What is Beowulf's behavior before and during his battle with Grendel?

Expert Answers

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

Beowulf shows himself to be a brave young man desperate to prove himself as a warrior. Despite his relative youth, he knows that he is different from other men, and that if anyone can defeat the blood-thirsty monster Grendel, it's him. Beowulf is also possessed with excess pride. Ultimately it will prove his undoing when, as king of Geatland, he will engage in one fight too many. But for now, Beowulf's hubris enables him to perform truly epic feats of daring, like swimming for five days and nights in icy seas while carrying a sword, and battling deadly sea monsters.

As well as arrogance and boastfulness—witness his outrageous disrespect of Unferth—Beowulf's excessive pride leads him to answer Hrothgar's SOS call without a moment's hesitation and head on over to Denmark to slay Grendel. Beowulf may be boastful and positively bursting at he seams with pride, but he's not like Achilles; he does have a wider sense of responsibility to others.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

Posted on

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

Beowulf's behavior is that of a typical hero in the epic tradition. First, we have Beowulf sailing to the aid of Hrothgar to reciprocate for Hrothgar's helping his father. This shows Beowulf to be of noble and responsible character, loyal to his family and embedded within a reciprocal network of social and military obligations. Beowulf engages in a battle of words with Unferth, and in his description of the swimming contest and vanquishing of the sea monster does two things, foreshadows his victory over Grendel (who is also a monster associated with the sea) and begins a classic pattern of the boasting in which heroes of oral epics typically indulge before a major battle. 

At the start of the battle, Beowulf remembers his boasts and uses them to grant him to courage to fight Grendel. Because no weapon can wound Grendel, Beowulf rips off the monster's arm, and afterwards it is displayed as a trophy. Beowulf then attends a banquet and is richly rewarded by Hrothgar. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

Posted on

Soaring plane image

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