If we think about the storyline in Beowulf and The Tempest, we can recall how the story was initiated and how the story unfolded as we turned the pages of the book. One thing that readers tend to overlook is the fact that even though the heroes of the story may be important and they do play the main role, the monsters make them as great as they are. In Beowulf, if Grendel didn’t exist then Beowulf would have never been able to demonstrate his awesome power by tearing his arm off, slaying Grendel’s mother, and later decapitating Grendel’s corpse.
Alternatively, in The Tempest, I feel that Caliban added more of an element of anxiety for the reader as well. Caliban convinced Trinculo and Stephano to murder Prospero during the middle of the book and sparked in us a curiosity to seek the outcome of this venture. These stories are nothing without the monsters and are about the monsters that the civilized people slay in one way or another to obtain a name for themselves. There are several attributes that make a monster what they are. You can tell they are monsters from their origins.
For example, Grendel’s mother was some kind of demon-witch who slept with Cain and gave birth to a “demon opponent” (Beowulf 53). And Caliban who was “got by the devil himself” (The Tempest 119), Prospero claims that he is the son of the devil. We don’t know how accurate this is, but it says a lot about his appearance and appearance is another attribute we can analyze to determine whether they are monsters or civilized individuals in the story. Grendel was even described to have talons, while Caliban was described as a giant fish with the aroma to match.
So far we have looked at physical attributes, but most importantly there are attributes of character we must examine as well. Looking like a monster and having monstrous origins give strong evidence that you are a monster, but the most important attribute we can assess here is the character of the individual that can eliminate the classification of being a monster. Grendel played more of a villainous role in Beowulf than Caliban in The Tempest because of the countless murders he committed on the civilized people.
Monsters tend to have a complete lack of sense for the value of life and therefore go on murdering rampages without thinking twice about it. Grendel has no remorse for the lives he has taken and has resorted to mass murder with little to no excuse for his behavior. Even though Caliban doesn’t seem like much of a monster in contrast to Grendel, compared to the civilized, Caliban definitely has monstrous attributes that sets him apart from the civilized in terms of characteristics. Caliban tries to rape Miranda and plots to murder Prospero.
Those are not characteristics of a civilized person and unfortunately, it is more common than it should be that people rape and plot to murder other people, but that does not signify them to be civilized and therefore they are monsters as well. Other monstrous figures that made an appearance in these two stories can be analyzed as well like Grendel’s mother, who killed a beloved comrade of Denmark and tried to avenge her son’s death by trying to kill Beowulf. Oddly enough, these monsters have a human tendency to love, but the flaw is where their love is limited to just one person in their lives.
Caliban was able to establish friendships with Stephano and Trinculo even though they were both using each other based on ulterior motives. With that scenario, there was hope for Caliban to be civilized, but the motive for the friendships was to murder Prospero so that glimmer of hope was snuffed out by the motive. The monsters portrayed in these books are just simply monsters because they have the appearance of a monster, they inherit the genes of a monster, and they carried out monstrous actions.
What truly makes you a monster aren’t the physical attributes or your genetic composition, but the actions you take that derive from your character. There are plenty of living beings in stories or in real life that certainly look monstrous, but are very civilized; some monsters are more civilized than people that physically appear to be extremely civilized. It can go either way, but it just boils down to the mere question of, “What does your actions say about you? ” because your appearance can only portray so much.