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Background and
Beowulf Summary
• The epic poem Beowulf opens describing the two
great kingdoms of the Geat's and the
Dane's. Beowulf, our title character, is the prince of
the Geat's and a great warrior. Hrothgar is the Thane
(Leader/Warrior) of the Danes. He is the epitome of
the perfect man, with moral and physical strength.
• The poem begins describing the glory of both
Beowulf's kingdom and then explains that the Dane's
have been tormented by a monster, Grendel, who's
jealously is causing the destruction of the Danish
• Many warriors have attempted to protect the
kingdom and destroy the monster Grendel but have
failed, and this is where Beowulf enters the
scene. Each battle and test Beowulf faces continue
to prove the power the pure heart has over fate.
Social Society
Warrior–based society
Focus on the hero, and trial of personal worth
Security and threat – survival in harsh world
Comitatus- agreement between lord and thanes:
Thanes swear allegiance to lord in return for
protection, wealth ,and weapons.
• Your status was determined by who your father was,
and to whom you pledged your allegiance.
• Gathered at mead hall for flyting (boasting)
and merriment.
• Mead is fermented honey. (Bee puke)
Important Terms
• Epic- Long narrative poem that
recounts in formal language, the
exploits of a larger than life hero.
They were meant to be sung or
recited to music (ie. The harp or
Kenning- A compound poetic phrase,
a figure of speech, substituted for
the usual name of a person or
Example: The sea in Old English
could be called sail-road or whaleroad. In modern terms, chess
might be “The game of kings”
Motif- A repeated symbol, metaphor
etc. which brings unity to a literary
Epic conventions
• A concern with the fate of a nation or people
• A correspondingly large scale, often ranging
around the world
• The intervention of supernatural figures
• Extended similes, generally called epic
A simile is an explicit comparison of two
things, usually with the word "as" or "like."
• Long catalogues, whether of ships,
characters, or places
• Extensive battle scenes;
• Begins “in medias res”
Important Terms Continued…
• Wyrd: Old English for fate, which was believed to be the
controlling force of the world for pre-Christian AngloSaxon culture.
• Wergild: “manprice”; As Donaldson writes, “If one of his
kinsmen had been slain, a man had a special duty of
either killing the slayer or exacting from him the payment
of wergild. . . . The money itself had less significance as
wealth than as proof that the kinsmen had done what
was right. Relatives who failed either to exact wergild or
to take vengeance could never be happy, having found
no practical way of satisfying their grief.”
• Flyting was key in the Anglo-Saxon world. Boasting
before war prepared them for glory on the battlefield.
Important Terms Continued…
• Scop- An Old English poet or bard.
A story teller.
• Caesura - A pause in a line of verse
dictated by sense or natural
speech rhythm rather than by
• Synecdoche- A figure of speech in
which a part is used for the whole
(as hand for sailor), the whole for a
part (as the law for police officer),
the specific for the general (as
cutthroat for assassin), the general
for the specific (as thief for
pickpocket), or the material for the
thing made from it (as steel for
• Archetype- The word archetype is
commonly used to describe an original
pattern or model from which all other
things of the same kind are made
• Paganism is a catch-all term which has
come to bundle together (by extension
from its original classical meaning of a
non-Christian religion) a very broad set
of not necessarily compatible religious
beliefs and practices that are usually,
but not necessarily, characterized by
• Gives his/her life to something bigger than
• Performs a courageous act, either physical or
• Feels he or his society has had something taken
from him/them.
• Embarks on a series of adventures to recover what
is lost
• Leaves the known, conventional safety of his life to
undertake the journey.
• Devine intervention.
• Nobel birth.
• Magic/great weapons
• Superhuman power.
• Undergoes trials and tests of courage.
• Has to achieve something.
• Performs a journey that usually consists of
Sutton Hoo Archeological Site
• Helmet from Sutton Hoo,
Suffolk, England. The hero
Beowulf is never described in
physical detail and remains
fairly inscrutable. Since 1939,
though, when the treasures
buried at Sutton Hoo were
unearthed, many people have
been tempted to associate the
poem with objects found at that
site. This helmet, for some
present-day readers, may be
as close to the man "Beowulf"
as one can get.
Key Facts
• Author- Unknown although it is thought the first
written manuscripts of Beowulf came into existence
between 700-1000 A.D. and were penned by monks?.
• Genre- Poem/ heroic epic.
• Language- Originally Anglo-Saxon (Old English)
• ORIGINAL Hwæt. We Gardena in gear-dagum,
þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon,
hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon.
• What. We of the Spear-Danes in old days
of the people-kings, power heard,
how the princes brave deeds did.
Key Facts Continued…
• Narrator-A Christian narrator telling a
pagan story
• Point of View- Third person objective.
• Tone- Tone ranges from the
enthusiastic to a sense of doom.
• Tense- Past
• Setting/Time – Around 500 A.D. with
references to a much earlier time.
• Setting/Place- Denmark and Geatland
(modern Sweden)
Key Facts Continued…
• Protagonist- Beowulf
• Major Conflict- There are
three central conflicts. 1.
Grendel’s domination of
Heorot Hall. 2. The
vengeance of Grendel’s
mother. 3. The rage of
the dragon.
• Rising Action- Grendel’s
attack on Heorot,
Beowulf’s defeat of
Grendel, and Grendel’s
mother’s attack.
Key Facts Continued…
• Climax- Beowulf’s encounter with
Grendel’s mother constitutes the
moment at which good and evil are in
greatest tension.
• Falling Action- King Hrothgar’s praise
of Beowulf as a worthy hero and king.
• Themes- Good warrior vs Good king,
Good vs Evil, Christian vs Pagan ritual.
Major Characters
• Beowulf- The protagonist, Beowulf is a
Geatish hero who fights the monster
Grendel, Grendel’s mother and a firebreathing dragon. Beowulf’s bosts and
encounters reveal him to be the strongest
and most able warrior.
• King Hrothgar- King of the Danes. Hrothgar’s
kingdom is terrorized by Grendel. He is a
father figure to Beowulf and a model for the
kind of king that Beowulf becomes.
• Grendel- A ruthless demon descended from
• Grendel’s mother- An unnamed swamp-hag
who seeks vengeance for her son’s murder.
Important Places
• Denmark- Land of the
Danes, located in Eastern
• Sweden- Home of the
• Herot- The battle/mead
• Lair- The underground
home of Grendel and his
mother, which exists in the
old battlehall of a castle,
beneath a lake.
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