Publication Date



Beowulf, Beowulf and Grendel, heroism, violence


Heroic actions are often associated with altruistic feats of humanitarianism, but in Beowulf, the connection between heroism and performative acts of violence reveal significant complications concerning how the poem codifies violence for social honor. A central conflict arises with the poem’s contrasting presentation of Beowulf’s dominance and physical power before and during the Grendel quest with the relatively low social status he incurs amongst his maternal kin group, the Geats. In this paper, I use anthropological and sociological theories of collective violence and dominance versus prestige hierarchies to rethink how violence interplays with the poem’s treatment of lineage and other social influences informing appropriate tribal exchanges and effectively designating what constitutes heroism versus infamy. With this approach, I offer a critique of Beowulf’s heroic performance as a socially displaced and transgressive character who must use his alterity to exploit non-normative opportunities for using dominance and acquiring prestige.