Grendel's Battle with Beowulf: Character & Summary

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  • 0:02 Grendel's Attack on…
  • 0:45 Who Is Grendel?
  • 2:10 Grendel's Battle with Beowulf
  • 3:12 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: James Fleming
The battle between Grendel and Beowulf is one of the most famous battles in English literature. Furthermore, Grendel is considered to be one of the most mysterious and complex villains to appear in Western culture.

Grendel's Attack on the Hall of Heorot

At the start of the poem, we are told how the king of the Danes, Hroogar, built a great hall known as Heorot in which he, his wife and his warriors celebrate the spoils of their numerous victories. Irritated by the noise of the king, queen and warriors' revelries, the seemingly monstrous being Grendel attacks Heorot and eats many of the warriors.

However, despite his willingness to murder the residents of Heorot, Grendel will not approach Hroogar's throne. The narrator of the poem suggests that the throne is protected by a powerful god that keeps Grendel at bay. Helpless against Grendel's ceaseless attacks, Heorot is abandoned by Hroogar and his warriors.

Who Is Grendel?

Grendel is among the main antagonists - along with his mother and the dragon that appears much later in the poem - in the ancient Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf. Grendel is depicted by the narrator of the poem as a man-eating demon who has been attacking the hall of Heorot and killing and eating anyone who crosses his path inside. Grendel is described by the narrator of the poem as a direct descendant of Cain, the Biblical first murderer.

Many writers and artists depict Grendel as a demonic monster. Some critics point out that those descriptions might not be accurate, because Grendel is never clearly described by the narrator of the poem. Different critics of the poem offer varying analyses and understandings of Grendel and his motives. The poem's narrator suggests that Grendel and his mother are descendants of the Biblical Cain, which suggests that they are in some way connected to a force of supernatural evil. However, Grendel also appears at other points in the poem to be simply a murderous monster motivated only by jealousy, rage and greed.

Some critics suggest that Grendel is either a member of a rival tribe who are outcasts from Heorot or that he is simply a human warrior who kills not for the purpose of defense or honor, but simply for the psychopathic and monstrous joy of killing. Grendel's origin and motivations ultimately remain unclear throughout the poem, which adds a layer of mystery to his character.

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