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Beowulf | Study Guide


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Beowulf | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


In Beowulf, when Beowulf arrives at Heorot Hall, what does his speech tell an audience about his character?

Beowulf is accustomed to being a hero, and although he feels honor-bound to repay the debt his father owes King Hrothgar, he also sees the opportunity to build on his heroic reputation; he wants fame so that it will bring glory to his king and nation. Beowulf's fame reflects positively on his people and helps build relationships between kingdoms that can be mutually beneficial. Audiences hearing the poem in the 9th century would be likely to accept the concepts of loyalty and nobility without a regard for self. They would feel he was true to his word and to his stated motives.

In Beowulf, what is King Hrothgar's reaction to Beowulf's offer to fight Grendel?

King Hrothgar is desperate and somewhat embarrassed that he has been unable to destroy Grendel. Hrothgar speaks of the disruption Grendel has created in the kingdom, "grief Grendel has caused/and the havoc he has wreaked upon us in Heorot." King Hrothgar is overwhelmed by Beowulf's generosity, but then he also remembers aloud how he helped Beowulf's father, Ecgtheow. Hrothgar promises Beowulf the world if he defeats Grendel, saying, "There's nothing you wish for/that won't be yours if you win through alive."

What was Beowulf's reasoning for laying down his sword when fighting Grendel in Beowulf?

In the culture at the time, it would be dishonorable to use an unfair advantage in battle. Because Grendel does not carry any weapons, Beowulf is compelled to do the same. Beowulf lays down his shield and his sword and awaits Grendel with his bare hands.

In Beowulf, what is Grendel's reaction to his encounter with Beowulf?

Grendel appears shocked and scared. He had become overconfident in his ability to kill. He wants to retreat when he realizes the strength of his enemy. The author describes Grendel's desperation to return to his home because he "found that his bodily powers failed him." Beowulf keeps him engaged, and a boisterous battle ensues with each of them "stumbling in fury."

In Beowulf, what literary devices does the author use to capture his audience?

The use of alliteration (the repeated use of the same letter or sound in adjacent words) helps to create rhythm and meter. He also uses vivid imagery. As synonyms, the author frequently uses compound-word metaphors or metaphorical phrases. These metaphors are known as kennings and examples from Beowulf include whale-road for ocean, evil-doer for dragon, firm-hearted for brave, and shepherd of evil for Grendel. Employing such figurative language creates images that transport the audience back to the Middle Ages. The use of structure helps to move the story forward at a particular pace. The story's action rises when Grendel repeatedly attacks Heorot, and climaxes when Beowulf battles with Grendel's mother. There are numerous smaller tales told within the larger context of the poem. The denouement (final outcome) could be considered the point where Beowulf dies and his people lament his death while fearing for their future.

In Beowulf, why aren't Beowulf's men able to help kill Grendel?

Grendel has magical powers that prevent weapons from harming him. No blade or other weapon can penetrate his skin. The author explains, "No blade on earth, no blacksmith's art could ever damage their demon opponent." The conflict between Beowulf and Grendel is a supernatural battle between good and evil.

In Beowulf, while Grendel's defeat is celebrated, two poems are read about the exploits of past warriors and rulers. How are the stories different and what purposes do they serve?

Sigemund, a great warrior, had immeasurable courage, and he defeated a dragon with one valiant plunge of his sword. He was rewarded by having access to the entire treasure. In contrast, the story of King Heremod tells of a ruler who was once capable and courageous, but who was overpowered by greed, darkness, and evil—so much so that he got drunk and killed one of his own warriors. His men lost trust in him, and he was rewarded with nothing. The stories are used to help foreshadow Beowulf's future and serve as a way to honor Beowulf by comparing him to another great hero. Much like Sigemund, Beowulf is brave and courageous, and he deserves to be richly rewarded. The performance also serves as a reminder of the ways of men and how goodness can turn to darkness without careful regard for how individuals live their lives.

What examples does the author of Beowulf provide to show that the celebration for Beowulf's victory over Grendel is a grand affair?

The author describes a "rare feast" with the queen and her maidens in attendance. Stewards come around to the guests with "wine in splendid jugs, and Wealhtheow [the queen] [comes] to sit in her gold crown." There is also a minstrel who is called to learn of Beowulf's great deeds so he can tell the tale over and over. Victory gifts are given to Beowulf and his trusted warriors.

In Beowulf, at the celebration in his honor at Heorot Hall, what bothers Beowulf?

Beowulf is upset that he isn't able to present Grendel's body to King Hrothgar. He feels as if he let himself and the king down because he has only the monster's arm to present to the king. It may be that he realizes that the battle isn't truly over. While the author doesn't allude to Grendel's mother until late in the celebration, it is likely that Beowulf knows that the battle for Heorot Hall and the Danes is not finished.

What is Unferth's first encounter with Beowulf like compared to his second meeting in Beowulf?

Unferth initially appears to be quite jealous of Beowulf's prowess and reputation. He tries to shame Beowulf and knock him down a peg. Beowulf rebukes him and basically puts Unferth in his place. After Beowulf defeats Grendel, Unferth has a change of heart. Beowulf earns Unferth's respect. When Beowulf goes to fight Grendel's mother, Unferth even lends Beowulf his own sword. This is a grand gesture, considering that swords have significant meaning to their owners.

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