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Essay on Epic of Beowulf

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While the classic battle between good and evil forces is a major theme of the medieval epic Beowulf, one may question whether these good and evil forces are as black and white as they appear. Scholars such as Herbert G. Wright claim that the “dragon, like the giant Grendel, is an enemy of mankind, and the audience of Beowulf can have entertained no sympathy for either the one or the other” (Wright, 4). However, other scholars such as Andy Orchard disagree with this claim, and believe that there is “something deeply human about the ‘monsters’” (Orchard, 29). While Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the dragon do indeed make seemingly evil and violent decisions, it is the reasons behind these actions that, once considered, show just how “human” these “monsters” are. In this essay, I analyze the three “monster” characters in the order that they appear in Beowulf, and argue that the moral ambivalence of these figures evokes traces of sympathy in the reader for their plight, thus blurring the fine line between good and evil within the poem.
The first opponent Beowulf must face is Grendel, textually described as “a fiend out of hell… [a] grim demon / haunting the marches, marauding round the heath / and the desolate fens” (Beowulf, lines 100-104). The author also provides us with a moral description, explaining that Grendel is “merciless… [m]alignant by nature, he never showed remorse” (lines 135-137). As we can see here, the author’s physical and moral portrayal of Grendel is rather unforgiving. We also resent Grendel further once we learn that he has wreaked havoc upon Heorot for twelve years, “inflicting constant cruelties on the people / atrocious hurt” (lines 165-166).
One may wonder what caused Grendel to commit such atrocities. Th...


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...ragon that is portrayed as evil but instead the human “prowler,” an adjective also used to describe Grendel (line 2289). We see this moral ambiguity again when the author describes the fight and claims that “each antagonist struck terror in the other” (line 2565). In the last fight, Beowulf and the dragon are both portrayed as antagonists, making us question who is really at fault.
While the antagonists of Beowulf are clearly the “monsters”, the author still manages to make the reader feel traces of sympathy for them. Grendel’s human depiction, exile and misery tug at the hearts of readers and show a genuine side to the figure, while Grendel’s mother and the dragon are pitiable because they were provoked into being attacked over things they both had a deep affection for. Their actions make us question whether or not they are as evil as the author makes them seem.


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