Beowulf Guided Reading Questions

What is meant by the term “whale-road”? What literary device is this? The sea/ocean; it is a kenning.
Describe Shield Sheafson. Founded the ruling house (Spear Danes); was a great warrior who established a dynasty. He was a “scourge of many tribes”, a “wrecker of mead-benches” and “a terror”. Was considered a good king. Was Hrothgar’s great-grandfather
Describe the funeral rites given to Shield Sheafson. They laid him in his ship with all of his treasures and battle gear and set the ship.
What is the author’s purpose in including Shield Sheafson in the text? Introduces the importance of lineage in Anglo-Saxon culture. Shield’s death foreshadowed Beowulf’s death at the end.
When Hrothgar has achieved fame from fighting, he turns his mind to what? Why is this important? Turned his mind to building mead halls, specifically Herot; important because the mead hall was the center of the community where people went to socialize and rest.
Who is Grendel and to whom is he related? What literary device is this? He is described as “a demon” & “fiend out of hell”. He is a relative of Cain’s. It is an allusion to the book of Genesis and the killing of Abel by Cain.
According to the poet, who made the Earth? However, to whom/ what do many of the Danes’ “powerful counsellors” turn for help? The poet states that God the “Almighty” made Earth. Then, the people turned to “Pagan shrines” & the “killer of souls” (the Devil) came to their aid.
While Grendel attacks Heorot, he does NOT approach what? Why? Heorot’s throne; b/c he could not approach God
Why is it important to note the religious references throughout the text? Both Pagan and Christian beliefs are referenced. Both beliefs are intertwined within the text and the conflict is not resolved.
Who is Hygelac’s thane? From which country does he come? The mightiest man on Earth, high-born and powerful. Was from Geatland, is later revealed as Beowulf.
Why does Beowulf travel to the land of the Speardanes? Heard the stories about Grendel and comes to offer his help.
According to Hrothgar, why is Beowulf in the land of the Speardanes? He’s there to follow up an old friendship between his father Ecgtheow and Hrothgar. Hrothgar also states that he was guided here by God.
Compare and contrast Beowulf’s and Hrothgar’s religious beliefs. Hrothgar makes numerous references to Christianity, while Beowulf cites his belief in fate.
How does Unferth speak to Beowulf? He spoke “contrary words” to Beowulf. (insulted him, spoke hostile)
What story does Unferth cite when challenging Beowulf? Describe it. Cites Beowulf’s swimming match with Breca. They swam for 7 days and Beowulf lost.
How does Beowulf respond to Unferth’s challenge? He first insults him by saying that it was just “the beer doing the talking”. He then talks about the many sea monsters he fought off during that match. He then asks if Unferth has ever even been in a war & makes it clear that he’s not respected because he killed his kin.
Who is Wealhtheow? What does she do when she enters? What can we infer about the role of women during this time period? Hrothgar’s queen; She observed the courtesies then saluted the men then handed a cup to Hrothgar to drink from. This suggests that women had a subservient role during this time.
What weapons will Beowulf use to battle Grendel? He will use none in order to make the fight more equal.
Describe the battle between Beowulf and Grendel? What is the final outcome? Beowulf locked Grendel in a powerful handgrip. Beowulf’s men tried to help, but their swords could not hurt Grendel’s impenetrable skin. Beowulf tears off Grendel’s arm and shoulder. Grendel returns to his lair to die.
Describe the man who appears in lines 866-873. What does he do to honor Beowulf and why? He is a scop (storyteller) or minstrel. He recited Beowulf’s feat to honor him. Stories were passed down orally, and the man was trying to commit Beowulf’s triumphs to memory. Also, tells the story of Sigmund as comparison to Beowulf.
How does Hrothgar thank Beowulf? Hrothgar adopts Beowulf as a son.
What do the men do to Heorot? They refurbish it.
The man who sand of Siegmund’s and Beowulf’s greatness sings again. What is the second song about? What is the purpose of the song? He sings of the Frisian king Finn. He is characterized as a ruthless king and murderer. King Finn serves as a foil to Beowulf and exemplifies the effects of poor leadership.
Wealhtheow offers a toast to Hrothgar. What does she say? Her main point is that although Hrothgar is considering adopting Beowulf as his son, & therefore heir, he should also consider Hrothulf as a potential heir.
What happens when everyone goes to sleep after the feast? She (Grendel’s mother) attacks Heorot to avenge her son’s death.
What two things does Grendel’s mother take back to her den? She takes Hrothgar’s bestie and advisor Aeshere. & also takes Grendel’s arm
Describe the two creatures in lines 1345-1382. One is a woman and the other is in the shape of a man, but larger. Poet states that Grendel had “an unnatural birth” and their ancestry is filled with demons and ghosts.
What is Beowulf’s attitude toward death in line 1442? He was indifferent (didnt care).
What does Unferth give Beowulf? He lent Beowulf his sword, Hrunting.
What does Unferth lose? “lost fame and repute”
How is Beowulf able to defeat Grendel’s mother? His weapons were useless against her. He saw an ancient sword made by giants in Grendel’s mother’s horde and defeated/decapitated her with it.
When Beowulf returns from the battle, what does he bring with him? He brings Grendel’s head and the giant sword hilt.
To whom is Beowulf compared? What is the purpose of this comparison? King Heremod who brought death to his people. He is presented as a foil character.
Summarize the important lessons on “true values” that Hrothgar explains to Beowulf. He tells Beowulf that material goods/ treasures fade; therefore, he should focus more on eternal rewards. Also, he warns him not to give in to pride.
Why does Beowulf not tell Unferth the truth about Hrunting? Beowulf does not want further insult Unferth; the poet states that “he was a considerate man”.
According to Hrothgar, what 3 traits does Beowulf have that will make him a great king? Hrothgar states: “You are strong in body, and mature in mind, impressive in speech.”
What has Beowulf accomplished by coming in friendship and defeating Grendel and Grendel’s mother? How does this relate to current times? He has brought 2 nations together in a pact of friendship. This would be similar to 2 countries working together and forming a treaty.
Beowulf returns home and greets Hygelac. Beowulf explains his accomplishments to him and presents him with gifts. What is the purpose of this section? Hygelac has no other way of knowing what tranpired. Since this was originally an oral story, the repetition serves to remind the audience of what happened and is memory aid for the scop.
How long does Beowulf rule the kingdom before the dragon appears? for 50 years
What provokes the dragon? An intruder stole a goblet from the sleeping dragon, which drove him into a rage.
What is one building that is so important to Beowulf that gets burned down? Why does he think this has happened? Beowulf’s own home was burnt to cinder. He was anguished by this and believed that he must have broken one of God’s commandments.
What keeps Beowulf from lining up with a large army to defeat the dragon? He was too proud
Hygelac’s death is explained through a flashback. Why is this story told? It explains how Beowulf came to be king, and shows he is capable of humility.
When Beowulf sits on the cliff, what makes him “sad at heart”? What literary device is this? He realizes that he will meet his death; this is foreshadowing
What story does Beowulf tell before he goes to fight the dragon? The story of Herebeald’s death
What weapon does Beowulf choose to use against the dragon? He will wear mail and carry a shield.
Who helps Beowulf in his fight against the dragon? His men all ran away, except for Wiglaf
Describe Wiglaf. Wiglaf was a young, but respected, shylfing Warrior. This was his first time in battle.
What does Wiglaf say to Beowulf’s men? He reminds them of their loyalty to Beowulf & tells them they need to bond together and enter the fight.
Describe what Beowulf thinks about his life as he dies. He regrets never having had a son for an heir, but he’s consoled that he acted honorable as king.
Who does Beowulf thank at line 2794? What does he think will be so good about all the treasure he recovered? Beowulf gives thanks to God and is glad to have so much treasure to leave for his people.
To whom does Beowulf give his power? Why? Beowulf bestows kingship on Wiglaf by giving him his gold collar because he didn’t run away when everyone else did.
How does the ending of the poem contribute to the overall structure of the text? This poem has a circular structure. It begins/ends with the funeral rites of a king. The reader can now clearly see the description of Shield Sheafson’s death foreshadows Beowulf’s death.

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