of these monster battles through Beowulf's boasts, which are speeches meant to prove that he is up to the challenge. Beowulf's reputation for bravery precedes him and, while he boasts, some even suggest that he is too brave, or foolishly brave. In short, Beowulf likes a good fight, and everyone knows it. Because of this, he is quickly accepted by Hrothgar and his people which, unlike Grendel, makes him an insider.

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