Beowulf | Study Guide


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Beowulf | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


What is the role of women in the culture that is presented in Beowulf?

Women are an important part of the ceremonies in this culture. They perform hosting and serving duties, but they also wield some political power as is demonstrated by Wealhtheow's speech. They often marry for political reasons and act as peacekeepers and ambassadors.

What is the meaning of Wealhtheow's speech in Beowulf?

Wealhtheow seems to be pleading and making a political statement about whom she wants as heir to King Hrothgar's throne. She may be worried that Beowulf's great deed might influence Hrothgar in his selection of an heir. She honors Beowulf but also makes a plea to King Hrothgar to choose Hrothulf, her nephew, to be the next heir.

In Beowulf, what is the significance of Grendel and his mother living beneath the surface of a boiling, bloody mere (lake)?

Already, as descendants of Cain, we see Grendel and his mother as creatures from Hell, so accordingly their dwelling would reflect that. The bloody, boiling water certainly evokes traditional images of Hell. Beowulf can see the "sea-dragons and monsters," hellish beasts that line its shore and a "bewildering horde came at him from the depths." As Beowulf gets closer to Grendel's home, the author describes it as a "hellish turn-hole."

From Beowulf, how does the speech Beowulf delivers before his combat with Grendel contrast with the speech he gives in his later encounter with Grendel's mother?

Beowulf's speech before taking on Grendel's mother is longer and more serious in tone than his speech prior to his conflict with Grendel. When Beowulf fights Grendel, his farewell demands are minimal, giving readers cause to think he's pretty confident he will win the battle. Beowulf's second speech gives specific directions and pleads with King Hrothgar to take care of his loyal warriors that have served him well and to send the treasure he has earned to "lord of the Geats." He even remembers Unferth in his farewell and asks that his sword be returned to Unferth. Beowulf's realization that he might be up against something he cannot conquer shows a level of maturity and humility that makes him even more heroic.

During the battle scene between Beowulf and Grendel's mother in Beowulf, Lines 1518–1590, what motivates Beowulf?

While fighting Grendel's mother, Beowulf keeps thinking about the name and fame he has earned. Thoughts of his fame and the enduring glory he and the Geats will receive for winning the fight continue to motivate him.

In Beowulf, what causes King Hrothgar and his men to leave the mere (lake) before Beowulf surfaces?

There is an explosion of blood and bubbles on the surface of the mere that gives the appearance that someone has been killed. The fear and hopelessness that King Hrothgar has felt for the last 12 years has made him weary and discouraged, causing him to think the worst: that Beowulf is dead.

In Beowulf, after the battle with Grendel's mother, whom does Beowulf credit for his success (Lines 1652–1676)?

Beowulf credits his victory to God. He states, "If God had not helped me, the outcome would have been quick and fatal." He also credits God with providing him with the sword that served the fatal blow to Grendel's mother. Beowulf is aware that he couldn't have conquered these beasts from Hell without a supernatural being fighting in his corner.

In Beowulf, what is the significance of the sword hilt in Lines 1680–1686?

The sword has a great deal of value because of its "rare smithwork." It may have been used in other important battles where evil prevailed, and its return and use for "good" might imply order has been restored to the world. More importantly, it might serve as a reminder to never take anything for granted and to never forget that power is a privilege not to be mistreated. Likewise, it is symbolic of the beliefs that a higher being plays a part in the sword's ability to defeat Grendel's mother.

How did ancient King Heremod break the heroic code in Beowulf?

King Heremod was greedy and didn't share any of the bounty that his men helped him acquire. He also repeatedly mistreated his warriors until one day he got so drunk that he killed one of them. Eventually, his soldiers had no loyalty whatsoever to him. King Heremod allowed darkness into his heart, and he became everything that a king shouldn't be.

In Beowulf, what message might King Hrothgar be trying to impart to Beowulf in the telling of King Heremod's story?

It serves as a reminder to Beowulf to remain humble in his accomplishments and to not let power cloud his memory or judgment. He must always be a good leader to his people or risk an unhappy ending.

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