character similarities and differences between Grendel and Beowulf based on the classic poem, Beowulf. I would like some specific quotations (at least 5) to support the paragraphs in which the two characters are compared.

Beowulf and Grendel are two of the key protagonists of the poem. Both are similar in that they fight for what they believe and are courageous. Both are dissimilar in that whilst Beowulf is popular and acclaimed possessing characteristics that make him hero to and applauded by society, Grendel is described as malignant and an outcast.

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Who was Beowulf?

Beowulf, bairn of the Scyldings,

Beloved land-prince, for long-lasting season

Was famed mid the folk (1-5)

Beowulf exemplifies the traits of the perfect hero. The poem explores demonstrations of his heroism in youth and maturity and analyzes his heroism through his struggles with Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the dragon.

Beowulf was famed for his courage and prowess manifested by his fabled swimming match against Breca. In the first part of the poem, we learn how Beowulf emerges as the savior of Denmark, having purged it of its plague, and he is prepared for ascension to the throne. The young Beowulf matures in power and strength as well as sagacity, and his power takes a different form — it becomes more sagacious and thoughtful — as he matures. The older Beowulf is still courageous and brave albeit in a more selfless, other-directed way.

Grendel, too, is a courageous creature. He ventures forth into the reputed Beowulf’s court and steals his noblemen. The act is described as “Grendel’s prowess” (13)

The interesting thing is that both Beowulf and Grendel, the one human the other animals, are both marked and vivified by emotion and a certain recklessness. Beowulf’s last fight is a reckless impetuous one; we see the hero sacrificing himself, unnecessarily leaving his people leaderless and vulnerable to external threats. His fight with the dragon seems to be rash, and the poem implies as such. Grendel too comes across as an impulsive, emotional being. Animal though he is, we see his internal life indicated, for instance, by his loneliness in the swamplands and his longing to be restored to human society.

Here the similarities end.

Beowulf was beloved. He embodies the manners and values that are applauded by the Germanic code including loyalty, courage, and manliness. He is the perfect medieval knight and gentleman who is extolled and romanticized by his country.

Grendel, on the other hand, was an outcast. He is a member of “Cain’s clan, whom the creator had outlawed / and condemned as outcasts.” (106 — 107). This is a monster — no polished member of aristocratic society and, indeed, Grendel is uncouth, possesses many bestial qualities and is marked by a monstrous, grotesque appearance.

A foe in the hall-building: this horrible stranger2

Was Grendel entitled, the march-stepper famous

Who3 dwelt in the moor-fens, the marsh and the fastness;

The wan-mooded being abode for a season (49-52)

There can be no greater difference between the two: Beowulf is eagerly embraced and established as central icon in his society. Grendel is inferred to stem from a murderer, a maligned person who was forced to wander the earth and branded as a villain. Beowulf was famous; Grendel was infamous; Beowulf beloved, Grendel scorned — and this is the greatest difference between the two.

Moreover, whilst Grendel’s bitterness may be traced to his status of outcast, nonetheless, his character is distinctly different from that of Beowulf in that Beowulf was a sunny, compassionate, benevolent man who cared about his subjects and sacrificed his life for them. Grendel, on the other hand, was “[m]malignant by nature” and, says the poem, he has “never show[n] remorse” (137).

His actions, in fact, are shown in the opening saga when he steals the nobles form Beowulf’s court. He does so in the following way:

Misery knew not. The monster of evil

Greedy and cruel tarried but little,

He drags off thirty of them, and devours them

Fell and frantic, and forced from their slumbers

Thirty of thanemen; thence he departed

Leaping and laughing, his lair to return to,

With surfeit of slaughter sallying homeward. (6-11)

Compare this to the description of Beowulf’s feat described, for instance, in his battle for Hrothgar (chap. IV). Grendel acts surreptitiously; Beowulf conducts all his actions in an open, bold manner consulting with his followers, bidding them farewell, strategizing, marshaling his resources, and directly approaching his enemy . The poem indicates Beowulf’s transparency and integrity.

In short, Beowulf and Grendel are alike in that both are courageous, human, three-dimensional characters who punctuate the poem with their impetuosity, emotion, and will. On the other hand, differences are marked in that Beowulf is the paragon gentleman, beloved of Denmark and chivalrous as well as altruistic in manner and spirit. Grendel, on the other hand, is a grotesque monster who, outcast as he is, scorns the world and cares only for himself.


Beowulf: An , Translated From The Heyne-Socin

Text by Lesslie Hall. The Project Gutenberg EBook of Beowulf