Where Was Beowulf When Grendel Burst into the Hall?

Grendel, the first monster that appears in the poem, came to Heorot by night. At that moment, Beowulf pretended he was asleep. Here the hero played the role of a sleeping monster whose lair was disturbed. He can defeat a monster only by acting like a monster.

Grendel and his fifteen Geatish warriors land at the Danish shore. They come to fight the man-eating monster who descended from “Cain’s clan.” Beowulf asks Hrothgar about “the privilege of purifying Heorot,” so only the Geatish men stay during the battle. Next, he promises not to use any armor or weapon: “hand-to-hand is how it will be.”  

There are four reasons for such a reckless decision. First, the monster uses no weapons, and the heroic code dictates equal terms of a battle. Second, as revealed later, human-made weapons cannot harm the beast. The third reason is explained in lines 442 – 455. In these verses, Beowulf ponders over what will happen if Grendel kills him. “Then my face won’t be there to be covered in death: he will carry me away.” The warrior fears that his armor and sword will be lost in the monster’s lair. So, he asks to send them to King Hygelac if the worst thing happens. 

The fourth and least apparent reason is that Beowulf tried to act like a monster. When Grendel burst into the hall, Beowulf pretended to be asleep like a bear in his cave. It is always easier to defend one’s territory. Moreover, nobody would expect a fierce defense from a sleeping human. It was an attempt to catch Grendel by surprise.

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