July’s Book of the Month: Beowulf
“Beowulf” is one of the longest poems translated into English. Many believe that the epic poem was written down over twelve hundred years ago. The writer was going by Germanic oral poetry, using heroic language, style, Christianity and the pagan world. (Beowulf, 36—37).
It is possible that the writer was a Christian, due to the Christian elements we see throughout the poem. Per Salem Press Encyclopedia, that the original story was altered by incorporating the Christian belief system (Campbell, 2016). Again, the original story could be Christian base (Beowulf, 37). That is something to think about while reading the story.
The story tells of a man named Beowulf and three of his adventures, with highlights from some of his other adventures. The adventures show his way from warrior to king.
There are many translations of the epic poem:
Discussion questions (Penguin)
- Why are their ancestors so important to the warriors in Beowulf?
- Identify and discuss the Christian influences on the poem.
- Identify and discuss the Viking/Scandinavian elements in the poem.
- Discuss the code of loyalty in Beowulf. How is the society structured? What is important to the warriors in Beowulf? What qualities did they feel a good king should possess? What do they consider “courageous”?
- Discuss the battle between good and evil in the poem. Who represents good? Who represents evil?
- Discuss the role of women in this patriarchal world. Cite examples from the text.
- Is Beowulf a hero? Why/why not?
- Discuss the role of reputation in Beowulf. Cite examples from the text.
- Compare and contrast the battles with Grendel and the dragon. Consider the cause of each monster’s attack, Beowulf’s motivation for countering the attack, Beowulf’s battle preparations, and the conclusions of each battle.
- Discuss the behavior of Beowulf’s men in each of these battles.
- What attitudes and actions lead to Beowulf’s downfall? Defend your answer with examples.
- Do you think the poem is original in its Christian elements or has the original poem been altered and certain “Pagan” elements were switched to Christian elements?
- How do the women play a role?
- What literary devices to see in the epic poem?
Literary Theory Responses:
What form(s) of Literary Theory(ies) would you use and why? Use excerpts from the novel to back your theory(ies).
Moral Criticism, Dramatic Construction (~360 BC-present)
Formalism, New Criticism, Neo-Aristotelian Criticism (1930s-present)
Psychoanalytic Criticism, Jungian Criticism(1930s-present)
Marxist Criticism (1930s-present)
Reader-Response Criticism (1960s-present)
New Historicism/Cultural Studies (1980s-present)
Post-Colonial Criticism (1990s-present)
Feminist Criticism (1960s-present)
Gender/Queer Studies (1970s-present)
Critical Race Theory (1970s-present)
[List of Literary Theories from Purdue OWL]
“Beowulf,” Trans. Seamus Heaney. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed., Vol. A. New York, NY, W.W. Norton, 2012, p.41 and pp. 36-37
Campbell, Josephine. “Medieval Literature.” Salem Press Encyclopedia of Literature, January. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.snhu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ers&AN=98402286&site=eds-live&scope=site.