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We see Grendel coming from a distance, over the hills and bogs, half hidden by the mist. He knows his way to Herot, the poet tells us; he's been here before. He, too, is filled with self-confidence, not realizing what awaits him, or that this will be his last visit to the great hall.
He tears the door from its hinges and strides across the threshold. He sees the sleeping warriors and snatches one of them from his bed, ripping the warrior apart, and literally eating him, bit by bit: "death/And Grendel's great teeth came together,/Snapping life shut" (743-45). This scene is described in great vividness, but it leaves us with the question of why Beowulf, lying awake in his own bed nearby, would allow Grendel to kill one of his men. This inability to act more quickly seems irresponsible on Beowulf's part. Is one person's life less important than any other?
Perhaps there's a logic to Beowulf's thinking. Watching Grendel devour the Geat warrior gives him time to assess the strength of his enemy. Killing one warrior, the monster probably assumes that he'll be able to devour them all, that no one will dare to challenge him. If you could read Grendel's mind he'd probably be thinking that this night at Herot will be no different from any other, and that he'll have free run of the hall, just like the time before. Beowulf obviously feels that the element of surprise-catching Grendel off-guard-is worth the price of the life of one of his comrades.
Grendel approaches Beowulf's bed and clutches at him with his claws. This is the moment Beowulf has been waiting for. He instantly strikes back, bending the monster's claws and cracking them in his fist. Grendel realizes almost immediately that he's met his match; his first impulse is to flee and return to his home in the swamp. Is it surprising that Grendel, after all we've heard about him, succumbs so easily?
Grendel tries to escape from Beowulf's grip. His shrieks of pain awaken the Danish warriors. The other Geat warriors leap from their beds, their swords raised, none of them knowing that Grendel is immune to ordinary weapons. In the middle of the battle the poet comments on the possible future destruction of Herot by fire. Even though Beowulf will defeat the monster, at some time in the future their great hall will be destroyed, and all of Beowulf's heroics rendered ultimately meaningless.
Notice how the poet varies the point of view in this section-how we see the action from Grendel's point of view, through Beowulf's eyes, and through the poet's own comments on the reactions of the Danish warriors. Shifting the point of view is a technique used more frequently in novels than in poems. Do you feel that the technique is successful here?
Beowulf wants to hold onto the monster until it dies, but Grendel manages to twist free, though not before losing his arm. The "bloodthirsty fiend" will escape to his home at the bottom of the swamp, where he will die and descend to hell, into "the waiting hands of still worse fiends" than even himself. Much in the same way a hunter hangs a trophy above his fireplace, so Beowulf hangs Grendel's arm from the rafters of the hall. It's the unquestionable proof of what he has done.
The drama of the battle is heightened, some readers feel, by the presence of the audience of Geat and Danish warriors. Though we know the outcome, they don't. When the poet describes how "the Danes started/In new terror, cowering in their beds as the terrible/Screams of the Almighty's enemy sang/In the darkness" (783-86) the reader feels the horror of the situation along with them.