The Enemy in Beowulf and The Canterbury Tales

Length: 6 Pages 1378 Words

The Enemy in Beowulf and The Canterbury Tales It is the purpose of this paper to illustrate the dichotomy of the Enemy within the works of Beowulf and Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. The Enemies in these two pieces are nothing alike; it would be accurate to say that in the odyssey of Beowulf the Enemy is a tangible, malevolent force which exists in both physical form and in essence (that is to say, for example, a dragon that represents the essence of strength and terror is embodied in a physical, serpentine form), whilst Chaucer depicts the Enemy as human traits such as pride, beauty, and hypocrisy which exist within the human being. The Enemy exists in Beowulf as evil which has taken shape and in The Canterbury Tales as the evil within the character of the mortal soul. In Beowulf the Enemy, first known to us as Grendel, is introduced as “a powerful demon, a prowler through the dark” (86). Immediately following this brief introduction the text calls the Enemy “A fiend out of hell, / [who] began to work his evil in the world. / Grendel was the name of this grim demon / haunting the marshes, marauding round the heath / and the desolate fens; he had dwelt for a time in misery among the banished monsters, / Cain’s c Continue...


The Wife of Bath tells us a story in which a Knight's lost battle with lust almost costs him his life. It is nonetheless clear to us that the Enemy in these works pose great threats to the characters and can result in death and destruction (whether it be physical or spiritual). Beowulf existed in a literary world where evil had a face and could be tracked down and killed by those brave enough to face it whilst the pilgrims had to deal with wickedness which did not have a physical form and existed in both themselves and the world around them. This passage represents the first of the two evils in this paper: the Enemy in a physical, mortal coil who is terrible in its own right but can be confronted and defeated. This is a stark contrast to the Enemy in Canterbury Tales which does not exist in any kind of physical form - pride does not take shape in any of the tales, walking the night, slaughtering men and women in glee - but rather exists as ideas and negative traits possessed by human beings living in a world void of demons and creatures of the dark. He is slain but, with the help of a noble young man by the name of Wiglaf, manages to deal the dragon a fatal blow. The Friar, supposedly a chaste servant of God, sleeps with the women of the towns he visits and collects money from. The Enemy is defeated and Beowulf's people are safe for the time being. Fifty years pass and Beowulf has grown to be an older man, a wiser king, less powerful upon the field of battle. Their bonds are broken by the beauty of a woman who seduces them, by no fault of her own, through her beauty. She is much the same as Grendel and continues his unfinished reign of death and chaos throughout the land. The Enemy is a demon ("before morning he would rip life from limb and devour them 730-733) that has, according to the Cain's fallen clan reference, roamed the earth freely for many moons before Beowulf defeats him. Another appropriate excerpt from this story is "No one is so bound by the bonds of affection or friendship that the other man is suing urgently for the love of...a woman...he will not at once be filled with a spiteful hatred toward him or conceive a venomous anger. In conclusion, it is a hard thing to reconcile the differences of the Enemy in these pieces because they are so far removed from each other. The Monk dresses much like the Prioress and has many earthly belongings.