Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 793
Esher: Hrothgar’s close friend and advisor, killed by Grendel’s mother
Grendel’s mother, wanting revenge for her son’s murder, attacks the Danes as they sleep in Herot for the first time in 12 years. Awakened, the soldiers grab their swords as she takes Esher and flees for her life. Shouts erupt from Herot when the soldiers realize Grendel’s mother absconded with her son’s claw, as well. Hrothgar sends for Beowulf, who was sleeping elsewhere in more comfort with his own men. When they reach Hrothgar, the sorrowful king explains what has happened and asks Beowulf to once again slay the monster who threatens his people.
Once Beowulf agrees, Hrothgar leads his soldiers in following the monster’s tracks through the forest to the rocky hills and slippery cliffs, and then to a lake with bloody, bubbling water. The Danes see Esher’s bloody head on the cliff above the lake and sound their battle horns, scaring away the snakes, serpents, and sea beasts who live in the lake. Beowulf wounds one of these creatures, which is fished out of the lake to be examined by all. He dons his woven mail armor, knowing he will need it to protect himself from the monster’s claws. Unferth then lends Hrunting, his sword, to Beowulf.
Ready, Beowulf gives Hrothgar instructions as to the disposition of his possessions should he die; he then leaps into the lake. His descent is lengthy and terminates in Grendel’s mother’s arms.
Seeing she cannot harm him through the armor he wears, she carries him to her lair which is actually a battlehall. While he is unable to free his sword, other creatures come to investigate and stay to attempt attacking him through his shirt of woven mail. The roof of the battlehall protects Beowulf from both the heat of the water and the other creatures. Beowulf attacks with Hrunting, but to no avail; nor is his helmet effective in protecting him from Grendel’s mother.
He attempts to fight the she monster barehanded in his fury at the thought of losing fame because his weapons and helmet are ineffective. As he grows tired, his opponent overthrows him and sits on his stomach while she draws a dagger. Again, his armor saves him.
He spies a magical sword made by giants hanging on the wall of the battlehall and uses it to kill Grendel’s mother via a slice to the neck which breaks the bones therein. A brilliant light begins to shine and Beowulf uses it to hunt for Grendel. He finds the monster’s corpse and beheads it.
The Danish soldiers and their king have already left after spending most of the day staring into the lake and discussing Beowulf’s almost certain death. Steadfast, the Geats remain as the sword melts, the treasures in the lair are uncovered, and Beowulf returns through the now clear waters of the lake with Grendel’s head and the unmelted hilt of the jeweled giants’ sword. The Geats carry Beowulf’s armor and helmet, as they do Grendel’s head (which he wants to bring to Hrothgar) while the lake’s water becomes thick with the blood of Grendel’s mother. Upon reaching Herot, Beowulf carries the head by its hair directly to Hrothgar where he and his queen sit drinking.
Discussion and Analysis
Hrothgar, in his grief at the appearance of another monster and the killing of his close friend and advisor, Esher, seems to despair at Grendel’s mother’s appearance, perhaps thinking this portends another 12 years of silence in Herot. Rather than test his soldiers’ weapons to ascertain if they are as useless against the mother as they were against the son, he simply assumes they are—even though it is the now-dead son who bewitched them. By immediately sending for Beowulf, and then by losing faith in Beowulf’s potential for victory over Grendel’s mother so quickly, it seems as if Hrothgar has given up all hope of protecting his people and his land.
Beowulf, for his part, is only too happy to tend to Grendel’s mother in the hopes of achieving more fame. He offers no excuses when Hrothgar asks for his intervention and, in his response to the Danish king’s appeal, notes “fame after death is the noblest of all goals.” True to his feeling, when Hrunting and his helmet are ineffective against Grendel’s mother, he becomes angry at the thought of being robbed of the glory of killing another monster and fights her barehanded, as he had her son. It seems Beowulf remembers the lessons he’s learned from the past too well, while Hrothgar forgets his too soon and too easily.
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