Bring on the tough stuff - there’s not just one right answer.
- What is it that makes Beowulf a true hero? How do Beowulf's deeds, words, and beliefs come together to create the "perfect" medieval warrior?
- Why are boasting and storytelling so important in the medieval warrior culture of Beowulf? What function do they serve in the epic?
- How much control do the characters in Beowulf have over their fates? Are skilled warriors any more likely to succeed than cowards? Who does the narrator remind us is calling all the shots?
- What role do women play in Beowulf? Consider Queen Wealhtheow, Queen Hygd, and the various unnamed daughters of kings. How do women function in medieval Scandinavian society to reinforce alliances and solve blood-feuds?
- Why does Beowulf have to die at the end of the epic? How would the epic be different if it ended with Beowulf alive, triumphant, and still king of the Geats?
- After reading Beowulf, what sense do you have of the relationships that existed between different early medieval tribes, such as the Danes, the Geats, the Swedes, the Franks, and the Frisians? Don't worry about the petty details of historical politics and dates; just think about the culture and the way these groups interact. Is life pretty calm and consistent, or full of unexpected catastrophes? On what does the safety of each tribe depend? Why are some tribes in constant conflict with each other? How can blood-feuds be solved—or can they?
- Several times in Beowulf, we hear the same story narrated twice, often because something happens, and then we get to hear one character explain what just happened to someone else. For example, at the end of the epic, Wiglaf witnesses Beowulf's fight with the dragon and death, and then he describes it to the other Geats. Why do you think the author chose to repeat parts of the story in this way? What effect does it have on you as a reader?
- One important poetic device in Old English is the "kenning," a compound word in which one thing is described by a fanciful two-word metaphor. For example, the sea is described as a "whale-road" (10), a king is described as a "ring-giver" (36), and a murderer is described as a "corpse-maker" (276). What effect do these kennings have on you as a reader? How do they add to the poetic atmosphere of the epic? Try finding some.
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