As being one of the first great works of English national literature, Beowulf contains many supernatural situations and creatures. To start off the epic, there is a description of a beautiful mead-hall called Herot. It then explains how it is terrorized every night by a hideous monster named Grendel. After dusk, when Hrothgar the king of the Danes, and his thanes are asleep, Grendel slithers out with thirst for blood. With rumors spreading around the country and villages, Beowulf, a strong hero, feels empathy for the city and its people. He decides to help eradicate the merciless imp from the prosperous city ruled by Hrothgar. Beowulf eventually battles Grendel hand to claw. So in Beowulf, translated by Burton Raffel, the character of Grendel is portrayed as naturally evil, jealous, and cowardly.
Grendel is considered to be naturally evil because he was born to create despair, pain, and agony in innocent human beings. In the story the author describes Grendel as an evil omen, “He was spawned in that slime, conceived by a pair of those monsters born of Cain” (Raffel 21). Since Cain killed his brother Abel, becoming the first murderer of the Earth, Cain was eternally cursed by God. With that implication, Cain is pictured as the root of all evil, explaining Grendel’s natural evilness. It was a trait he was born with and a trait dragged along throughout his life. So Grendel’s actions which caused desolation, ache, and distress are known to have resulted from the actions of his ancestry.
Through Grendel’s actions and motives, jealousy can be analyzed throughout Beowulf. In the beginning of the epic, the author explains how the monster is able to hear celebration in Herot. Raffel translates, “A powerful monster, living down in the darkness, grounded in pain, impatient as day after day the music rang loud in that hall, the harp’s rejoicing call and poets clear song… warriors sang of their pleasures, So Hrothgar’s men lived happy in his hall till the monster stirred…” (Raffel 21). Through these descriptions, the author tries to convey that Grendel is jealous of the joyful, festive people in Herot. Grendel’s jealousy is noticed when it was implied he was “impatient” to create chaos and darkness, characteristics comparable to his life and his home. Additionally, Grendel “grounded in pain” when he acknowledged that people were living a life that wasn’t as dark and sinful as his. “So Grendel ruled, fought with righteous, one against many, and won, so Herot stood empty, and stayed deserted for years…” (Raffel 22). It is believed that Grendel envied Hrothgar’s prosperity with a great kingdom. Unfortunately for Grendel, he was not able to get near Hrothgar because “he never dared to touch King Hrtohgar’s glorious throne, protected by God” (Raffel 23). With this hold back, Grendel’s only means of eliminating his jealousy was by creating chaos in the once happy kingdom. So through Grendel’s actions and motives, he was able to attempt to exterminate his jealousy that existed in his subconscious mind.
Through a series of actions and peoples’ response, Grendel is considered a coward. After describing how Grendel is evil, the author illustrates his acts on how he kills and haunts the people in the infamous Herot. The author writes, “He found them sprawled in sleep, suspecting nothing, their dreams undisturbed… he slipped through the door and there in the silence snatched up thirty men, smashing them unknowing in their bed and ran out with their bodies, the blood dripping behind him, back to his lair, delighted with his night’s slaughter” (Raffel 22). Finding the easiest and non-confrontational way to kill people, Grendel murders the people in Herot at their most vulnerable times. This proves how much of a coward Grendel really was—“no savage assault quenches his lust for evil.” During the scene where Beowulf established his ambush plan, Grendel slipped in the hall, killing a young warrior. Once Beowulf sought the right time to attack, he commenced the battle man-handling Grendel. This caused Grendel’s “ mind to [flood] with fear” and his “one thought was to run from Beowulf and flee back to his marsh and hide there” (Raffel 23). Additional to the evidence that Grendel is a coward, he was obviously afraid of confrontation and battle with Beowulf since his first thought was to flee the scene. The author wrote “after that bloody combat the Danes laughed with delight” which showed how Grendel’s reputation as a merciless, gruesome monster downgraded as a cowardly fool. When describing Grendel, coward is a good adjective since he lacked bravery and pride when it came to battle.
Throughout Beowulf, Grendel is shown to be naturally evil, jealous, and cowardly through the attributes such as his actions, motives, and peoples' responses. Grendel was naturally evil since his ancestor was Cain, the root of all evil dwelling the earth. Grendel is jealous of Hrothgar’s and Herot’s peace, happiness, and prosperity because he had none of those attributes in his life. He was portrayed as a coward since he chose to kill people at their most vulnerable states. He was also filled with fear when battling Beowulf. Grendel was an interesting character that had many traits which made him an immoral, envious, spineless supernatural being.