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What is suggested by the opening line, “We have heard of the kings...”?
This opening line
suggests that this poem existed in the oral tradition before it was written down. The
poet/narrator is speaking to a listening audience rather than writing for a future readers
How does a young future king ensure that warriors will support him once he is ruler?
narrator explains that a young future king should give treasure to assure the allegiance of
his kinsmen. He states, “it is fitting that a young prince use wealth thus in his younger
days while his father still lives; graciously giving so that when war comes in his later
years, willing warriors come to his aid.”
Who is the “Wielder of Wonder” referred to in the Prelude?
The “Wielder of Wonder” is a
phrase used to describe the Christian God.
What is the predominant poetic device used in this poem and to what effect? Why would
the Beowulf poet employ a device like this so noticeably?
the poetic device is alliteration, a sound device that creates a fluid effect, the use of sound
devices (alliteration, consonance, and assonance) serves two primary purposes for
poems, like Beowulf, that originally existed in the oral tradition. First, these sound
devices make the spoken poem more enjoyable to hear. Second, the sound devices
become memory aids as the poem is passed from person to person and generation to
What are the practices associated with a Viking funeral?
deceased is placed on a barge or boat. Then, the body is covered with treasure, gifts,
and weaponry to honor the fallen warrior. The boat is then set on fire and sent out to sea.
What is the function of Heorot?
Heorot is a “master meadhouse,”
built as a gathering place for the Danes. Hrothgar and
his kinsmen use Heorot to drink and eat and enjoy entertainment.
Why is Grendel appalled by the activities going on in Heorot?
Grendel is jealous of the
revelry and camaraderie of Heorot.
Who or what is Grendel? Why does he live isolated in the marshes?
Grendel is a
descendent of the Old Testament Cain, who murdered his brother, Abel. As punishment
for this first fratricide, Cain was exiled. Grendel, as an alleged descendent of Cain, has
inherited his ancestor’s curse.
What evidence of Christianity is there in this largely pagan poem?
First, the explanation
that Grendel is a descendent of Cain is an obvious allusion to the early chapters of
Genesis. Likewise, the bards of Heorot sing songs and tell tales taken directly from
Genesis: tales of “how the Almighty fashioned the earth ... [and] ... set the sun and moon
as lights ... [and] ... adorned the earth’s expanses with tree limbs.” Both firmly establish
Christian influences on this AngloSaxon
How does the poem blend Christian and pagan myth?
According to the narrator, after his
banishment for the murder of his brother, Cain became the father of “all those dire
breeds: ogres, elves, and phantoms that warred with God a lengthy while,” which are not
accurate retelling of the account from Genesis.
How does the oral tradition help to attract Beowulf to the Danish shore?
Grendel wreaked destruction on the Danish tribe for more than a decade. His ferocious
deeds become known to other Scandinavian tribes through “ballads of lament” sung by
bards throughout the Germanic world. Thus, Beowulf and his kinsmen hear about the
desperate situation the Danes are facing and decide to come to Hrothgar’s aid.
What is a kenning, and what does it contribute to the overall effect of the poem?
kenning is a compound noun that provides an indirect, but descriptive way to identify a
person or thing. For example, Grendel is called a “manhater”
and the “deathshadow.”
The use of these descriptive combinations creates a more vivid impression in the mind
of the hearer (or reader) and makes the character referred to more memorable.
How does the Danes’ response to Grendel evince a clash of culture between pagan and
While in the hall of Heorot, the bards sang songs clearly alluding to
the book of Genesis, but in their tribulation, they resort to sacrifices and rites to pagan
gods for help with Grendel.
The phrases “waverider”
are examples of what poetic device?
Why don’t the “wise men” protest the hero’s desire to undertake his adventure?
important for a young hero to seek adventure and begin to establish his reputation.
How and why does the Beowulf poet use simile to describe Beowulf’s sea journey?
Beowulf poet uses a simile to describe Beowulf’s journey across the ocean: “Over the
waters did the ship move by the wind’s might, like a bird with foam plumage.” The simile
helps to create an image of a boat that moves swiftly, fearlessly, and full of
determination. The phrase shows how determined Beowulf and his soldiers are to reach
the Danish shore quickly in order to help the troubled Danes.
Explain the ambiguity of the Danish sentinel’s greeting when Beowulf and his men arrive
on Danish soil.
On the one hand, it is the sentinel’s responsibility to challenge the
newcomers and discern whether they pose a threat of invasion. On the other hand, he
admits that (1) invaders do not usually arrive so openly in broad daylight, and (2) Beowulf
is armed too splendidly to be an invader or a henchman.
What does the phrase “man of many winters” reveal about Ecgtheow?
reveals that Ecgtheow was an old and wise man when he finally died.
What effect do examples of alliteration like “broadbosomed
boat,” and “The stalwart
warrior pointed to that scintillating fortress and bade them go straight there; then he
wheeled his steed about like a mighty warrior, and gave a parting word"
invites an emphasis on words like “stalwart” and “warrior,” while connecting concepts:
juxtaposing the idea of stalwart with the “scintillating fortress” of Heorot, and worth of the
Danish warrior who is guiding the Geats to the hall.
What motif is emphasized by the herald’s reaction to the arrival of the Geats?
Just as the
sentinel on the shore concluded—based on the Geats’ armor—that the foreigners were
not an invading company, so, too, does the herald figure them to be valiant and worthy—
even to the extent of recommending to Hrothgar that he give them audience.
What practice engrained in the heroic code is illustrated by the term “giver of rings”?
phrase refers to Hrothgar, leader of the Danes. The term is used to indicate the common
practice of giving treasure to worthy warriors. As a righteous leader, Hrothgar is expected
to reward his warriors with treasure and gold. When his followers refer to Hrothgar as the
it becomes clear that he is a respected ruler who knows how to treat his
In this chapter is the first time we learn the name of the leader of the Geats. What is it?
The Geats’ leader’s name is Beowulf.
The poet’s identifying Hrothgar as “the crown of the Scyldings” is an example of what
This is an example of metonymy, referring to something, not by its name but by naming
an object or quality closely associated with it. Hrothgar is the king; king’s typically wore
crowns, so to call him the crown, is to identify him by the object closely associated with
What is significant about (1) the request that Beowulf and his men leave their weapons
and armor outside when they enter Heorot and (2) their willingness to do so.
Beowulf and his men are strangers, it is still possible that they have arrived in Denmark
to wage war, possibly to assassinate Hrothgar. Therefore, they are asked to leave their
weapons and armor outside as a sign that they have, indeed, come in peace. Their
agreeing to disarm themselves proves that they have come in peace and also that they
trust the Danes and do not fear an ambush.
What do we learn of Beowulf’s ancestry, heritage, and previous connection to Hrothgar’s
Beowulf’s father was Ecgtheow. His mother was the only daughter of Hrethel the
In what manner of combat does Beowulf boast that he will defeat Grendel?
boasts that he will defeat Grendel in unarmed, handtohand,
What does Beowulf request should be done with his armor and weaponry in case he
doesn’t succeed in his battle against Grendel? What piece does he specifically mention?
Why is this one special?
Beowulf requests that his armor and weaponry be returned to
Hygelac, especially a chainmail vest that was an heirloom of Hrethel’s. We already know
that Hrethel was Beowulf’s maternal grandfather.
What is a likely reason for beginning this chapter with phrasing identical to the previous
The repetition provides both structure and an aid in the memorization of this
poem that probably was composed in the oral tradition before being written.
What previous services did Hrothgar provide to Beowulf’s father? How does this history
alter the nature of Beowulf’s quest?
Very early in Hrothgar’s reign, Beowulf’s father waged
war against another clan, the Wylfings, killing their leader, Heatholaf. As Ecgtheow could
not afford the bloodprice
for his killing, he fled and asked for asylum from Hrothgar.
Hrothgar not only granted Beowulf’s father asylum, but paid the bloodprice
the Wylfings. Because Hrothgar did such an enormous favor for Beowulf’s father,
Beowulf’s coming to slay Grendel is, at least in part, his returning the favor.
How did Hrothgar become king of the Danes?
Hrothgar more or less inherited the throne when his older brother, Heorogar, died.
What do Unferth’s words expressing his doubt about Beowulf’s fight with the sea
monsters reveal about his character?
Unferth voices his doubts about Beowulf’s
successful fight with the sea monsters because he is an envious and petty man who
does not want to admit that other warriors have achieved more heroic deeds than he has.
Are we to see Beowulf as excessively boastful? Why or why not?
In the context of the
poem’s society and culture, we are not to see Beowulf as too boastful. First, we are to
assume that his boasts are true. Second, since Beowulf has indeed accomplished
everything he boasts of, his boasting is a legitimate means of letting others know who he
is and what he has accomplished. It was expected that a hero would make his deeds
How, finally, does Beowulf succeed in silencing Unferth, who had questioned Beowulf’s
swimming feat and battle with the seamonsters?
Beowulf essentially calls Unferth a
coward, saying that if he fought as bravely as he talked, Grendel would not have had the
opportunity to oppress Heorot as he was.
What is Wealhtheow’s role in Hrothgar’s court?
Wealhtheow is “mindful of ceremonies.”
She wants to make Beowulf and his men feel welcome and respected. She eagerly
hands a goblet with drink to the warriors and expresses her hope with regard to the
upcoming battle with Beowulf. Wealhtheow then takes a seat at her husband’s side,
indicating that she is a faithful follower of her lord and an eager representative of his
What is the significance of the kenning used to describe Hrothgar: “The jewelgiver
then joyous; whitehaired
and brave in war, he awaited the help of the prince of the
One of the king’s most important duties was to reward those who
served him well. Already Hrothgar has mentioned the treasure and riches he will bestow
upon Beowulf if he succeeds in defeating Grendel. Thus, the kenning “jewelgiver”
emphasizes the fact that Hrothgar does indeed meet his obligation to his warriors.
What does Beowulf’s decision to fight without weapons reveal about his character?
Beowulf’s decision to fight without weapons reveals both his wisdom and his sense of
honor as a warrior. He understands that Grendel is not able to use weapons, and he
wants to fight fairly. He does not want to give himself an unfair advantage over the
monster. He also knows that, in their previous attempts to protect themselves,
Hrothgar’s men did not find their weapons or armor at all helpful.
The idea that it is “widely
known” that Grendel cannot defeat Beowulf (“hurl him into darkness”) against God’s will
suggests that Beowulf is destined to defeat Grendel. This victory is his fate.
What thought troubles Beowulf’s men as they fall asleep in the hall?
Because so many
Danes have died in the hall, Beowulf’s men fear they will never see their homeland again.
What narrative technique does the poet use to transition between Chapters 10 and 11?
What effect is created by this transition?
Between the end of Chapter 5 and the beginning
of Chapter 6, the poet “backs up in time” a little. Chapter 5 ends with the arrival of
Grendel in the hall: “He came striding in the dim night, the shadowwalker.”
begins with Grendel just leaving his lair: “Then Grendel came from the moors by way of
the misty crags...” The entire first paragraph delays the entrance into Heorot. This, of
course, creates suspense, as the listener/reader is anxious to know how the fight
between Beowulf and Grendel will transpire.
What does Grendel do to his victims?
Grendel tears the bodies of his victims apart,
drinks their blood, and devours their entire bodies.
At what point does Beowulf seize Grendel to fight him?
Beowulf takes hold of Grendel’s
arm when the monster reaches in to grab him and kill him.
How heroic is Grendel? How do you know?
Grendel is not at all heroic. Once he
confronts Beowulf, he is not willing to fight fairly. When he realizes that Beowulf has a hold
of him and that Beowulf is amazingly strong, all Grendel wants to do is flee to his lair.
What, apparently, is the source of Grendel’s invincibility?
Grendel has used sorcery to
make himself impervious to swords, lances, and other weapons.
How does Beowulf defeat Grendel?
We already know that Beowulf was going to
participate in unarmed, handtohand
combat against Grendel. In this chapter, Beowulf
dislocates Grendel’s shoulder and tears Grendel’s arm off. This is a fatal wound for the
Thematically, why is the way Beowulf fights Grendel significant?
The fact that Beowulf
fought Grendel in unarmed, handtohand
combat instead of relying on weapons
emphasizes his strength and physical ability.
What does the end of the chapter suggest is as important as the Danes’ being free from
It is just as significant to Beowulf that he has made good on his boast.
What reminder of the oral tradition are we given in this chapter (Chapter 8)?
As in the beginning of the
poem, the narrator tells his listeners that the history he knows is “as men tell...” not as it
has been written.
The contention that Sigemund received “no little fame” after his death is an example of
what rhetorical device? What effect is achieved?
“No little fame” is an example of litotes.
The effect is to emphasize the amount of fame by seeming to minimize it with a double
How do the Danes ensure that Beowulf’s victory will be remembered?
The story of
Beowulf’s victory against Grendel is immediately incorporated into the ballads and songs
sung by the bards. His story is, thus, effectively incorporated into the oral tradition and
history of the Danish people.
What is the first thing Hrothgar does upon seeing Grendel’s severed arm? Why is this
The first thing Hrothgar does is offer thanks to God. This is significant
because it illustrates his piety, a necessary quality of a good king.
In what condition is Heorot? Why?
Heorot is in a state of near ruin: doors off their hinges,
walls collapsed, only the roof left standing. The hall’s condition illustrates the ferocity of
Beowulf and Grendel’s fight.
What is implied by the introduction of Hrothulf?
As Hrothulf is introduced when he enters
the hall with Hrothgar, and as he is the only one of Hrothgar’s kinsmen named in this
chapter, it can only be inferred that Hrothulf is a close relative of Hrothgar.
What is further foreshadowed by the poet’s noting that, at this celebration, “Heorot was
now filled with friends; no Scylding folk had yet attempted treachery”?
The poet is clearly
foreshadowing internal strife in Hrothgar’s family.
List the gifts that Hrothgar gives to Beowulf.
Hrothgar gives Beowulf a banner of gold
cloth, an embroidered battle flag, a helmet, a coat of mail (armor), a precious sword, eight
armored horses, and Hrothgar’s own ceremonial saddle.
What other benefits or gifts does Hrothgar bestow to signify his munificence?
gives each of Beowulf’s men a precious heirloom and orders that a treasure of gold be
paid to the family of the Geat warrior who was killed by Grendel the night before.
According to the narrator, what were the factors that ultimately decided the Danes and
The narrator reminds the reader that the valor of the soldiers and the
“Providence of God” are the two most important factors that helped the Danes and Geats
What effect is achieved through the alliteration that describes Hildeburh’s reaction upon
hearing of the her son’s death?
and early medieval poetry, alliteration
was always used to create a rhythmic pattern and to emphasize key words in the
alliterated passage. In this episode, the alliteration of the “w” sound
(woman...wept..woeful...) creates an almost onomatopoeic effect of mournful howling. The
“w” sounds also draw the listener’s attention to words like “wept,” “woeful,” and then,
Who is Hildeburh, and how does the story that involves her, Finn, and the Frisians figure
into the narrative of this chapter?
These are all historical/legendary persons, characters
in the song that the bard is singing as part of the entertainment in the hall.
What potential future event does the theme of the bard’s song portray?
The themes of
foreign invasion, of divided loyalties, of violating oaths foreshadows trouble for the Danish
court, as was already suggested in Chapter 15
How does Chapter 17 begin? What language convention cues the reader to this?
Chapter 17 begins with the bard’s song about the Frisians. The opening quotation
marks before the first word of the chapter indicate this.
What is a “lay,” as when the poet says, “The lay, that bardic ballad, was sung to its end”?
A “lay” is a song, a ballad.
What role does hyperbole play in the poet’s telling of the Beowulf tale?
To emphasize the
legendary, heroic status of the persons in this story, the poet exaggerates such things as
the quality and value of the treasures bestowed upon Beowulf: “the likes of which I’ve
never heard of in the world. Never beneath heaven’s hall have I heard of so mighty a
The deeds and their rewards are all bigger than life, better than
anything before or since. This is an essential quality of heroic sagas like this.
How do Wealhtheow’s speech and actions exemplify important aspects of the warrior
Wealhtheow praises Beowulf and reminds Hrothgar of his duty toward the young
soldier: She tells her husband that it is his duty to take Beowulf as his own son, now that
he has saved the Danes from disaster. She also reminds Beowulf of his duty to give
riches and treasure, as well as sound council and guidance to his own kinfolk in order to
ensure that the cycle of regard and loyalty continues. She expresses her hope that the
two families will henceforth support each other and be loyal toward one another.
Wealhtheow also gives Beowulf a valuable collar herself, expressing her personal
gratitude for his deeds. Giving treasure, loyalty, and gratitude are all elements of the
What implicit warning and potential foreshadowing does Wealhtheow’s speech contain?
fear and suspicion of Hrothulf’s intent are further expressed with her
frequent entreaties to Beowulf to “Be helpful in deeds to my son.”
What problem does the second paragraph of Chapter 17 present to the narrative? How
can a reader rectify this problem?
Following the chronology of the narrative, Hygelac,
King of the Geats and Beowulf’s uncle, was very much alive less than a week ago when
Beowulf set out on his adventure to slay Grendel. The gifts are only now being presented
to Beowulf, yet we are told that Hygelac carried the precious collar with him in his last
battle when he was killed and the treasure was taken by the Franks. Clearly there is a
problem with chronology in that the poet is revealing the collar’s future (Beowulf will
present it to Hygelac upon his return to Sweden, etc.) rather than informing us of its
On what notes of foreshadowing does Chapter 17 end?
First, the poet specifically
states that the warriors, celebrating their victory over Grendel “knew not Fate, nor the
cruel destiny to be seen by many clansmen when evening came.” Likewise, the poet’s
pointing out that the warriors go to bed with their armor beside them, always prepared for
an unexpected attack, clearly foreshadows an imminent, unexpected attack.
As we are reminded again, who was Grendel’s (and his mother’s) infamous, Old
Both Grendel and his mother are descended from the Genesis
character of Cain, who was banished from the society of his family for murdering his
What might explain the apparent disruption to the chronology of the poem and the poet’s
decision to remind his listener/reader of the monsters’ relationship to Cain?
In the oral
telling of this poem, Chapter 18 may have been a stopping point. The adventure of
Grendel is over, and some future strife has been foreshadowed. Chapter 19 might then
be the beginning of another night’s entertainment, and the poet is taking the opportunity to
“recap” key events and facts for his listeners.
How does the reminder of Grendel and his mother’s ancestry shape how they are to be
interpreted in the AngloSaxon/
Scandinavian culture of the poem?
One’s ancestry and
lineage are a crucial part of one’s identity. Notice how many times in the poem Hrothgar
is not referred to by name, but as “Healfdene’s son” or “son of Healfdene.” Beowulf is
often referred to as, and first introduces himself as, “son of Ecgtheow.” Hrothgar’s sons
are once referred to as “Hrethric and Hrothmund, the two young sons of heroes.” Thus,
ancestry—especially along the father’s line—is very important in identifying a person and
his qualities. The only lineage we know of Beowulf is apparently through his mother’s line,
and is descent from the first loathed character in the Bible.
What is significant about the fact that the avenger is Grendel’s mother and not his father
or some male relative?
Scandinavian society is clearly patriarchal, and
a large part of the hero’s identity lies with his male lineage. The fact that Grendel has no
known male lineage emphasizes his lack of worth, his alienation from the culture and
society of the Danes and the Geats.
How fearsome a monster is Grendel’s mother? Why?
The poet tells us that she is considerably less fearsome, just as a female warrior would
be less valiant than a male warrior. Clearly, we are seeing the bias of a poet living in a
How do Grendel and his mother suggest a mixing of pagan and Christian traditions in the
culture of the poem?
They are specifically identified as descendents of Cain from the
scriptures (the Christian Old Testament), yet their lair—where Beowulf
must go to fight Grendel’s mother—is clearly reminiscent of the pagan underworld.
How do Beowulf’s words about revenge invite us to reevaluate Grendel’s mother’s attack
Grendel tells Hrothgar, “It seems better that each man avenge his friends
than to mourn them to no end.” This statement adds some legitimacy to Grendel’s
mother’s attack—avenging her son’s death rather than mourning it.
Who is “Ecglaf’s son,” who lends the famous sword, Hrunting, to Beowulf? Under what
circumstances was this character first introduced to us?
Ecglaf’s son is Unferth, who in
Chapter 8, while drunk with wine, questions Beowulf’s boast of having achieved an
enormous swimming feat.
Of what promise does Beowulf remind Hrothgar before he plunges into his Underworld
Beowulf reminds Hrothgar that the Danish king promised, should Beowulf fail
and be killed by Grendel’s mother, to protect Beowulf’s men and return Beowulf’s
possessions to Hygelac.
What supernatural elements are present in this episode that were not present in the fight
While in his fight against Grendel, Beowulf displayed superhuman
strength, in this episode, he is truly superhuman, somehow not breathing while he
descends in the water of the lake for “most of the day.” He is fully armed and armored,
yet he is able to swim and maneuver in the water.
Who is the “wolf of the waves”?
The “wolf of the waves” is Grendel’s mother, who
snatches Beowulf and carries him to her lair at the bottom of the lake.
List some significant differences between Beowulf’s fight with Grendel and his fight with
Beowulf fought Grendel on human territory; he is fighting Grendel’s
mother on her territory. He fought Grendel barehanded
and unarmed; he is fully armored
and first uses Hrunting against the mother. Finally, Grendel was said to be unable to use
weapons, yet Grendel’s mother wields a sword against Beowulf.
According to the Beowulf poet, what leads to Beowulf’s victory against Grendel’s mother?
Beowulf is able to succeed because his armor protects his body from Grendel’s mother’s
attacks. Ultimately, however, it is the grace of a Christian God who assures his victory.
What is the “heirloom of warriors” described in the chapter, and why is it important?
“heirloom of warriors” is an ancient “sword of giants.” Beowulf discovers it in the cave
where he is fighting Grendel’s mother. He grasps the sword and uses it to battle and
eventually defeat Grendel’s mother.
What apparently supernatural aid does Beowulf receive in his battle in the underwater
First he, by chance, finds the sword of giants with which he kills Grendel’s mother.
Then, a mysterious bright light appears to help him explore the cave and find Grendel’s
What is Beowulf’s first action upon defeating Grendel’s mother?
Beowulf finds Grendel’s
dead body and severs the fiend’s head.
What is different between the way the Danes and the Geats react when Beowulf does
not return immediately from his battle with Grendel’s mother? What do their different
reactions reveal about the two tribes?
When Beowulf fails to reemerge from the
subterranean cave where he was fighting Grendel’s mother, Hrothgar and his kinsmen
head back to their castle. They do not believe that there is any chance Beowulf will return
from his battle. Beowulf’s own kinsmen, however, remain at the entrance to the
underwater caves. Though they, too, doubt that Beowulf will be victorious, they are loyal
to their leader and refuse to leave until they know for sure that Beowulf is dead.
Why doesn’t Beowulf take any treasure from the monsters’ lair?
First, the treasure might be cursed, having been
“owned” by the two descendents of Cain. Their touch and blood were apparently so foul
that the sword used to kill the mother and decapitate Grendel melts like ice on a summer
day. Second, Beowulf is already heavily armed and must swim back to the surface in
order to return to Heorot. It is probably impossible for him to carry anything more than he
is already burdened with.
How does Beowulf explain his victory when he returns to Heorot?
Beowulf explains that
God helped him when he allowed him to spot the ancient sword in the dungeon.
What scene is etched around the sword hilt that Beowulf presents to Hrothgar?
depicting Noah’s flood are engraved around the hilt.
What is the point of the story of Heremond that Hrothgar tells Beowulf?
also a great and renowned warrior and hero, but he grew greedy, proud, and bloodthirsty.
He forgot his humility and stopped rewarding his supporters as a good leader did. In the
end, despite his heroic reputation, he was alone and unloved. Hrothgar tells this story as
a warning to Beowulf not to let his recent successes ruin him.
What is the name of the “overweening pride” against which Hrothgar warns Beowulf?
That “overweening pride” is called hubris.
What noble deed indicates Beowulf’s sincere respect for the Danes?
Hrunting to Unferth and praises the sword. He does not dwell on the sword’s failure
against Grendel’s mother.
On what note do Beowulf and his men take their leave of Hrothgar and the Danes?
Beowulf graciously thanks Hrothgar for his hospitality and generosity and pledges his
and Hygelac’s support should anyone else ever trouble the Danes.
Who is the “boat warden” to whom Beowulf gives the precious sword?
This is the Dane
who, early on, promised to watch and protect the Geats’ ship.
From suggestions in the text, how large can it be inferred the Geats’ ship is?
The ship is
large enough to carry Beowulf plus thirteen of his men, all of their armor and provisions,
and all of the treasure given to them by Hrothgar including the eight horses. The ship
must, therefore, be quite large.
Who is Hygd? Why doesn’t the poet identify her more clearly for the listener/reader?
Hygd is Hygelac’s wife, the queen of Beowulf’s clan. The original audience of this poem
would have been familiar enough with the genealogies of the royal families so that a great
deal of introduction would not have been necessary.
Who is the queen whose beauty was so great that any thane who looked at her was
immediately executed? How does she fit into the narrative at this point?
queen is Thyrth. She is mentioned here in comparison to Hygd. Hygd is
young and beautiful, but meek, not proud and deadly like Thyrth.
Briefly summarize the story of Thyrth.
Thyrth was a noblewoman (queen) of an
unidentified savage race. She was beautiful, but arranged to have anyone who looked
directly at her killed. Her kinsman (Hemming—possibly the Danish King Hemming?)
sent her to be married to Offa (probably Offa, the king of Mercia—a region in what is now
Great Britain). As Offa’s bride, Thyrth became gracious and kind.
What is the most likely purpose of the information presented in this chapter (Chapter 27-28)?
is most likely the poet’s means of keeping the names and relationships he mentions alive
in the oral tradition. Even though the names mean little or nothing to a modern reader, a
contemporary of the poet would have seen the connections between the characters in
this take and people in the histories of Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and England.
Who is most likely “Hæreth’s daughter”? Why do you think so?
Hæreth’s daughter is
probably Hygda. She was Hygelac’s queen, and it would have been her responsibility to
greet the returned heroes and provide the refreshments.
Who are Frearwaru and Froda, and how do they figure into the narrative at this point?
Frearwaru is Hrothgar’s daughter. Froda is apparently the ruler of a neighboring clan (the
Heathobards), who are potentially going to wage war against Hrothgar’s clan. Frearwaru
has been betrothed to Froda’s son in an effort to forge a treaty by marriage and stave off
the war. Again, the narrative seems to be continuing in this fashion so that these names
and relationships do not die out of the oral tradition.
Whom is Beowulf quoting in the paragraph that begins, “Can’t you, my comrade,
recognize that sword...”? What is happening in this part of the narrative?
quoting a hypothetical Heathobard thane, seeing a Dane—part of Frearwaru’s
escort—wearing a sword that was won from the Heathobards in some longpast
this part of the narrative, Beowulf is speculating that the “peace” agreement between the
Danes and the Heathobards will not succeed because the Heathobards will resent being
reminded of their former defeats by the Danes.
What is the name of the Geat who was devoured by Grendel on the night of Beowulf’s
How does Beowulf’s account of his combat with Grendel differ from the account we were
The two accounts are not substantially different, but this account does
provide a few more details. For example, now we are told that Grendel has fangs. Beowulf
also says that Grendel was wearing a magic bag that held many captured warriors.
Grendel tried to put Beowulf into this bag but failed.
What do we learn is the actual relationship between Beowulf and Hygelac?
What does Beowulf do with the treasure he received from Hrothgar?
Beowulf honors “old
customs” and offers the treasures he has received to his ruler, Hygelac.
What happens to the Geats in the years following Beowulf’s return from the land of the
Beowulf is richly rewarded by Hygelac with valuable land and a sword that had
belonged to Beowulf’s grandfather—Hygelac’s father. Eventually, Hygelac is killed in
battle, and Beowulf becomes king of the Geats. He successfully rules the Geats for
more than fifty years until a dragon begins to threaten the safety of his kinsmen.
What is ironic about the theft that stirs the dragon’s anger?
The theft is essentially
unintentional and motivated by need. The thief is not a Geat adventurer but a refugee. He
takes the goblet only so that he will have something of value to offer the king (Beowulf)
when he asks for asylum. Beowulf, when he accepts the gift and grants the asylum, does
not know that the precious, antique goblet has been stolen from the dragon’s lair.
What is one key difference between the dragon’s raids on the Geatish countryside and
Grendel’s earlier attacks on the Danes?
Grendel’s attacks were essentially unprovoked.
The dragon is avenging a theft.
What do the dragon’s raids do to Beowulf that is even worse than the destruction of
The dragon shakes Beowulf’s frame of mind, his faith, and his sense
What does the poet suggest is going to happen between Beowulf and the dragon?
are going to die fighting each other: “The valorous prince was fated to end his allotted
days on this earth, and the dragon with him..."
Once again, the poet departs from the narrative to provide detailed backstory. What
episode from Beowulf’s life is recounted in this chapter (32-33)?
The poet departs from the main
narrative to tell the story of Hygelac’s death and the circumstances under which Beowulf
became king of the Geats.
Who is Heardred?
Heardred is Hygelac’s son, who succeeds his father to the throne of
Geatland, is himself killed, and is succeeded by Beowulf.
Who is the thirteenth man who accompanies Beowulf and his warriors to the dragons’
The thirteenth man is the refugee who originally stole the cup and caused the
What is Beowulf’s mood as he goes into battle with the dragon?
Beowulf knows that he
will not survive this fight, so he is sorrowful.
Why does Beowulf, once again, provide narrative about the deaths of Hygelac’s brothers
and the war between the Geats and the Swedes?
First, the motif of the inevitability of
death, of the fall of rulers and the rise of new ones, permeates this section of the poem.
Next, the poet is once again fixing these persons and events into history by repeating
these tales as a part of this poem. Finally, Beowulf himself wants his former days of
glory, the battles he fought gloriously and won remembered, not only this one battle
against the dragon, which will probably kill him.
Why does Beowulf apologize for carrying weapons against the dragon?
comments that he would prefer to fight the dragon barehanded,
the way he defeated
Grendel, but the dragon breathes fire, so Beowulf must protect his body.
What figurative and rhetorical devices predominate in the description of Beowulf’s battle
with the dragon? What effect do they create?
The description of the battle is
predominated by litotes and understatement. The effect is an ironic intensification of the
action by linguistically minimizing it.
What is significant about the introduction of a new character, Wiglaf, at this point in the
story? What does Wiglaf represent?
The introduction of Wiglaf emphasizes the passing
of one generation, represented by Beowulf, and the dawning of a new one, represented by
Wiglaf. Wiglaf is also something of a foil to the other warriors, who run in fear at the
How is the dragon eventually defeated? What is the narrative significance of this victory?
When Beowulf stands to die at the hand of the dragon, Wiglaf vows to help his leader.
Together, the two warriors defeat the dragon, “felling the foe.” The narrator subsequently,
refers to Beowulf and Wiglaf as “twin princes,” indicating that the torch of leadership and
heroism has passed from the aging Beowulf to the young but brave Wiglaf. It is important
for the audience to hear about the victory achieved together because it assures
listeners/readers of the continued bravery among the Geats: even though Beowulf is
dying, a new hero has emerged who has all the hallmarks of an outstanding and loyal
What is Beowulf’s request of Wiglaf once the dragon has been defeated?
Wiglaf to view the treasure the dragon has been hoarding.
What effect is created by the alliteration of the “w” sound at the beginning of Chapter
The alliteration of the “w” sound is almost onomatopoeic, recreating a mournful
Why does Beowulf react as he does to seeing the dragon’s treasure? What has treasure
come to represent in this poem?
Throughout the poem, treasure and the sharing of
treasure have been the measures of wealth and legitimate rule. Beowulf offers a prayer of
thanksgiving, not only because he is able to see the treasure, but also because it will be
he who leaves this treasure to his people. He has both saved them from the tyranny of
the dragon, and secured for them a prosperous future.
How does Beowulf reward Wiglaf for his loyalty and support? What is significant about
the treasure he gives Wiglaf?
Beowulf gives Wiglaf a golden collar, a breastplate, a
helmet, and a ring from his own person. Surrounded by the dragon’s treasure, Beowulf
gives his kinsman personal effects, heirlooms, as his reward.
What is Wiglaf’s message to his kinsmen?
Wiglaf criticizes his fellow Geats for
abandoning their lord. He believes that the cowardly behavior of his kinsmen will bode ill
for the future of the Geats. In fact, he warns that “all will you lose when highborn lords
from afar hear of your flight and ignoble deeds,” even suggesting that “death is better for
warriors than an entire life of shame.”
What is the basis for the herald’s prediction of war?
It seems as though war is inevitable
after the death of a king. The herald explains that, just as the Hugas attacked after
Hygelac’s death, so too will the Franks and Frisians probably attack when they hear of
Who was Hæthcyn?
Hæthcyn, identified as the son of Hrethel, was Hygelac’s brother.
He was killed in a war against the Swedes.
What purpose does the story of the battle at Ravenswood serve at this point in the
The herald is reminding Beowulf’s warriors—who ran away when they saw
Beowulf fall—of an ancient grudge between the Geats and the Swedes, thus emphasizing
the probability of war in the wake of Beowulf’s death.
What is to happen to Beowulf’s treasure? The Dragon’s treasure?
Beowulf’s treasure is
to be burned with him on his funeral pyre. Nothing is to be taken as a memorial. The
dragon’s treasure cannot be touched, as it is enchanted; only a man of God’s own
choosing can touch it. As a result, it has already begun to rust and decay after having
lain so long in disuse.
What element of poetic justice does the poet insert into the beginning of Chapter 42?
Fittingly, the man who stole the cup from the dragon’s lair and started the entire feud with
the dragon has been killed.
What motif does the line, “Yet it was not greed for gold, but heaven’s grace that the king
had ever kept in view,” develop even at the end of the poem?
The quoted line emphasizes
the juxtaposition of pagan (the accumulation of treasure and the burying of a hero’s
treasure with him in the tomb) ideas with Christian principles (placing a love of God
foremost in one’s life).
How does the end of Chapter 42 contradict what we were told in Chapter 41?
In 41, we
were told that the dragon’s treasure was enchanted and could not be touched by any man
other than one specifically chosen by God. In Chapter 42, seven of Beowulf’s men, led
by Wiglaf, plunder the dragon’s lair.
With what literary and rhetorical device does the poet end his tale? What effect does he
The poem ends with hyperbole: “Thus the men of Geatland, his
mourned their hero’s passing, and said that of all the kings of the
earth, he was the mildest and most beloved of his men; kindest to his kin, and the most
eager for praise.” The effect, of course, is an emphasis and exaggeration of Beowulf’s
heroic qualities with no mention at all of his shortcomings.
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