In the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf, the protagonist insists on fighting Grendel with his bare fists rather than a weapon, claiming that Grendel does not use one. Beowulf considers employing a weapon against a beast that does not use a weapon to be dishonorable. He intends to confront Grendel on equal footing.
In modern fiction, this is often used as a device for defeating the villain alone, because otherwise the hero would have to fight other heroes or people would think he is weak. For example, in the movie The Last Starfighter, this is why the main character, a 16-year-old boy named Adam, fights aliens with only his wits and a light saber because if he fought others then it would be like admitting that he was not able to beat them up himself. In addition, using his power unfairly to defeat opponents without a fight is also considered evil by many fictional characters.
In literature, this type of character is called a "brave", which means a person who exhibits courage and fearlessness in performing actions that might cause others to look down on him or her. Such people do not worry about what others think of them and their actions. They just follow their own heart and believe in themselves.
Beowulf is such a character. He believes that Grendel should be killed even though this action would make him famous. He cares too much about his people and his kingdom to let something like fame stand in his way.
He wishes to demonstrate his merit and honor. Beowulf closes by declaring that he and Grendel would not use weapons: "we shall abstain from the sword." He goes on to say that if Grendel accepts ("if he dares pursue conflict without a weapon"), God or fate will decide who wins.
Beowulf concludes by saying that, if Grendel attacks him, he will fight back with all his might.
What does Beowulf's determination to battle without weapons tell us about him? Beowulf's decision to battle without weapons demonstrates both his intelligence and his sense of warrior dignity. He recognizes Grendel's inability to utilize weapons and want to fight properly. Thus, he decides not to use weapons because it would be inappropriate for a noble warrior to do so.
Beowulf also shows courage by facing Grendel alone. Although he is mighty, Grendel is still only a man. Beowulf overcomes his fear and attacks Grendel, killing him in combat. After the battle, Hrothgar gives Beowulf a gift of money and armor so that he can continue to fight against other monsters. This show that fighting without weapons is not an act of cowardice, but rather an honorable way for a warrior to die.
Because Grendel does not use weapons to bite people in half and drink their blood, slaying the opponent with his bare hands will offer the hero more fame. This is due in part to the fact that killing an unarmed man, no matter how deadly or terrible he may be, would be shameful, and in part to Beowulf's vanity.
Grendel's mother, who is also her father's murderer, makes him live in darkness and loneliness in order to punish him for what he did. But when she discovers that he has slain her mate, she seeks revenge by seeking out Beowulf, the last surviving nobleman in the kingdom. She kills Grendel's father too, but learns from him before he dies. She then sets her son on a mission to kill all those who have wronged her.
Now it happens that during this time there was in Denmark a mighty king named Hrothgar, who had been good to Beowulf when he was still in need of help. When Hrothgar lies on his deathbed, Beowulf promises to guard his body until it can be brought home to Germany. Upon hearing this, Hrothgar orders that a large treasure room be built in his palace walled with gold and silver so that it can always be kept ready for whoever might one day come looking for him.
When Hrothgar dies, Beowulf takes his place and leads the people in war.