Grendel watches a great horned goat attempt to ascend the cliffside toward the mere. Angered by the goat’s dogged pursuit, Grendel yells at the creature. When the goat does not respond, Grendel reacts by throwing trees and stones at it. The goat continues to climb even after its skull has been split, and appears to continue climbing even after it dies.
That evening, Grendel goes to watch the humans and their daily routines. An old woman tells a group of children about a giant with the strength of thirty thanes who will come across the sea someday. Later that same night, Grendel watches as people gather at the bedside of the ailing Shaper. The Shaper tries to make a prediction about the fate of the Danes, but he dies before he can finish the sentence. About an hour later, the news of the Shaper’s death arrives at the house of a sleeping nobleman, whose middle-aged wife seems to have shared an unspoken, unconsummated love with the Shaper. Grendel watches old women prepare the Shaper for burial, and then he returns home to the mere.
Back in the cave, Grendel’s mother is progressing further and further into insanity. Sensing some impending doom, she tries to prevent Grendel from leaving the safety of the cave. She struggles to speak her fears, but the only thing she can say besides her usual “Dool-dool” is the nonsense phrase “Warovvish.” Despite his mother’s protests, Grendel decides to attend the Shaper’s funeral.
At the funeral, the Shaper’s assistant, now a grown man, takes the Shaper’s harp to sing a song of a king named Finn, who battles with the Danes, his wife’s kinsmen. Finn’s troops are decimated in the battle, and King Hnaef of the Danes—the brother of Finn’s wife—is killed. Finn and the Danes make a truce, and Finn becomes lord of the Danes. Hengest, a Danish thane, resents Finn and misses his home. As soon as winter turns to spring, Hengest leads his men into battle against Finn. Finn is killed, and Hengest, the queen, and the Danes sail back to Denmark. After the Shaper’s assistant finishes the song, the funeral pyre is lit, and the Shaper’s body is burnt.
That night, Grendel awakens suddenly and thinks he hears the goat climbing up the cliff wall. His mother continues to make unintelligible sounds, and Grendel deciphers “Warovvish” to mean “Beware the fish.” Grendel is filled once again with a vague foreboding. He makes reference to another monster he has met in the woods, a wild old woman. He smells the dragon and finally decides to sleep, leaving his war for the springtime, as is his custom. Grendel wakes a final time in terror, imagining hands on his throat.
Grendel’s vague feelings of foreboding and anticipation intensify greatly in this chapter, while Grendel tries even harder to stamp them down. He appears to be receiving messages from the world around him. Some of these messages are blatant, like his mother’s ravings and the old woman’s pronouncement; some are more cryptic, like the goat’s mindless climb and the death of the Shaper. Everything around Grendel has become stale, dull and tedious. Despite his assertion that “there is nothing to expect,” he still finds himself awaiting a major change. The first step in that process of change is the death of the extremely influential Shaper. The Shaper’s passing not only ends an epoch for Grendel but also the very notion of history itself. The Shaper organizes historical detail in such a way that it gives meaning to the present moment. The Shaper’s glorification of Hrothgar’s ancestors, for example, legitimizes Hrothgar’s own rule. In his claim that Grendel is descended from Cain, the world’s first murderer, the Shaper employs a notion of history and lineage to justify Grendel’s extermination. Upon the Shaper’s death, Grendel finds that history has lost all its meaning. Events that occurred in the past stay in the past: neither the glorious deeds of Scyld Shefing nor Grendel’s own atrocities exists in the present moment.
The story of King Finn, Hengest, and the Danes, sung by the assistant at the Shaper’s funeral, is also sung in the Beowulf poem. The original Beowulf poet acquired the tale from another, unnamed Anglo-Saxon poem, the only remaining piece of which is known as the Finnesburgh Fragment. In Beowulf, the Danes’ scop, or bard, sings the song in celebration of Grendel’s destruction. The tragic fate of the song’s Queen Hildeburh—the wife of King Finn—foreshadows the ill-fated alliance of Freawaru and King Ingeld, leader of the rival Heathobard clan. Gardner alludes to this alliance in the next chapter, but only in passing. The true significance of the song lies in the section that Gardner actually chooses to quote, in which Hengest—who took over the Danish troops after the death of Hnaef—decides to enact revenge upon the Frisians rather than return to Denmark. Hengest has spent the winter stewing in his hate for King Finn. The coming of the spring brings freedom to Hengest and a decisive victory for the Danish people over their enemies. Grendel, in its journey through the calendrical year, is approaching the same season. The defeat of Finn at the end of the winter anticipates Grendel’s defeat at the same time of year. That the song is sung at Grendel’s death in Beowulf reinforces this association. Paradoxically, Spring has become a time that holds the promise of both life and death.
Grendel’s encounter with the goat echoes his encounter with the ram at the very beginning of the novel. The earlier scene is broadly comic, as Gardner surprises us by having Grendel, a fourth-century beast, use very foul modern language. The ram, meanwhile, is a drooling, idiotic animal that would be right at home in a cartoon—indeed, on numerous occasions, Gardner cited the influence of cartoons on his work. Grendel yells at the ram and, receiving no response, goes on his way, grumbling and cursing the stupidity of animals. Here, the encounter with the goat shares many of the same contours as the incident with the ram. Grendel stands at the top of the cliff wall and spies a mindless animal that he tries to shoo away. The slightly vulgar comedy of the first incident, however, turns into something much more violently grotesque. The violence remains cartoonish and over-the-top, but the image of the goat’s broken skull is genuinely disconcerting. Earlier, with the ram, Grendel is able to dismiss the animal and walk away. Now, however, something won’t let Grendel leave the goat alone, and he becomes obsessed with stopping it. While Grendel attributes the ram’s single-mindedness to stupidity, the goat’s single-mindedness frightens Grendel with its more sinisterly mechanical pursuit. The goat upsets Grendel because it represents the inexorable approach of death and because it causes Grendel to see his own pointless, self-destructive path mirrored in the goat’s interminable climb.
by beowulfgeek, December 19, 2012
Spent a lot of years working on 'Beowulf' and I reckon that the monsters represent human characters. In my view: Grendel represents Agnar, son of Ingeld; Grendel's Mum represents the daughter of Earl Swerting of Sweden (and the first wife of Ingeld); and the Dragon represents Onela, king of the Swedes. I think that there has been a scribal error right at the beginning of the poem, which has made Scyld's 'bearn' (Modern English, 'bairn') into Beowulf the First. Thus the real parallels of the poem have been lost.
As far as the first tw
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