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Perverted Humanity: The cautionary Monsters of Beowulf

Marc Andrew Hewson

Masters Dissertation, 1995

This study examines the metaphorical language of Beowulf, presenting the monsters of the poem (Grendel, his Mother, and the Dragon) as symbols of perverted ideals of humanity. ( Through a close reading of the descriptions and actions of these creatures, the paper emphasizes the artistic skill with which the Beowulf poet contrived his masterpiece. The use of both human and inhuman epithets to characterize the monsters proves the conflicting and ambiguous identities with which the poet imbued them. By detailing the various facets of these ambiguities! the thesis underscores the importance of maintaining a polysemous interpretation of the poem.

The thesis treats each of the monsters individually and in detail. It is argued that the synthesis of human and inhuman identities establishes the creatures as exaggerated, monstrous examples of human evil. Grendel represents the evil thane whose primary goal is the destruction of the fraternal loyalty of the dryht-system. The female monster becomes a perversion of the role of the queen or peace-weaver who instead of promoting respect and tolerance seeks war and violence.The dragon, finally, is viewed as a metaphorical extension of evil human kingship. His avaricious hoarding of treasure and his failure to obey the laws he himself is meant to enforce as king make the worm a parody of good rule. Through the examination of these figures, then, the importance of proper human conduct is emphasized. The poet uses these creatures as cautionary figures as a means of describing the necessity of virtue to humanity.

The contribution to knowledge made by this study is two-fold. First, the close reading is meant to underscore the poet’s conscious use of metaphorical language. As well, the very object of that metaphorization, the monsters, become important signs of universal human evil.

Click here to read this dissertation from McMaster University