How does Grendel plague Heorot in Beowulf?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

We read very early in the poem that Hrothgar's men "dreamum lifdon," or lived in joy, until such time as Grendel came to disturb them. The Ring-Danes used their great hall after their "beorthege," or beer-feasts, to sleep, and they knew no sorrow there—until such time as Grendel decided to attack them. It is implied that Grendel quickly comes to recognize that the men he finds in the hall on these occasions are less able to defend themselves than usual, due to their inebriation. After each feast, then, Grendel begins to invade the hall and take home multiple bodies to eat in private. When the survivors wake up in the morning, they see that their fellow thanes have been killed and are naturally much aggrieved about it—Hrothgar most of all. But Grendel returns to the hall repeatedly to perpetuate this kind of villainy until, eventually, the thanes no longer feel safe to stay in the hall after their feasts and will not sleep there. Symbolically, Grendel has forced them out of their refuge and the protection of their lord.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

After the King of the Danes, Hrothgar, builds a mead hall called Heorot, the Danes enjoy singing and playing the harp there. Their rejoicing evokes ire in Grendel, who was a "prowler about the borders of the homes of men, who held the moors, the fens, and fastness" (Clarence Griffin Child translation). Grendel is the descendant of Cain, doomed by God for Cain's slaughter of Abel. He prowls about the moors waiting to attack people. 

Grendel spies about Heorot after the Danes are drinking, and he decides after their merrymaking to slay their men. Then, he heads homeward "exultant over his spoil." Night after night, Grendel waits until dark and then ambushes the men. Grendel returns to Heorot to again murder Danes, who endure this situation for "twelve winters' season." The Danes are desperate for help until Beowulf arrives from abroad to slay Grendel. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial