Beowulf as The Bad Guy
Beowulf is portrayed as the hero of the epic poem Beowulf (c1200), although he is in reality the villain. Throughout the poem the poet, who is unknown, believes Beowulf to be a hero because of his strength and loyalty to his people. However, his pursuit for heroic status was so dominating that it motivated his jealousy, selfishness and greed. Beowulf is a tale about a boastful soldier whose motive in life is purely self-beneficial; he exploits the vulnerability of Grendel, Grendel?s mother and eventually the dragon to gain fame, money and power. Beowulf is a typical primitive whose evil actions brought him recognition and immortality, he is a product of the society that the poet lives. Beowulf stood for himself and himself alone.
Grendel is a hero and a symbol of the oppressed. Although he does not represent the traditional hero, he is a hero within a society of separates. Grendel is a ?monster? that has been excluded from Heorot because his ideas and values do not fit the norms of the society. In turn, he seemingly believed that slaughtering and destroying Heorot was his only way of releasing his frustration of exile. Heorot and its people expressed their thoughts, feelings, and personalities through music, laughter and dance, ?It harrowed [Grendel] every day in the hall?? (87). Grendel has been excluded from the society: ?he had dwelt for a time in misery among the banished monsters, Cain?s clan, whom the Creator had outlawed and condemned as outcasts? (104). Grendel was not only a representative of the individual but of all the individuals who are strangers. Grendel?s thoughts conflicted with those of Heorot; it gave him joy to kill thirty men, as it gave Beowulf joy to brag about his ?strength of thirty in the grip of each hand? (380). Grendel did not follow the scripts in which society judges an individual. He was a murderer and a monster for his actions, while Beowulf symbolized a hero and leader.
Beowulf?s constant boasting is seen through the epic. From the start Beowulf defends himself and denounces other people to look superior. ?Well friend Unferth, you have had your say about Breca and me. But it was mostly beer that was doing the talking? (530). Beowulf speaks of the swimming contest with Breca, ?I was the strongest swimmer of them all? (534), constantly bragging of his strength, even though he had lost the contest. ?But Breca could never move out farther or faster from me? (541).
Beowulf is so obsessed with his personal image and courageous pursuits that he seems unaware that Grendel might have family. Beowulf has no family; he lives for his selfish deeds and for the fame he receives from his efforts. He kills Grendel ?on a great errand? (270) and assumes when ?Grendel was driven under the fen-banks, fatally hurt, to his desolate lair? (818) that he had saved the people of Heorot. He accepts the gifts and rewards which Hrothgar pays him and joins the celebration in the mead-hall. However, Grendel?s mother comes to avenge her son?s death and the rejoicing society crumbles. Beowulf is so caught up in narcissism that the society ?he had healed and relieved a huge distress? (829) is brought down. There was no more joy in Heorot when mother came to seek payment for the death of her son. Yet, since she and her son are monsters, the society has no remorse when they are killed.
Beowulf?s egotistical actions further prove he is not a true hero. Although readers assume his qualities mark a hero, his thoughts and ideas pollute his heroism. ?When it comes to fighting, I count myself as dangerous any day as Grendel? (677). He leads his people by alienating them, and lives only for the idea of idolization, which he receives when ?They sang then and played to please the hero, words and music for their warrior prince, harp tunes and adventures? (1062). Ironically he achieves immortality through his adventures and accomplishments when they are told today. Beowulf?s greed motivated him to kill Grendel; Hrothgar ?presented Beowulf with a gold standard as a victory gift, and embroided banner; also breast-mail and a helmet, and a sword carried high, that was both precious object and a token of honor? (1020). Beowulf wanted to fight Grendel alone so he would receive all the glory, rewards and pleasures that followed. His crude behavior is recorded and applauded in this epic.
After the battle with Grendel?s mother, Beowulf returns with Grendel?s head, as some sort of trophy. He gave the head to Hrothgar as a gift to prove to the leader and society that he is the almighty warrior, however, if he were truly omnipotent, he would not have to prove his greatness. Beowulf?s shallowness of disrupting the body of Grendel after it lay dead was unnecessary and tasteless. Beowulf?s actions proved to be obnoxious and demeaning to the corpse. There was no need to taunt and rave a body part at the people, it was already accepted by society that Beowulf was a hero; however, these actions prove otherwise. Grendel was a lonely monster, who was indifferent and rejected due to society’s fear of unfamiliarity. Beowulf continued to enforce the prejudices towards the outsiders through his bragging and heartlessness.
Beowulf portrays a classic case of appearance versus reality; he is portrayed by the writer to be a hero although he is not. The poet insists that Beowulf is a hero because he has the characteristics a hero might portray, however, his self worth out weighed the loyalty he assumed for the society. His narcissistic personality forces him to treat others as inferior and demoralizes the ones who are different. Beowulf is an example of a villain since he is avaricious, self-absorbed and intolerant of disloyalty. Grendel proves to be a hero in the world of the outsider. Although he spends his days outside society, he is there against his wishes. Grendel wants to belong, but cannot. His actions are purely for justice of the unbalance in society; Beowulf is out for the good of himself, though actually cruel and unjust.