What are some allusions in Beowulf

Keyword: Beowulf

The Thematic Opposition of Grendels - The Methodical Approach

This article is devoted to the thematic opposition of the Grendel figure. [1] The objects of investigation of this article are Robert Zemecki's 2007 film The legend of Beowulf and the Old English primary text Beowulf. Both objects are examined under the following question: To what extent does the thematic opposition of the Grendel figure differ in Old English Beowulf from the film released in 2007 The legend of Beowulf? It is postulated that Grendel represents a thematic counterpart in the film as well as in the primary text. However, this anti-relationship differs greatly in the film and in the book. In the primary text, Grendel represents the counterpart to the Christian order of the Danes and is thus the embodiment of the metaphysical absence of the good. [2] This metaphysical-theological concept of the Grendel figure is translated into a post-modern interpretation in the film. In the film, Grendel thus represents the dark side of the human soul, more precisely the soul of Hrothgar. In order to examine this postulate, the history of the origins of the Grendel figure must first be presented in more detail in both works. The focus of the investigation in the primary text is on the dichotomy of the Danes and their values, whereas the analysis of the film focuses on the dichotomy between Hrothgar and Grendel.

Grendel and Cain - Grendel as the embodiment of the absence of good in Beowulf

The introduction of the Grendel figure already brings many references to the demonic nature of Grendel. Grendel is "an enemy from hell" [3], a "grim spirit" [4] and a "horrible marauder" [5]. The line of descent of the Grendel figure goes back directly to Cain in the primary text, but not to the antediluvian giants. [6] In his studies of the manuscript, Orchard points out that the author of the work deliberately chose this distinction. Isaiah 26:14 gigantes non resurgent (The Giants shall not rise again) is the author's reference point, which denies the continued existence of antediluvian giants and which was adopted by the author of the text. [7] In fact, Grendel is rather an antitypical descendant of Cain, since Grendel, like Cain, wears once:

In Beowulf we are told that Cain went 'guilty' or 'marked' (fag) into the wastes [...] Grendel too, of course, is fag and is explicitly described as the "enemy of mankind" (feond mancynnes; mancynnes feond), shortly after each of the passages on Cain (lines 164 and 1276), so underlining the parallel still further. [8]

However, the lineage of Cain does not explain why monsters like Grendel continue to haunt the earth and how exactly Grendel's lineage is secured after the flood. A clue can be found in the origin of the sword, which Beowulf finds in the underwater cave of Grendels and his mother and with the help of which he can kill them both. "A sharp old sword of a giant hand" [9] points to the story of Ham, one of the biblical sons of Noah. According to Orchard, Ham is repeatedly seen in various Old English texts and theological debates as the “second Cain” and as the reason for the continued existence of evil in the world. [10] Through him the corrupt arts of the giants survived and so he too was cursed by God. However, there are many more ancestry stories that the author of the Beowulf which are not discussed further here.

So Grendel probably descends from Cain or Ham. This genealogy of Grendel, which the author of the text accomplishes directly with the introduction of the figure, places him in an oppositional relationship with the Danes and Gauts, descendants of Japhet. However, the author does not stop here and continues this relationship in the course of the work in order to underline that Grendel is more than just an antitype, because Grendel is the dichotomous counter-position to the good and his opposition to the Danes is a continuation of the Cain's battle against God. [11] The first mention of Grendel brings him into the thematic opposition to the "bright song of the Scops", [12] a song about the creation of the world, the people and a praise of God. "Grollend endured" [13] Grendel, "who lived in the darkness" [14], this song, which puts him in opposition to the "loud cheers" [15] and the "happy goings-on" [16] of the Danes. His aversion to the sun is also explained here, since it was set as God's sign of victory. [17] The subsequent cannibalistic massacre of Grendel is seen by Anderson as a continuation of this thematic opposition. Because after the Danes finished their own feast at nightfall, Grendel began his. [18] Anderson sees the massacre and the nightly occupation of the hall by Grendel as Grendel's thematic opposition to the Danish court: “light versus darkness, joy versus misery, music versus noise, companionship versus slaughter, sleep versus night-stalking, feasting versus cannibalism, community versus solipsism . ”[19] Another example of the thematic opposition can be found in Beowulf's fight with Grendel. The fight with Beowulf shows his thematic opposition to the Nordic ideal of honorable combat and bravery. Grendel's immunity to weapons is magical; he bewitched himself with a protective spell. This is also an indication of the forbidden arts of the giants. [20] This lack of chivalry only earned him ridicule on the part of Beowulf. [21] But as soon as the duel between him and Beowulf breaks out and Grendel realizes that Beowulf is on a par with him, the latter panics and flees, not interested and too cowardly for a fight on equal terms. [22]

Grendel and Hrothgar - Grendel as the embodiment of evil in humans

Robert Zemecki's film presents a different, postmodern interpretation of the Grendel figure. In Zemecki's film, Grendel's male lineage does not go back to Cain, but to Hrothgar, the Danish king:

Wealthow: […] Grendel. Our curse. He is my husband’s shame.
Beowulf: Not a shame, but a curse.
Wealthow: Shame. Hrothgar has no ... other sons ...
And he will have no more, for all his talk. [23]

This difference has a strong influence on Grendel's thematic opposition. Unlike in the primary text, Grendel's thematic opposition is now not the external struggle between good and evil. Rather, it is now an internal struggle. For this reason, the focus in this section should be on the thematic opposition and exaggeration of the bad qualities of Hrothgar in the Grendel figure. As in the primary text, the first confrontation between Grendel and Hrothgar takes place due to the noises from the Heorot festival hall. In contrast to the primary text, however, it is not the “song of the scope”, the content of which lures Grendel out of his cave, but the noise of a dissolute festival. [24] Hrothgar is portrayed as a naked, immoderate drunkard, the exaggeration of which is reflected in the subsequent cannibal feast of the likewise naked Grendel. [25] The motif of the cannibalistic, nocturnal feast was taken from the primary text and transposed. The character oppositions don't stop there, however. Grendel's sensitivity to noise and the loudness of Hrothgar represent a further opposition: he is introduced directly in his loud voice: “The King is happy, shouting loudly enough to be heard by the furthest dog” [26] and “Hrothgar is laughing loudly at some dirty joke. ”[27] The last section in particular already points to the next opposition; the infantile and innocent Grendels versus the old and wicked Hrothgar:

While Grendel is not human, if he were human, he would be retarded, perhaps brain-damaged. He is honestly a sweet and gentle person, except in the matter of eating people, and then only when driven mad with noise.
Grendel begins to play with the spear (and the head on it) as if it were a puppet. [28]

This childlike-innocent Grendel brings a dichotomous tension between his asexuality, he is depicted without genitals, and the hypersexuality of Grendel's mother, including the seduction of Hrothgar. At various points in the film it is shown that there is no sexual intercourse in the relationship between Hrothgar and Wealthow. The reason for this seems to be the betrayal of his wife with Grendel's mother. An interpretation in this sense could relate the asexual nature of Grendels to the relationship between Hrothgar and Wealthow. [29]

Monster and the cultural change of perspective on them

The contemporary processing of medieval texts and their monsters must inevitably bring a new perspective. This article tried to investigate this using the Grendel figure in the Beowulf. In both versions of the legend, Grendel represents a hurdle and a thematic opposition, but this hurdle is located differently in both works. Beowulf's primary text seems to see the monstrous as a thematic opposition to the good. The identity of Grendel as a troll is irrelevant. [30] He is not characterized by what he is, but by his opposition to the good. This portrayal of evil in personified form is an obstacle in the primary text that must be overcome in Beowulf's quest, a pursuit of glory and the heroic. Risden describes this search for fame as an external search for meaning, recognition, etc. [31] The monster is such a representation of the hurdles that humans have to overcome in search of meaning and a way to create something larger than themselves that can outlast their own death. [32] This external focus of the monsters gives way to the Freudian revolution. By taking the Christian motif out of focus in the film, the opposition appears individual. The monsters' focus moves internally; epic battlefields give way to the inner struggle of the psyche. The monster as a hurdle remains. Examination of Zemecki's film seems to indicate this change. No longer just as the embodiment of the evil that must be overcome, the Grendel figure is used to characterize the weaknesses of Hrothgar and man. His weakness in the face of Grendel's seductive mother shows a struggle with himself and the consequences of his actions.


[1] Bibliography

Primary literature

Beowulf. An old English heroic epic. Lehnert, Martin (ed.); Stuttgart: Reclam 2004.

Secondary literature

Anderson, Earl R .: Understanding Beowulf as an Indo-European epic: a study in comparative my-thology. Lewiston [et al.]: Edwin Mellen 2010.

Becker, Ernest: The Denial of Death. New York: Simon & Schuster 1973

Gaiman, Neil & Avary, Roger: Beowulf. The Script Book. With in-sights form the authers, their early concept art, and the first and last drafts of the script for the film. New York: HarperCollins 2007.

Haydock, Nickolas; Risden, E.L .: Beowulf on Film. Adaptations and Variations. London: McFarland 2013

Orchard, Andy: Pride and Prodigies. Studies in the Monsters of the Be-owulf Manuscript. Cambridge: Brewer 1995.

[2] This formulation for the word "evil" is chosen deliberately, since evil in the theological-medieval sense does not exist, since one would assume that God could create evil.

[3] See Beowulf. An old English heroic epic. Lehnert, Martin (ed.); Stuttgart: Reclam 2004, p.33. V. 101.

[4] Beowulf V. 102.

[5] Beowulf V. 103.

[6] Cf. Beowulf V. 103-108.

[7] Orchard, Andy: Pride and Prodigies. Studies in the Monsters of the Beowulf Manuscript. Cambridge: Brewer 1995, 58.

[8] Orchard 1995, p. 61.

[9] Beowulf p.101 V. 1556.

[10] Orchard 1995, p.70.

[11] Anderson, Earl R .: Understanding Beowulf as an Indo-European epic: a study in comparative mythology. Lewiston [et al.]: Edwin Mellen 2010, p.95.

[12] Beowulf p.32 V. 90.

[13] Beowulf p.32 V. 86.

[14] Beowulf p.32 V. 87.

[15] Beowulf p.32 V. 88.

[16] Beowulf, p.33 V. 99.

[17] Cf. Beowulf, p. 33, v. 94.

[18] Cf. Anderson, Earl R .: Understanding Beowulf as an Indo-European epic: a study in comparative mythology. Lewiston [et al.]: Edwin Mellen 2010, p.93.

[19] Anderson p. 93.

[20] Cf. Beowulf p.62f V. 798-804.

[21] Cf. Beowulf p.57f V. 681-685.

[22] Cf. Beowulf p.63 V. 813-821.

[23] Gaiman, Neil / Avary, Roger: Beowulf. The Script Book. With insights form the authers, their early concept art, and the first and last drafts of the script for the film. New York: HarperCollins 2007, p.35, scene 54.

[24] Cf. Beowulf Script: p.5, scene 15.

[25] Cf. Beowulf Script: p.7 scene 20.

[26] Beowulf Script: p.1 scene 1.

[27] Beowulf Script: p.2 scene 4.

[28] Beowulf Script: p.25 scene 41.

[29] Beowulf Script: p.11 scene 24, p.35 scene 54, p.2 scene 4.

[30] Anderson p.94.

[31] Haydock, Nickolas; Risden, E.L .: Beowulf on Film. Adaptations and Variations. London: McFarland 2013, 6.

[32] In this context the investigation of heroism in Becker, Ernest: The Denial of Death. New York: Simon & Schuster 1973. This type of heroism is described by Becker as individual heroism, in which people try to create a legacy through individual action that outlives them. This is in contrast to cultural heroism, which tries to do the same through social roles. Pp. 7-13.