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1351), but her attack differs in some significant ways.Rather than wholesale destruction, she kills just one Dane before fleeing home with her son’s severed arm.1709–57), and he rewards Beowulf lavishly with gifts and weapons in return for killing the Grendels (ll. This, the poet tells us, is what a good leader does (ll. But the dragon, in contrast, doesn’t behave like this at all.
Grendel attacks the Danes night after night for years, until Beowulf comes to their aid in an epic encounter that literally shakes the Danish hall to its foundations (ll. Grendel’s final incursion into Heorot begins with a bloody assault on one of Beowulf’s sleeping warriors: ’ [‘he had not met in the world, in any corner of the earth, a greater handgrip in another man’], (ll. In a stark reversal, the monster who began the evening feasting on human flesh now finds that his own ‘ Beowulf emerges from this first fight a bona fide hero.
But we’re only a third of the way into the poem, and Grendel was only the start of Beowulf’s monstrous troubles.
Most critics today would disagree: the monsters now hold a ‘central importance …
crucial to the very structure of the poem’– at its heart – the story of a heroic man who kills three monsters and then dies.
He’s a shadowy figure (literally, a ‘’ [‘grim light’], (l. He’s descended from Cain, the fratricidal son of Adam and Eve, whose murder of his own brother sees him cast out by God and fated to wander the world in exile (Genesis 4. This gives the impression that Grendel is human, or at least humanoid, and we’re told that he goes on ‘’ [‘dark moor’], (ll. He eats his victims – bones and all – and fights without weapons or armour in frenzied attacks that leave dozens dead in his wake (ll. These details emerge in fits and starts over the course of the poem: always suggestive, never specific.
In the best traditions of horror narratives, the more that’s left to the imagination the better.
The man she chooses is Æschere, Hrothgar’s closest advisor, in a tit-for-tat killing that’s meant to match the loss of her only son (ll. It’s a point the poet drives home with a grim pun – just as Beowulf took Grendel’s ‘ The final of the three monsters enters the poem late in Beowulf’s life.
No longer a young warrior out to make a name for himself, our hero is now an aged king when he is called on to defend his people from a fire-breathing dragon (ll. This is the most conventional of the monsters Beowulf encounters – we all know a dragon when we see one – yet it’s also the most challenging.
Beowulf does his duty, kitted out with weapons and armour that even he seems to know will do him no good: he clearly understood that the forest-wood could not help him, the wooden shield against the flames.
The foremost prince would have to endure the end of his transitory days, his life in the world, and the dragon with him.] Although the three monsters allow Beowulf to prove his heroism in battle, that’s not their only purpose in the poem.