READING GUIDE: BEOWULF
“At the dawn of English literature stands Beowulf.”
Background (pages 38-39)
• The action takes place in ___________-century _____________________.
• The poem is written in ____________ English.
• The poem contains ______ mortal battles:
• Beowulf belongs to the oral tradition, carried on by traveling minstrels called ________________.
• The poem was finally recorded in __________________.
• The poem contains _____________ lines.
• What is an epic? List two defining characteristics.
noble ancestry/kinship and royal generosity
loyalty, selflessness, and blood vengeance
good versus evil (irrational, menacing forces of darkness always at work)
life as a continuing struggle
wyrd (Old English for “fate”)
conflict between or merging of pagan and Christian values
What do we know about the Beowulf poet?
As you read… keep in mind the Anglo-Saxon poetry terms we’ve already discussed. Look for examples of the various techniques throughout Beowulf. major Characters: (Note that most of the names in Beowulf are typical Germanic compounds. Also, family names often alliterate, masculine names generally have military associations, and characters are frequently designated by formulas identifying them in terms of relationships.)
Beowulf: illustrious warrior from the land of the Geats in Sweden (Beowulf may derive from beo for “bee” and wulf for “hunter.” Because a bear hunts bees, Beowulf translates loosely as “bear.”)
Hrothgar: king of a Danish realm terrorized by a monster (Hrothgar is a combination of words meaning “glory” and “spear.”)
Grendel: monster that terrorizes Heorot
Grendel's Mother: monster that retaliates after Beowulf defeats Grendel
Dragon: monster that goes on a rampage in the land of the Geats
Wiglaf: warrior who helps Beowulf fight the dragon
Hygelac: king of the Geats in Sweden and Beowulf's uncle
Ecgtheow: Beowulf's father (Ecgtheow is a compound meaning “sword-servant.”)
Unferth: Danish warrior who envies Beowulf
The wrath of grendel (page 41)
1. Why does Grendel growl in pain?
2. Of what is the poet singing? Given the history of England, why is this significant?
3. How does the poet account for Grendel’s origin?
4. What makes the opening of the poem elegiac?
5. How long does Grendel terrorize Hrothgar’s people?
6. How does the poet account for the survival of Hrothgar’s throne?
7. How does the poet’s description of Hrothgar’s attempt to deal with Grendel illustrate the pagan-Christian conflicts in early England?
the coming of Beowulf (page 43)
8. Describe the poet’s introduction of Beowulf.
9. How many men accompany Beowulf to Denmark?
10. What kinds of serious concerns are addressed in the watchman’s speech?
11. How does the way in which Beowulf puts the watchman at ease display the values of the Anglo-Saxons?
12. What are the conditions Beowulf lays down for his battle with Grendel?
the battle with grendel (page 48)
13. Find some examples of alliteration in this passage.
14. How does the poet alert the reader that Beowulf will win the fight?
15. Describe the precise moment when Grendel meets Beowulf.
16. How does the translator’s diction reemphasize the theme of good versus evil?
17. What is Grendel’s supposed advantage in battle? What happens to change that?
18. Why doesn’t anyone doubt Beowulf’s victory?
the monster’s lair (page 51)
19. Describe the monster’s lair.
20. How does the description reiterate the themes at work in this epic?
21. What is the deal that Hrothgar offers to Beowulf?
the battle with grendel’s mother (page 52)
22. How does Beowulf indicate his...
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