The natural world becomes, strangely, an unnatural and supernatural one inhabited by monsters. The terror of the unknown is common not just to the Norsemen, but to all men, and the intangible menace invoked by the supernatural reaches out of the text and grips the reader as well. Society in Beowulf has its core in the hall, not unsurprisingly called ‘Heorot’, meaning ‘heart’. The hall is surrounded by the hunter-gatherer village structure of women and huts, representing the outer periphery of society. Beyond lay the unknown – swamps and wilderness denoting the other, outer world where Grendel lives, unable to access Heorot and the social affection and bonding within. He can only watch from afar.
The ‘Loathly Lady’ is a common motif found in literature extending back to Celtic and German mythology and Arthurian legend. The lady is portrayed as an ugly old hag a young and handsome knight has to consummate marriage with. When the deed is done, the crone is transformed into a beautiful, youthful maiden, who informs her husband that he can choose her to be beautiful and false or ugly and true. By letting his new wife make the decision herself, the knight frees her from the spell, and she is now fair and faithful. In the Irish tradition, the loathly lady has been thought to personify the sovereignty of the land, the parallel being that whoever submits to the prophetess kingmaker and her wishes will become the ruler of the land.
The ‘lady’ is shown as different from the norm, both in the magical forms that she takes, as well as her behavior. Both Alysoun, in the prologue to The Wife of Baths Tale from Chaucers Canterbury Tales, as well as Dame Ragnelle in the tale itself, go against the accepted norms of society. Alysoun is much married and holds forth views on virginity, for instance, contrary to the established mores of the time. Ragnelle’s rude manners at the feast scandalizes all, but must be accepted as she is now wed to