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 clan, whom the creator had outlawed and condemned as outcasts” (101-107). 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.
Grendel rules in defiance of right, killing men by the scores, until Beowulf faces him in combat. Beowulf says, “Now I mean to be a match for Grendel, / settle the outcome in single combat” (425-426) and “I hereby renounce sword and the shelter of a broad shield, / the heavy war-board: hand-to-hand / is how it will be, a life-and-death / fight with the fiend. Whichever one death fells / must deem it a just judgment by God” (436-441). The Enemy is a demon ...