Suggested Essay Topics
1. Discuss how the importance of lineage, as seen in Beowulf, has changed in modern culture. Cite specific examples of cases where lineage is still discussed and considered important today—i.e., the few remaining royal families, members of families with long histories of political involvement, and children of notorious or celebrated people. Also note ways in which lineage has, and unfortunately, continues to be used against people in modern culture.
2. Beowulf comes to the Danes to assist Hrothgar’s men in the defeat of Grendel. Yet it has been 12 years since Grendel’s last attack on Herot. Discuss what might have happened during these 12 years to keep Grendel’s need for vengeance alive, and why a young leader brought 14 men across the sea to assist in the battle.
1. Despite the fact that Beowulf is a boastful and confident young man, he has a history of keeping his promises. Discuss how this is evidenced in this section of the poem.
2. When Beowulf first arrives at Herot, Unferth tells the story of Beowulf’s swimming contest with Brecca; then Beowulf gives his version of the same contest. How do you account for each of the differences in Unferth and Beowulf’s versions of this contest?
1. At the second feast, poetry is sung; each poem seems to have a specific moral for the listeners, rather than just entertainment. What are the lessons inherent in the songs of Siegmund and Finn?
2. Hrothgar, an older king, relies upon Beowulf, a young warrior, to save his country. While Hrothgar is considered a good and fair king, Beowulf is something of a legend already. How does the poem indicate, specifically, that each respects the other’s accomplishments?
1. Discuss the specifics of how and why Unferth’s opinion of Beowulf changes after his defeat of Grendel and Grendel’s mother, and Unferth’s loan of a sword to Beowulf.
2. Explain how Grendel’s mother’s actions are both similar and dissimilar to those of a grieving human mother, had her child been murdered.
1. Discuss the lesson of Hermod’s story, and the “message” his death would give the audience.
2. Although Hrunting was useless in Beowulf’s attack on Grendel’s mother and this almost costs his life, Unferth gives the ancient sword to the Geat as a gift before he sails for home. Why do you think he does this?
3. How do you account for Hrothgar’s regarding Beowulf as a son when he already has two of his own in addition to a son-in-law?
4. Why do you think Beowulf goes through the trouble of bringing Grendel’s head to Hrothgar after he’d already apologized for not having it at the time he killed Grendel and Hrothgar seemingly accepted the lack of a corpse?
1. Beowulf follows all of Hrothgar’s instructions in presenting the gifts to Higlac and Higd, including explaining the heritage of these gifts to Higlac. Not only is he courteous and correct, but his actions are also somewhat unusual since warriors often kept these gifts for themselves. Explain how and why it is possible Beowulf might be taking Hrothgar’s admonitions against pride to heart.
2. Discuss the various reasons Beowulf accepts the Geatish throne only after the deaths of Higlac and Herdred. Explain why you feel this is modesty or Beowulf’s genuinely enjoying the warrior life. Include why the throne was offered to Beowulf after Higlac’s death, even though Herdred was next in line.
1. Beowulf summarizes his life as the consummate military life. Discuss how he has lived essentially alone and how, while this results in his being a wise and strong leader, it leaves him a man who must face his death realizing he has foolishly avoided having a close relationship with another human being.
(The entire section is 980 words.)