Ancient, timeless, and very, very hard to read, Beowulf has plagued well-meaning college students for centuries with its cryptic passages and vague metaphors. Yet at the root it resonates with a sort of clear allegorical criticism aimed at Scandinavian warrior society. In the story of Beowulf, the unnatural fiends in the poem were each symbols for the political strife in the system. They formed the basic constructs in an allegory against the flawed nature of the warrior society at the time.
Grendel, the first monster, makes his appearance directly after the poet references the men in their mead-hall. Yet he is not simply referred to in a natural segue between themes: he is actually introduced directly after speaking of future strife among the family in that hall. Note in the following passage where the poet breaks off what began as a paragraph about the merry-making which went on in the hall known as Heorot.
The hall stood tall, high and wide-gabled: it would wait for the fierce flames of vengeful fire; the time was not yet at hand for sword-hate between son-in-law and father-in-law to awaken after murderous rage.
Then the fierce spirit painfully endured hardship for a time, he who dwelt in the darkness....
The form it takes can essentially be described as "They celebrated, but all was not well in the future of the hall. Also, Grendel waited outside...." The close proximity of the description of familial betrayal and Grendel's introduction leads to the conclusion that the two are related.
As I interpret it, the demon Grendel is a symbol for the terrible problem of succession that the Danes suffered time and again. The unstable nature of the court and th...
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Tharaud, Barry. “Anglo-Saxon Language and Traditions in Beowulf.” In Readings on Beowulf, edited by Stephen P. Thompson. San Diego: Greenhaven Press,1998.
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