The motif of vengeance runs throughout the poem Beowulf. The poet expresses the theme through numerous characters by intertwining current and past incidents. Notably, he interrupts the main plot with contextual digressions that relate to what is happening in the main story both explicitly and implicitly. Any of the characters who desire vengeance do so for different motives, but they do have one thing in common: they are compelled to do so by something. Many similar themes exist in both the digressions and the main plot, such as vengeance of man against man and man against beast. At the center of all this, the image of a hero, Beowulf is revealed even with the various stories swirling around him. Although the poem is structured around various themes, this essay will limit itself to the theme of revenge. Grendel, his mother, the dragon, as well as Beowulf embody the theme of revenge through their motivations as explored by the poet.
Grendel embodies revenge from the first instance the poet introduces him to the readers. Grendel has so much hatred for Heorot given that it represents everything that he finds annoying about human beings. In lines one through twenty of the poem, the poet gives the readers overview of Grendel, and his motivation for revenge. Grendel “conceived by…Cain, murderous creatures’ banished by God… there exile was bitter” (20-14). The poet in this instance brings out Grendel’s motivation for revenge against human beings since his ancestors were expelled by God. Specifically, Grendel hates the Danes, and how they enjoy life while he is banished. Indeed, Grendel gets his revenge when he goes to the mead hall “snatched up thirty men, smashed them” (37). Grendel motivation to make the Danes pay for the banishment of his ancestors is his main source of motivation for revenge. Consequently, he succeeds, not once but on several occasions. In the end Grendel comes into contact with Beowulf who revenges on behalf of the Danes to leave him wounded waiting for his death.
At the same time, Beowulf also embodies the theme of revenge in the poem. Indeed, Hrothgar believes that it is only Beowulf that can stop the ills that are being committed by Grendel against the Danes. For example “…protector of the Danes: Beowulf, you’ve come to us in friendship…” (190-191). Hrothgar continues to explain to Beowulf the wrongs that Grendel has committed against the Danes making the hall inhabitable “…what we’ve lost to his terror…stop his madness” (211-213). It is of merit to note that Beowulf’s father had maintained peace with the Danes, but Grendel’s constant attacks were threating this, and he had to act. This motivation finally ensured that Beowulf got his revenge on behalf of the Danes. Indeed, the poet notes that after their battle Grendel runaway “He had met a man whose hands were harder…Grendel’s one thought was to run from Beowulf…to his marsh and hide there” (275-279). In general, Beowulf had achieved his quest for revenge after the battle.
Additionally, Grendel’s mother further embodies revenge in the poem. The primary source of motivation for Grendel’s mother is to avenge the killing of her son by Beowulf. However, there is something human about her, an aspect that was not associated with Grendel. She is small and weak, and does not have protection from weapons, but this does not stop her from seeking revenge for her son. All along through their battles with Grendel, the Danes did not know that he had a mother. After his death, they thought that all was well “so she reached Herot where the Danes slept as though already dead” (397-398). She only took a single victim from Herot “…Hrothgar’s closest friend, the man he most loved of all men on earth” (414-415). By taking someone closest to the king hostage, Grendel’s mother had achieved her motivation to revenge the death of her son.
Lastly, the dragon also embodies the theme of revenge. Like other characters, the dragon also has an underlying motivation for revenge. The dragon is tasked with guarding the treasure tower, but when a thief for the Geats steals a cup, this angers him. It is of merit to note that Beowulf is now the king of Geats, and when the dragon starts terrorizing his people as a result of the thief’s mistakes, he decides to revenge. Although the dragon is finally slayed by Beowulf, he achieves revenge in some way as the wounds he had inflicted on him proved to be mortal as Beowulf also dies.
Conclusively, the theme of revenge is revealed by the poet through the characterization of Grendel, Beowulf, Grendel’s mother as well as the dragon. Grendel’s motivation for revenge is based on his hatred for Danes due to the banishment of his ancestors by God. Further, Beowulf is motivated to revenge on behalf of the Danes while Grendel’s mother seeks revenge for the murder of her son. The Dragon, on the other hand, is motivated by the ills committed by the thief at the treasure tower.
Beowulf, Poet. Beowulf Epic Poetry: Translated by Burton Raffel http://www.neshaminy.org/cms/lib6/PA01000466/Centricity/Domain/380/text.pdf [Accessed March 10, 2017].