Beowulf | Study Guide


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Beowulf | Discussion Questions 51 - 56


In Beowulf, what dilemma do Beowulf's 11 men have, and what is Wiglaf's response to their decision to not join in the fight against the dragon?

The warriors are given orders to let Beowulf fight the beast alone. Here, they have been told to obey, but at the same time, they clearly see that Beowulf is outmatched. They obey him and even run when they see the dragon. Wiglaf condemns them as cowards and accuses them of selfish motives.

Based on Beowulf, what role do uncles appear to play in Anglo-Saxon culture?

The uncles in the royal family groom the nephews into future leaders, warriors, and possibly heirs. They also teach them about loyalty and generosity. An example of this is the relationship between Hygelac and Beowulf. Hygelac trained him well, and Beowulf went on to be a great warrior and, eventually, king.

How does King Hrothgar's character develop in Beowulf?

King Hrothgar's character develops rather quickly. He transforms from a naive young man to a heroic and honorable king. He also shows compassion to Beowulf's father. He sees how quickly his prosperous rule could turn sour. He goes from a strong and worthy leader to one embarrassed by the need to accept help from others.

How does Beowulf develop over the course of Beowulf?

Beowulf is young and confident in the beginning of the poem. He is disappointed that he isn't able to present Grendel's body to the king, but he is proud of his accomplishments. The battle with Grendel's mother humbles Beowulf further because it is so difficult; he is grateful to have come out of the situation alive. By the end, he knows his time has come and he is no longer the strong warrior he once was—but he knows he must protect his kingdom from the dragon. Beowulf is as brave as always, but in the end he is slain by the dragon. While his intentions were good, he shouldn't have put himself at risk when he had no heir to keep the kingdom stable once he was gone.

In Beowulf, how are Beowulf's loyal thanes (warriors) different and similar in his battles with Grendel and with the dragon?

In the fights with Grendel and the dragon, Beowulf has backup, although the thanes have been told to allow Beowulf to fight the battles unaided. With Grendel, the thanes disobey orders and try to use their weapons, but they are ineffective. In the battle against the dragon, Beowulf has just one trusted warrior who sticks by his side and appears to be capable of taking on his own heroic identity.

Why is there a mix of pagan and Christian ideals in Beowulf?

During the time that these legendary stories might have taken place, the people were still wavering between the two beliefs. Some scholars say the Romans had brought Christianity to the area where the story takes place, but when they left or were defeated, pagan beliefs were once again adopted. In any event, Christianity hadn't been established for long, and people held on to many pagan beliefs.

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