(1) Beowulf has an uncertain history: the action takes place around 500 CE; it was probably first written around 800 CE (author unknown); and the one
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(1) Beowulf has an uncertain history: the action takes place around 500 CE; it was probably first written around
800 CE (author unknown); and the one existing manuscript of the text was copied around 1000 CE. This
history of the text reflects the transformation of religion in Great Britain from the paganism dominant in 500
to the gradual conversion to Christianity beginning around600 to the Christianity dominant in 1000. Thus,
scholars are divided in how to read religion in Beowulf: Did the Beowulf-poet create the Christian narrator to
depict the pagan heroes of the narrative in a more sympathetic light? or Did the monk who copied the poem
in 1000 insert more Christian sentiments in what he saw as a pagan text? Does the narrator ultimately
condemn Beowulf and his men as pagans in search of earthly fame and glory? or Does the narrator depict
Beowulf as a virtuous heathen who deserves salvation?
(2) The Beowulf-poet, the narrator, and the pagan heroes all pay special attention to armor in the poem.
Notice all of the references and descriptions of armor and weaponry. What do you make of these references
and descriptions? In other words, are these references “digressions” or “variations”? or do they serve a
more significant function in the poem?
(3) Grendel is one of the coolest monsters in Western Literature. What do you make of him/it? Is he/it only
a monster? or does he/it symbolize something else? Why is Grendel so full of hate?Why does he prowl only
the mead-hall, Heorot?
(4) Beowulf’s fight with Grendel is intense and brief. How does Beowulf defeat Grendel? How isthe fight
depicted? What is Beowulf’s inspiration? Why are these details important?
(5) How do you see Grendel’s mother? Is she justified in desiring revenge for her son’s death?
(6) Other than Grendel’s mother, who does not speak, only one woman has a significant role in this poem:
Wealhtheow, Hrothgar’s wife and queen. How is Wealhtheow portrayed in the poem? What does her portrayal
say about women in Anglo-Saxon culture?
(7) Around line 2200 we jump forward in time 50 years to when Beowulf is an aged king. Inaddition to the
dragon, we are introduced to the Geats’s complex and violent history with their neighbors. What is the
significance of Geatish history? And why do you think this history is placed “over” Beowulf’s final battle with
(8) Beowulf’s fight with the dragon is quite different from his fights with Grendel and Grendel’s mother.
Against the dragon, Beowulf decides to use weapons, he forgoes boasting, and hewelcomes the help of his
men. During the fight, his sword breaks, his shield burns up, he is victorious only with the help of Wiglaf, and
the dragon deals him a deadly blow. Why is Beowulf so unsuccessful against the dragon? Why do you think he
changes his battle techniques?
(9) What do you make of Beowulf’s dying wishes?
(10) Fame is one of the dominant themes in the poem. Beowulf claims that fame “is best / for the unloving
man after he is gone” (1388-9); Unferth loses his own shot at fame when he gives Beowulf his sword (1465-
72); Beowulf’s own fame has already spread when he returns to Geatland; and the poem ends with the word in
an ambiguous reference to Beowulf’s character: he was “the most eager for fame” (3182). What does this
poem ultimately say about fame? Is it a noble pursuit or a road to ruin? How does fame relate to immortality
(both Christian and pagan immortality)?