by Andy Moore
Table of Contents


Words of Comfort for Those New to Teaching Beowulf

How Long Should the Beowulf Unit Take to Complete?

II.History of Britain Notes:The Early Medieval Period (43 -1066)

III.Beowulf Background

IV.The Text of Beowulf: Summaries and Comments

Relating Themes in Beowulf to the Lives of Modern Students

V.Creative Writing Assignment for Beowulf

VI.Essay Questions for Beowulf /Essay Guidelines

VII.Activities for the Beowulf Unit

VIII.Notes on Quizzes and Tests

IX.Student Study Guide: British History and Beowulf

X.Works Cited/Contact Me


Words of Comfort for Those New to Teaching Beowulf

In my first year of teaching, I was assigned to teach Honors English 4 (British Literature) as well as two different classes.Needless to say, I struggled.Good instruction in this course involves teaching part literature and part British history.It also involves showing connections between the literature and the ancient time it was written, as well as showing the connections to today (why the themes and issues still have staying power).In my opinion, this is quite a juggling act, and you have to be a little brilliant to do it well.

Consequently, the tone of this guide is geared first and foremost to new teachers.Making all the connections click well, takes the seasoned experience of a veteran teacher, unless your a lot brilliant.Will this help veteran teachers who are new to Beowulf?I am not certain.I compiled this guide in the summer after my second year as a teacher, having taught Beowulf in both years.I was fortunate to have taught it with two other teachers and to have taken some classes on the Medieval Period during those two summers.Still, I did not teach Beowulf as well as I would have liked.This guide exists, then, to make the task easier for you.Hopefully, my groundwork will have done just that.

How Long Should the Beowulf Unit Take to Complete?

In my experience we have sought to finish this unit in about 2 WEEKS.In that time, I covered lines 1-1303 of the poem, working from England in Literature textbook (see works cited).This time period seems to be the best for keeping student’s interest and allowing the teacher to move on to the next unit.Two and a half weeks could work as well, but three weeks might be pushing it.

History of Britain Notes:The Early Medieval Period (43 -1066)

How much of this do students need to know?There is no way they will be able to know all I want them to know!This is an English class, remember.The Anglo-Saxon information is most important for students to understand.However, if you cut anything, DO NOT cut this, as the information is essential to the story of Beowulf.(And remember, not all the Anglo-Saxon information is under only that specific heading.)

Some teachers say that you should only spend a half hour of 1 class on history.I say you should try to work in as much history as possible within the first 3 days of this unit.Getting the students to have a picture of what life was like back then (customs, religion, government) will give them a frame of reference to understand Beowulf better.Without that frame, the story is distant to them.I try to bring the story & times to them through activities & lecture notes in the first few days of class.Throughout the unit, I try to do the same, making connections to their lives (I often use sports) where I can.

It will probably be unwise to try and cram all this information down the student’s throats.You should be familiar with this, however, especially if your British history is rusty.This information should provide enough material for the teacher to at least appear quite knowledgeable about this period of time.It is hoped that the notes themselves will be explanatory enough for the discerning teacher to know what material to provide in notes and put on the board, as well as which material to leave out.


*Suggestion:put this Invaders Chart on the board first.Students will have a handy chart they can refer back to.It may also be useful to show the maps and the 5 different countries that compose Britain today, discussing from where and when each group came.

The Invaders:The groups and approximate time period of their invasions of Britain include:

1.2000 BC Groups from the Iberian peninsula (modern-day Spain and Portugal)

2.600 BC Celts (from different parts of Europe)

3.55 BCRomans (from Italy)

4.410 ADAnglo-Saxons (from modern Germany)

5.793 ADVikings (from modern Denmark, Norway, and Sweden)

6.1066 AD Normans (from modern France)

One textbook refers to the Anglo-Saxons as the “first Englishmen”.I will do the same in this packet, explaining this reference in a few moments.Before arriving at the Anglo-Saxon period in England, we need to keep in mind an important fact about Britain’s history.Although the Anglo-Saxons contributed greatly to the foundations of Britain, the island suffered a series of INVASIONS for the first 1100 years of its recorded history (55 BC - 1066).(The Anglo-Saxons themselves were invaders.)Each group of INVADERS left reminders of their presence in this country, though the Anglo-Saxons left the strongest.

Britain Before Recorded History

Written history of Britain began in the year 55 BC, when the Roman general Julius Caesar wrote of his campaigns in Britain.The history of people in Britain goes back far before written history.We have evidence that people lived in caves in Britain as far back as 250,000 years ago.Around 2,000 BC, invaders from the Iberian Peninsula (modern-day Spain and Portugal) invaded the island.Evidence shows that they had a culture sophisticated enough to erect Stonehenge.Around the year 600 BC, the next invaders, a people called the Celts (from all over Europe), settled the land.

-The Celts lived in a tribal society.The Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings though different cultures, came from a similar geography (Europe) and lived in tribal units as well.These tribal cultures had similar structures, including:

The Tribal Culture of the Celts and other Northern Europeans Tribes

-Each tribe had their own king
-They built walled farms and wood-hut villages
-They used bronze and iron tools, and grew crops
-They also warred with each other

-Since war was always a possibility, life was unstable and often violent

-warriors were loyal to a king and would fight to the death for him, surrender was cowardly

-these were oral cultures (there was no writing or recorded history)

-these cultures were non-Christian; they were “pagans”, worshipping many gods

Scholars say that these invasions happened because of Britain’s fertile land; the land in Northern Europe being less fertile and subject to flooding from the North Sea.

*Note:though we mention the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings, they do not invade until much later than the Celts.

The Invasion of the Romans

Julius Caesar and his Roman troops first landed in Britain in 55 BC.Written history of Britain begins here when Caesar writes of his expeditions to this land.Rome was a great power at the time, and it ruled many lands.Some scholars say that Caesar’s troops came to punish the Celtics in Britain for helping European Celts in their fighting against Rome.

One hundred years after Caesar, in 43 BC, under the rule of the emperor Claudius, Rome successfully invaded Britain.For about the next 400 years (43 - 410), Rome ruled much of Britain.Those tribal cultures who rebelled against Roman rule (generally the Celts) fled to the highlands of Wales and Scotland.Early in the 2nd century (100’s) the emperor Hadrian built a wall 73 miles long to keep the Celts in the highlands.It is now known as Hadrian’s Wall.

Life in Roman Ruled Britain (43 - 410)

The Britons, who did not flee and succumbed to Roman rule, had an easier life than those who were forced to the highlands.For example under Roman rule, people enjoyed the following:

A.Peace, Stability, a less Nomadic life.With safe towns protected by a strong Roman army, there was no

need to “pack up everything they owned” if they were to be forced from their land--they

wouldn’t be forced from their land.

B.In town and out of town INFRASTRUCTURE could be improved.

1. Paved roads connected towns (preventing horses and wagons from getting stuck in mud for example

and, thus improving travel.)

2.More Stable Buildings (more often used the sturdier stone, brick, or concrete vs. wood huts for

example.Stone is better against weather and attack.Stone doesn’t catch fire like wood might.)

3.More people lived because of this peace, thus increasing the ability to build the infrastructure and

have professional soldiers due to Able-Bodied Workers.

*Other benefits of Roman rule included sanitation systems providing for cleaner more healthy cities, public baths (cleaner, healthier people) even public meeting houses, law courts, and amphitheaters.

Exodus of Rome/The Coming of Anglo-Saxon Invaders

After the year 300, however, the vast Roman Empire began to weaken.By the 5th century it had collapsed.The Romans were forced to withdraw their troops from Britain to fight battles at home in Italy.This opened the previously peaceful areas of Roman rule in Britain to INVASION.

The period after Roman withdrawal is one of the most obscure in British history.Celts invaded from the highlands where they had been forced into living.Anglo-Saxon warriors from Germany were hired to protect other Britons from Celts and to help preserve the Roman way of life.In time though, the Anglo-Saxons decided this land was good for them as well, so they invaded too (remember this land was fertile while theirs in Germany was not as fertile).The ordered Roman way of life soon disappeared and tribal kingdoms (oral cultures/no written history remember) once again reigned.

As had happened during the Roman occupation, defeated groups fled to the highlands of Scotland and Wales.Anglo-Saxon’s settled in different areas throughout England.Some Britons did not flee and thus were assimilated into Anglo-Saxon culture.One begins to see how the different cultures both separate and mix upon invasion.By 441 these various Anglo-Saxon tribes formed the new power in Britain.Interestingly, when the Anglo-Saxons were invaded by the Vikings around 790, they didn’t go away.They would contribute to the culture of Britain for another 600 years; this is why we call them “the first Englishmen”.They provided customs that exist to this day:the language (English, called Old English today), began its literature (becoming a written as opposed to oral culture), and established traditions in law and government (monarchy:one king), and religion (Christianity)

Anglo-Saxon England 441-793

In 441, the Anglo-Saxons were a tribal culture like the Celts.Their culture is chronicled in the epic poem, Beowulf.

Though these Anglo-Saxon tribes were spread throughout much of England, more ambitious kings began to assert authority over other rulers and their people.The first of these more powerful kings was King Athelbert who ruled from 560-616.He appeared to have “dreamed of a nationwide confederation of tribes which would bring unity and a measure of peace to the land” (McConnell, 4).Between 632 and 796, this system appears to have worked well in the large area of Mercia in central England.Violence and instability was reduced, and order, more comparable to the Roman days existed, allowing the culture to flourish.

Partially because of this work towards peace in England, the Catholic Church in Rome became interested in converting the Anglo-Saxons.(Although there had been small Christian communities in Britain since the days of the Romans, Christianity’s influence was minor, especially since these communities were nearly wiped out in the invasion after Rome withdrew.)However, when a greater amount of stability began to exist in England, Rome sent St. Augustine to try and convert England in 597.During the next 40 years, “Christian missionaries, despite setbacks, were able to convert most of the Anglo-Saxon kings and their people to Christianity” (McConnell, 4).

The spread of CHRISTIANITY to the Anglo-Saxon’s, benefited the Anglo-Saxon culture in many ways: brought writing to this formerly oral culture, an essential skill for an “advanced culture” brought new values (peace, compassion, cooperation--instead of arrogance and violence)

3.books were copied, records were written by monks, thus preserving their culture in writing

If we remember back to the Romans when peace and stability first reigned in Britain, then we look at the Anglo-Saxons with peace and stability in their time, we learn an important truth about life:in times of peace, life is good; in unstable times, people die, culture preoccupies with survival, defense, and battle. Cultures are overcome.Towns, books, buildings are burned.Culture grows and flourishes in peace, gets attacked and torn down in battle.Because of various invasions during the early Medieval Period, it has also come to be known as The Dark Ages.

As we depart the peaceful times in Anglo-Saxon England, remember one thing: though they were invaded by the Vikings, they did not go away or disappear; they continued to contribute to English history.This why they are called the first “Englishmen”.

The Viking Invasions (793 - 1066)

While Anglo-Saxon England became a more peaceful, organized, and advanced culture over 300 years, the new invaders, the Vikings, were more like the tribal cultures of hundreds of years before.What’s worse, these Viking invaders were all professional soldiers.They were not followed by peasants and farmers, as were the Anglo-Saxons.They were fierce warriors led by a warrior-king.

The Viking raids went on in Britain and Europe for almost 300 years (from 793-1066).They came from even farther North than the Germanic Tribes (the Anglo-Saxons and Celts), crossing the North Sea to arrive in Europe and Britain.It is thought that they came to Europe and Britain to acquire land as their population grew too much for the land to support their people.In any event, by the end of the 9th century (800’s), the Vikings had overpowered much of Anglo-Saxon Britain.The Anglo-Saxon’s did not disappear, remember, but they were now ruled by the pagan Vikings.

Alfred the Great

On a side note, there was one English king who was able to avoid having his land ruled by the Vikings.He was Alfred the Great who ruled from 849 - 899.Though his kingdom was much smaller than Viking-ruled Britain, he is greatly responsible for keeping the more advanced Anglo-Saxon way of life thriving.Under his reign:

-writing continued, with valuable history and literature being recorded (the Vikings were illiterate)

-the first English Navy was created

The Vikings were feared all over Europe and Britain.They gained a reputation as explorers, great seamen, and fierce fighters, barbarians who loved to fight.They powerfully exerted their influence over Britain and Europe for 300 years.By the 11th century (1000’s), however, the Vikings did begin to lose some battles.Also, Christianity had arrived in their homelands of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden.Somehow, the combination of losing battles and the influence of a peaceful, loving, and compassionate religion like Christianity, decreased the power of the Vikings in Britain. 

By the last defeat of the last great Viking leader, Harold Hadrada, in 1066, the Vikings powerful influence of Britain and Europe would be finished forever.Of course, then the next wave of invaders came, the Normans from France.The rule of the Normans begins the late Medieval Period 1066 - 1453.This will be our next unit in this class.When we read the Canterbury Tales, written around 1386, we will jump about 700 years from the supposed writing (copying) of Beowulf to a more advanced culture in England.

Final Reminder

As we read Beowulf, we are in Denmark and Sweden, around 500 AD, before the move towards one king, Christianity, peace, and literacy.Though we are in Denmark and Sweden, these tribal cultures (the Geats and the Scyldings) are much like those in early Anglo-Saxon England.


Note:It is important too introduce students to such literary concepts as the epic poem, epic hero, kenning, alliteration, and caesura in this unit.Some of these concepts will appear again in a student’s career.Also, teaching students to recognize these conventions and/or apply them in their own work is valuable for the student to reach higher-order thinking.

Literary Genre of Beowulf

Epic:A long narrative poem in elevated style.It presents a character (s) of high degree and details important events that have a national, worldwide, or cosmic setting.(The Odyssey, the Star Wars films etc.)Traditionally, epics came from oral cultures, were passed down orally, and were of importance to a nation.With the spread of literacy and writing, single authors began to write epics.Most epics have the following characteristics:

1.) an epic hero of imposing stature and who is meaningful as a legend or historical figure

2.) his/her actions take place on a grand scale and are important nationally, internationally, or worldwide

3.) the action consists of a great deed( s) requiring superhuman courage & maybe superhuman strength

4.) supernatural forces (gods, angels, demons) are involved or interested in the action

5.) the style is grand or elevated 

My definition of HERO:A hero is simply a behavioral model.To some, a basketball player might be a hero, but to another that may seem silly.How could a basketball player be a hero?What are the reasons?We all have our own heroes for our own reasons.Thus a simple all-encompassing definition of a hero might simply be as a behavioral model.

Background on the Poem Beowulf

-Oral story guessed to have been written down around 725.(The events take place hundreds of years earlier, circa 500 - 600, in Sweden and Denmark).

-the author is unknown, though it was probably copied down by a Christian monk in England.

-the main plot surrounds a warrior-hero named Beowulf and his men.They are from a tribe called the Geats (pronounced yai-ots) who live in Sweden. They have crossed the ocean to Denmark to help a tribe called the Scyldings (pronounced Shildings).The Scyldings are being eaten and killed by an evil monster called Grendel.

-the story captures customs, traditions and values of the Anglo-Saxon Society

-though this poem chronicles the times of most probably a pagan people, by the time this was written, Christianity had established itself as a powerful presence in England.Therefore, we see God and references from the Bible mentioned often in this text.

-stories in Medieval England were often meant to be didactic--teach a lesson (what lesson does Beowulf teach?).

Life in the Times of Beowulf

Though this Anglo-Saxon work seems to chronicle the life of a Viking people, as opposed to the Germanic Anglo-Saxons, these cultures were close enough for the cultures to be interchangeable.The following aspects of Anglo-Saxon society include (as noted in British history notes): 

The Tribal Culture of the Anglo-Saxons

-Each tribe had their own king

-They built walled farms and wood-hut villages

-They used bronze and iron tools, and grew crops

-They also warred with each other

-Since war was always a possibility, life was unstable and often violent

-warriors were loyal to the king and would fight to the death for him, surrender was cowardly.Honor and loyalty to the tribe and to the king were more important, in a way, than material goods, for being remembered well after death, where you could not take material objects, was very important

-these were oral cultures (there was no writing or recorded history)

-these cultures were non-Christian; they were “pagans”, worshipping many gods.

Additional Notes on Anglo-Saxon Culture

The mead-hall:within the tribal cluster of wooden buildings surrounded by a strong wooden fence, stood the mead-hall.Here the king and his warriors (called thanes) feasted and drank mead (Anglo-Saxon beer).In the mead-hall, they were entertained by a scop (shope), a poet/story teller/historian.

The scop:the job of the scop was very important.Besides telling a story, his job was to retell current and past events, to record, remember, and retell history all from the record of his mind.Fame and honor meant a lot to these people; it was the scop’s job to preserve a record of their achievements for later generations.

Main Characters in Beowulf

Beowulf (The hero.A Geat who leads his band of warriors to find and kill Grendel)

Grendel (man-monster who raids Hrothgar’s mead-hall, eating his people)

Hrothgar (King of the Scyldings in Denmark)

Hygelac (King of the Geats-Beowulf’s king back in Sweden)

Unferth (one of Hrothgar’s thanes--he questions Beowulf’s strength and ability )

Wealhtheow (Hrothgar’s wife)

Important Relationships to Remember for Understanding:

Son of Ecgtheow--Beowulf (also called Hygelac’s thane)

Son of Ecglaf--Unferth (also called Hrothgar’s herald)

Son of Healfdene--Hrothgar 

Characteristics of Anglo-Saxon Poetry (The skill and style of the Scop)

An important fact to remember about the style of Beowulf is the matter of ANCESTRY.The writer of Beowulf often mentions details that do not seem to relate to the main plot, (mainly commentary on ancestors:“son of...”; so-and-so’s “thane”).This is done for a few reasons:

aas an oral marker -- stories were often told in more than one sitting.The scop might leave offone spot and repeat some information the next day to remind listeners were he left off.

bas a retelling of history and a chronicle of ancestry .When the writer mentions relationships (i.e. calling Beowulf “Hygelac’s thane” in line 131 or calling Hrothgar “the son of Healfdene” in line 125) he may do this to remind listeners of who came from where and who is related to who.They had no writing or history books to chronicle these things.Being remembered was very important in Anglo-Saxon society.

to keep rhythm.The scop told the poem to a beat, rhythm, and with alliteration.Words may be shortened or elongatedfor this purpose.

The comment on ANCESTRY is more trivial, perhaps less important than the three techniques found in ANGLO-SAXON POETRY listedbelow:

Kenning:two or more words which, when put together, serve as a symbol or metaphor for another word.

These were often used for entertainment, variety, and to keep the beat and rhythm.Sometimes they are obvious to us.Other times, they are more obscure.Examples:

candle ofheaven -- the sun

peace-weaver -- women

light of battle-- sword

Alliteration:the repetition of initial consonant sounds.Also used for entertainment, variety, and to keep the beat and rhythm.(Incidentally, Beowulf doesn’t rhyme--not all poems have to rhyme.Anglo-Saxon poetry is known more for alliteration than rhyme).Example from lines (4-7):

Many a mead-hall Scyld, son of Sceaf,

Snatched from the forces of savage foes,

From a friendless foundling, feeble and wretched,

He grew to a terror as time brought change 

Caesura:the building block of Anglo-Saxon poetry.Each line had a pause in the middle to create a kind of beat.By my count, each line had 8 syllables with the pause or the caesura in the middle

This is the least important for us to identify in the poem, but we should at least be able to define it.


I.Tips on Assigned Reading/In Class Reading

1.There are many different versions of Beowulf.The version use for these notes comes from the textbook England in Literature “America Reads” 7th edition (1987).These notes cover lines 1 - 1303.In my experience with teaching Beowulf we have only covered about lines 1- 1303 in the interest of time.

2.Begin reading Beowulf in class, and discuss.Students may need your guidance to follow this ancient story, with sometimes odd vocabulary, which often seems to digress from the plot.Whether the students read and/or take parts or the teacher reads is up to you.Each has different benefits.Perhaps, mix the two.

3.When you do assign reading (about 1/2 hour of homework a night on the average), you may want to assign specific questions for students to answer so they have a guide for their reading.I often mix up in-class reading with assigned reading.

II.The Comments Section

The Comments section is meant to elaborate on the issues and themes mentioned in the notes of this unit (society over individual; nature of heroism; importance of speaking; being a good leader, living a good life, being good to and caring for people).Literary conventions (such as alliteration, imagery, or kennings) will only be mentioned in passing.We want to focus mostly on meaning.

Lines 1 - 35


The writer/poet, mentions the mighty strength and history of the Danish people, specifically mentioning SCYLD (shild), a man who grew to be a great warrior and powerful leader in his time.In these lines we learn he has just died. These are his funeral rites.His regally-adorned body is set out to sea on a boat with great treasures.


This tale would have been passed down orally perhaps hundreds of years before being put in writing.Therefore, we remember that scop (singing poet) would begin this epic poem by chronicling the ancestry of main characters.This might also have been done to instill inspiration and a sense of community pride for those who listened, while also entertaining them.Lines 11-12 remind us that Scyld had to work hard to earn his respect:

‘Tis by earning honor a man must rise/in every state.

Lines 36 - 129


These lines chronicle the great HROTHGAR’s (son of Healfdene, grandson of Scyld) rise to power.He was a good leader too, building the greatest mead-hall ever “wherein to portion to old and young/All goodly treasure that God had given” (44-45).The mead-hall was called HEOROT.However, an evil spirit, a monster called Grendel, hated all the happiness that came from the mead-hall.He began to murder (and eat) Hrothgar’s people until the great mead-hall was empty.Twelve years this monster ravaged Hrothgar’s people.No one could defeat him.Hrothgar become despondent and hopeless & sadness clouded his kingdom


In the Anglo-Saxon culture, the group, the community was valued over the individual.The worst thing that could happen to a person was to have their tribe wiped out, or to be banished.Joy, security, and survival came from the group.Grendel was alone, “banished from men, a cursed and ugly creature.”We see in lines 78-79 that perhaps Grendel was sorrowful and bitter that that he had been banished as the seed of Cain.He sees the men sleeping “fast in slumber, forgetting grief,/Forgetting the woe of the world of men.”Perhaps he wants to have a community, to have happiness, to cure his loneliness.This is all speculation; however, we definitely see that he does not like it that Hrothgar’s people were so joyous.

Lines 130 - 235


Word of Grendel’s terror has reached Sweden and the kingdom of King HYGELAC.His people are called the Geats (yai-ots).Beowulf (Hygelac’s thane [line 131]) and 13 other warriors travel the sea from Sweden to Denmark in hopes of defeating Grendel.In line 158, they land on the shores of Denmark.They are challenged by the coast guard (one man) to state their business.Beowulf explains who they are, where they have come from, and why they have come.The coast guard is impressed with their size, weapons, and armor.In lines 216-218 the coast guard says he will tell them how to get to the king’s home and have his own men watch their ship.


Line 161 shows an interesting point which will be repeated many times in Beowulf.Once he had his men land safely, they “gave thanks to God” for a safe journey.This mentioning of God would have taught the audience that even great heroes must acknowledge a higher power greater than themselves, and perhaps even to avoid boasting too much, getting too big of a head.(*God is also mention in the following lines:234-235, 288, 361-362, 439 500, 516, 530, 677-678, 684, 698, 707, 717, 906, 1090-1093, 1093, 1103, 1130, 1132, 1169-1225

In lines 163 - 190 we see the first of what seems to be long-winded speeches in Beowulf.The coast guard is both visually impressed with the stature of Beowulf and his men, but also must challenge them so that he may know if they are friends or enemies.The information in these speeches could be said more economically, but we must remember that these long (epic) speeches fulfill several purposes:

1.)They provide story information (in this speech we learn how impressive Beowulf and his men look).

2.)They can chronicle ancestry (important to know where someone came from both for the characters in the story, but for the scop to provide a oralhistory of important people, deeds, and battles in his culture).

3.)An oral marker.The scop may have left off at a certain point (these stories were told in more than one sitting, perhaps over days) so people needed to be reminded, say the next day of where a story left off.

4.)Being able to speak well was valued by the Anglo-Saxon culture.We will see that Beowulf speaks well and thus is a valued leader.

In lines 191 - 210, Beowulf responds with his own “wordy speech”.We see the coast guard is once again impressed and he agrees to allow Beowulf into his country, saying in lines 234-235 “The mighty Lord in His mercy shield you and hold you safe.”

Lines 238 - 381


Beowulf and his men are welcomed into Heorot, Hrothgar’s mead-hall.Wulfgar, one of Hrothgar’s heralds, asks them their business again .Beowulf tells him.Wulfgar hurries to Hrothgar, impressed with these men and their mission, and asks Hrothgar to speak with them.Hrothgar, knows and has heard of Beowulf’s exploits.He welcomes the Geats.After greeting Hrothgar, Beowulf goes into a long speech (lines 311-351) about his heroic battles.He then asserts that he will fight Grendel only by hand, and he will fight him to the death.A pleased Hrothgar’s beseeches Beowulf to sit and feast and talk of his great deeds.


Beowulf’s speech in lines 311-351 teach us a great deal. We see Beowulf’s impressive battle résumé. We see his confidence, in that he will fight this monster hand to hand, with no weapons.He is also well spoken, not shy about detailing his victories.

Lines 382 - 480


At the feast, Unferth, one of Hrothgar’s thanes. picks a quarrel with Beowulf.He tries to put a dent in Beowulf’s great stature.He brings up Beowulf’s epic 7-night swim across the ocean.He claims that Beowulf’s strength is lesser than Brecca’s, his swimming companion in the trek.Unferth taunts him, wondering how Beowulf plans to kill Grendel if he couldn’t even hold up in this swimming competition.

Beowulf’s long reply (lines 406-472) shows that in this verbal battle, Beowulf is the more skilled speaker.He details his swimming trek across the ocean.He clarifies the story, describing in detail all the sea monsters he killed.However, his most effective words are meant for Unferth.He accuses Unferth of being a coward, having never done the great deeds he has.He mentions that Unferth killed his own brother and will suffer “damnation in hell” for that deed.Beowulf’s final insult comes in line 461 when he says that Hrothgar’s people never would have suffered such loss“If your [Unferth’s] heart were as brave as you’d have men think.”Unferth is quieted and the feasting continues. 


Beowulf’s exchange with Unferth once again shows why Beowulf is a great leader.In this exchange, not only does the legend of Beowulf build with another story of his great deeds, but Beowulf wins a fight with words.A lesser man would have seen this as a physical challenge.The exchange would then come to blows.However, Beowulf proves that you can win battles and allies by being able to speak well, by simply using words.

Lines 481 - 648


This section is mostly self-explanatory.Beowulf is charged with guarding the mead-hall at night while all sleep.Grendel does raid the mead-hall and kill at least one person.However, soon Beowulf grabs his arm, holding him in a strong grip.Beowulf’s men try to hurt Grendel, but their swords do not work on the monster.Nevertheless, Beowulf has struck terror in Grendel.He rips off Grendel’s arm.Grendel flees to his home in the moors and Beowulf keeps the arm in the hall. 


Few comments here.We finally get to see Beowulf in action.Also we get some vivid details of the monster and the battle.

Lines 649 - 728


The next day, Beowulf is praised by all.Hrothgar promises him anything he wants, and now sees him like a son.Beowulf is humble and gives credit to the will of God for his deeds.


An important note to make here is the heroic humility of Beowulf.Rather than boast and claim he is the best (like many sports stars do today), he gives credit to God (like some sports heroes also do today). 

Lines 557 - 562 provide some more strongly-worded details in relation to the monster.In line 664, we learn that Grendel has died.

Lines 729-785


A feast is thrown for Beowulf and his men.They are given gifts by King Hrothgar, Beowulf getting a saddle the king himself had once rode into battle.WEALHTHEOW, Hrothgar’s wife asks Beowulf to serve as a mentor, in a way, to her own boys.Joy abounds at Heorot.



Lines 790-910


That night, only a day after Beowulf killed Grendel, Hrothgar’s men sleep in the mead-hall, guarding it as in days of old.However, Grendel’s mother, a monstrous hag, returns to the hall for revenge.She grabs Grendel’s arm that has been displayed prominently in the hall, and she slays one of Hrothgar’s men (Aschere) dragging him to her lair.The next morning, Beowulf, who had not slept in the mead-hall, met Hrothgar, only to learn that the sorrow had returned in the form of Grendel’s mother.Hrothgar describes Grendel, his mother, and the lair she comes from in greater, more gory and hellish detail.He implores Beowulf to find her and kill her, saying he will once again give great treasures to Beowulf should he prevail. Of course, Beowulf accepts the offer.


There are some important points to mention in this section.In lines 858-890, we get a more clear idea of what these horrific monsters look like and the place that they live.Also, in line 899-900, Beowulf makes a statement that proves immense when we consider themes and reflections of Anglo-Saxon values in this story.He says, “That geurdon is best/For a noble man when his name survives him.”He means that the best treasure one can have is to be remembered well after one’s death.This statement reflects Anglo-Saxon culture, but once again shows Beowulf to be a moral, thinking hero, not just a warrior intent on winning gold.

Lines 911-1098


Hrothgar and some of his men, as well as Beowulf and his men, follow the tracks of Grendel’s mother to the edge of her underwater lair.In lines 925-941 we are provided with another picture of this horrible land.(The men see Aschere’s head, sea monsters etc.)Beowulf puts on his armor, and uses Unferth’s great and legendary sword (called Hrunting).Beowulf plunges into the hellish water, sinking into the depths for almost a whole day (line 990).He finally reaches the mother and engages in battle with her, as well as other sea monsters.Unferth’s sword, however, is of no use on the mother (a she-wolf, 1001).They wrestle on the ground.She tries to stab Beowulf, but his armor is too strong.He then sees an ancient sword from a “giant” in her lair.He grabs it and uses it to kill her, stabbing her in the throat.

Beowulf cuts the head off of Grendel’s dead body next.From lines 1071-1082 we see the Scyldings leave the pool, thinking Beowulf has died.Beowulf’s own loyal men (the Geats) stay there though, sorrowful and sick-hearted.Beowulf soon ascends from the pit of hell with the sword hilt, Grendel’s head, and Hrunting, Unferth’s sword.(Incidentally, the blade of the giants sword disintegrated from Grendel’s mother’s blood.All that was left was the hilt.)


Not much to elaborate on.We notice, once again, Beowulf proves his heroic strength.We noticed that Unferth’s sword did not work (later when Beowulf returns it; he does not even mention this failure, so as not to disappoint Unferth.Sometimes knowing when to be quiet is also the sign of a good leader.).Also, we noticed how loyal Beowulf’s men were to him.They did not, almost could not, leave the pit even though it looked like he might be dead.God is also mentioned in aiding Beowulf (line 1093) in this section.

Lines 1099-1245


Beowulf’s men are overjoyed when they see him appear.Next, all 14 of them go back to Heorot.It takes four men to carry Grendel’s head.When they reach Hrothgar’s mead-hall, Beowulf carries Grendel’s head by the hair to present it to Hrothgar.He then speaks to Hrothgar, telling him of the battle and that all will now be safe for his people.Hrothgar then gives a long speech (lines 1160-1227).In this speech he invokes God’s name, going on about the great things he in his own life has done with the help of God, yet how greed and pride have also been a curse to him.He advises Beowulf to avoid greed and pride, and to be aware of his own mortality.After this long speech everyone rests, weary from a long day.


Hrothgar’s speech, though seemingly long-winded, serves an extremely useful function, as far as our themes go.We experience the wisdom of Hrothgar’s age when he speaks about how to live a “good” life-be not too prideful, be not too greedy, be aware of your own immortality.He says in lines 1205-1209:

“‘Avoid such evil and seek the good/The heavenly wisdom.Beware of pride!/Now for a time you shall feel the fullness/And know the glory of strength, but soon/Sickness or sword shall strip you of might...’”

In this speech we have:

1.)Themes of good leadership--which means being humble and treating your people (teammates well).2.)The didacticism of a medieval work--trying to teach us as well as a leader how to live the correct life.3.)We have a connection to today as well.These themes ring true today in our lives, even on the

basketball court, in keeping with my personal theme (see “Relating Themes in Beowulf to the Lives

of Modern Students”).If you do not realize your limitations, your team may not win, you may not

have a good basketball life (and that will most certainly affect your entire life).

Lines 1246-1303


The day after Beowulf kills Grendel’s mother, Beowulf and his men say good-bye to Hrothgar, as they are longing for their home.Beowulf returns Unferth’s sword to him, thanks him for the use, and does not mention the fact that it was no help.Hrothgar once again has wonderful words of praise for Beowulf, in lines 1269-1281.Hrothgar gives more gifts to Beowulf, then Beowulf and his men depart.


This section powerfully illustrates the theme of heroism we have been focusing on.Hrothgar, knowing that Beowulf already has the strength of a great leader, also praises him for his way with words and wisdom beyond his young years.He says in lines 1269-1272:

“‘Truly, these words has the Lord of wisdom/Set in your heart, for I never have hearkened/To speech so sage from a man so young./You have strength and prudence and wisdom of word!’...”

Hrothgar goes on to say:“‘You have brought it to pass/That between our peoples a lasting peace/Shall bind the Geats to the Danish-born...’”(1277-1278).Beowulf has fulfilled another part of being an epic hero.Not only has he 1.) saved a people, but 2.)he also brought about a lasting peace between the Swedish and Danish people.

Lastly we are allowed a glimpse into the inner thoughts of Hrothgar to see how much he really loves Beowulf.“--Nor could Hrothgar master--so dear was the man--/His swelling sorrow; a yearning love/For the dauntless hero, deep in his heart,/Burned through his blood....”

III.Final Comments on Theme 

A.The Hero Theme

In the end Beowulf has hit many of the categories needed to fulfill his role in literature as an EPIC HERO.I probably have not included every example possible, but those listed will make a good case.

1.)An epic hero of imposing stature and who is meaningful as a legend or historical figure

Lines that describe his stature:238 - 256, 279 - 292 (Beowulf is rumored to have 30 men’s strength).

2.) The hero’s actions take place on a grand scale and are important nationally, internationally, or worldwide.

BeowulfsavesHrothgar’s people and inspires a lasting peace between nations.

3.) The action consists of a great deed( s) requiring superhuman courage & maybe superhuman strength. 

4.) Supernatural forces (gods, angels, demons) are involved or interested in the action

Note all the superhuman/supernatural battles he engages in throughout the poem.In line 1050, for example, he kills Grendel’s mother with a giant’s sword that no man but he could lift.

Outside of that definition we learn what the idea of the HERO/GOOD LEADERin Anglo-Saxon Society meant.BEOWULF was:

1.STRONG.He was the “real deal”.He could back up his promises with action and heroic deeds.

2.WISE/SPOKE WELL.Knew the right thing to say at the right time.He could win a battle with

words, avoiding violence.Was a gracious and humble speaker as well.

3.LED BY EXAMPLE, not by boasting.

4.HUMBLE.He was not too prideful (note his contrast with the big-talking Unferth; thanking Unferth

for his lending the sword and not mentioning it failed.Gave credit to God for his success, realizing he

was not all powerful.

5.LOYAL and obedient to his own king (Hygelac) as well as Hrothgar.

Beowulf would have been the ideal leader in Anglo-Saxon times mainly because of 1, 2, and 5.Hrothgar was also an ideal leader because he treated his people well.Remember, in Anglo-Saxon times it was important to be loyal to your own people, to be able to fight, and to take care of your own.It was also important to be remembered well.Doing these things would mean you were remembered well.Doing what Beowulf did makes you a legend for all time.As we all know, only a select few people in every day and age get to be the “Beowulf”.


B.Relationship of Society to the Individual 

(Relationship of Team to Individual: Relating this Theme to the Lives of Modern Students)

In order to give the students a vested interest in anything, relating it their lives is the key.This thematic discussion of Beowulf’s society might look as much like a discussion on basketball.I find it useful to see connections from Beowulf in team sports.

1.Modern Connection:So you want to be a star?(Use Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, or Allen Iverson, for example.)Fine, but your team will not win if all you care about is yourself(i.e. scoring your 30 points a game).Present the scenario that winning as a team is elevated above superstar status in our society.Sure a superstar will have tons of respect, but there is a certain kind of ultimate respect paid to winners and team players.Often the great career of a star will be remembered with an “asterisk”.Many people will say:“Yes he was one of the best, but he never won a championship.(Would Jordan be considered so great if he had never won a championship, but he led the league in scoring every year?)The scenario is the same in Anglo-Saxon times.

What if you aren’t a team player and you aren’t a great player?What might happen to your fate on the basketball team? You may be benched, disrespected, released, or traded (essentially fired)

2.Beowulf’s Time:What if you weren’t a team player, in Anglo-Saxon times?What if you were selfish, putting your needs above the needs of your tribe?Guess what?You may be disrespected, reprimanded, or even banished.Taking care of your own, just like being a team player, was of utmost importance.Without your tribe in these rough and violent times you were nothing.They were your family, life, friends, source of joy and laughter, support etc.Having one’s tribe wiped out or being banished were two of the worst things that could happen to a person.All your emotional support, gone.Someone to take care of you when you are ill, gone.Protection, gone.Some warriors (and others) would rather die than be overcome overruled by another group.

One of the morals: be good to your tribe and be remembered well.If you want to be great, accomplish great things, but you must treat your people well in order to be respected.

Creative Writing Assignment for Beowulf Unit


Write a poem about one of your heroes in the style Beowulf is written in.The hero can be anyone from a parent, to a sports star, a brother, a friend, or even a great person in history.Feel free to have fun with this assignment.

Grading Rubric

-Poem does not have to rhyme

-Poem must be at least 20 lines

-Use at least 2 kennings

-Alliterate in at least 3 different lines

Point value

This is a homework assignment but it will be worth 2 homework grades.

Example from Beowulf


Many a mead-hall Scyld, son of Sceaf,

Snatched from the forces of savage foes,

From a friendless foundling, feeble and wretched,

He grew to a terror as time brought change.

Teacher Example


Shaquille O’Neil monster of boards,

banging-boarder and boaster of bets,

lay claim to the championship two years in a row,

super-slammer, unstoppable force,

best of the centers the middle-man of the bouncing-game

What do these words mean to you?





Essay Questions for Beowulf

In keeping with our notes, discussions and assignments, we continue to focus on the HERO theme in Beowulf .I have included an essay assignment for the Beowulf unit.It is molded for the DEFINITION essay, which you may find in your writing books.In an essay of definition, you clarify a concept, an abstract idea, or a complicated ideal.In the essay, the student is to define what HONOR means to him or her.Notice the handout for my essay assignment.I try to give the student’s thinking a head start in regards to finding their ideas, as well as a clue as to what I am looking for, both in structure and content.I have included a copy of my general essay guidelines as well.If this essay doesn’t work for you, I have listed a few other questions you might consider asking.

1.Are the heroic qualities possessed by Beowulf the same or different from the qualities we find in our

heroes today?(lends itself to a compare/contrast essay)

2.Have the characteristics of good leadership changed since the days of Beowulf?(perhaps an essay of


Honor Essay

“Tis by earning honor a man must rise/In every state.”--Beowulf

Throughout Old and Middle English literature, one of the most common themes was HONOR.Poems were written to honor heroes; thanes, kings, and lords were bound to each other by codes of honor; one code of conduct in the later Middle Ages was based on honor.People were worried about being remembered well and wanted to be honored after their death.

Essay question:Providing examples from personal experience, history, someone’s deeds etc., what does honor mean to you?How do you define honor?

Questions to Consider When Brainstorming:

How does the dictionary define honor?

What are some synonyms for the word honor?

Who or what do you honor?Why?

Who or what does society honor?In your opinion are these subjects worthy of honor?


Do NOT try to answer all of the questions above.Rather, focus on a single topic and develop (write) your essay using concrete examples which give support to you definition of honor.

Example thesis statements

1.My definition of honor can best be seen in my mother.She has been there for me in hard times, struggled to support two children on her own, and graduated from high school while supporting a family.

2.To me, the definition of honor can best be seen in my mother.She has always stood by my side, even though I been in lot of trouble.I got in trouble with the law at 11, ran away from home at 16, and had an alcohol problem at 22.She stood by me through all these events.

3.Though honor is a difficult word to describe, one can better understand this concept if they consider three propositions:one should always learn from their mistakes; be able to admit when they are wrong; and work hard in life.

4.Beowulf proved to be an honorable man because...(in your development you provide examples from the text which show him to be honorable.)

5.Michael Jordan is my hero.You may wonder why a basketball player could be anyone’s hero.Jordan showed, both on and off the basketball court, that he was a worthy of being a hero.On the court he worked hard and was a team player.Off the court he always conducted himself with class.


-Minimum of 400 words

-Must have a creative title

-See paper guidelines for how the paper should “look”

Due Date:

i.e. 02/09/32

late papers will be docked 10 points per day

Activities for the Beowulf Unit

Note*All of theses exercises require little preparation, except Exercise 3 and 5.With Exercise 5, you simply have to go rent the movie.Exercise 3 will require a lot ofleg work on your part.

Note**These exercises are all meant to highlight the Anglo-Saxon culture.They are not directly related to the text of Beowulf, rather, they are intended to gain student interest, bring this time period to life, serve as a change from lecture/notes--essentially, all of the above.

1.Recognizing Different Cultures in the Founding of Britain

2.Where Did Your Ancestors Come From?(assignment)

3.Looking at Maps and Pictures From the Anglo-Saxon Period

4.The Lord’s Prayer in Old English

5.The 13th Warrior (film)

These activities are listed in my preferred order.Exercise 1 can be done on the first day of lecture as a focusing event to get student interest. Exercise 2 can be an assignment that is due a few days later.Exercise 3 can be done on the first or second day of lecture.Exercise 4 can be done throughout the lesson. Exercise 5 can be done before you begin Beowulf, which will probably be the third day of class.You may choose to begin reading in class before, or after you show the film.Showing the film before reading creates an image in student’s minds, though.(They may even try to rent the movie, which is a sign of interest, though it is rated R.)

1.Recognizing Different Cultures in the Founding of Britain

Activity Time:5-10 minutes.May go longer depending on discussion. 

My philosophy with this activity is to help students realize that Britain was influenced by many

different invading cultures in its early history.I aim to do so by relating this fact to the America

they live in today.Adjust this activity if it doesn’t work for you the way it is structured now.


A.Show the students pictures of the following types of people:

1.An Asian-American

2.An African-American

3.A Mexican-American

4.A European-American

5.A Native American

Find these pictures from anywhere you wish. All pictures must be of Americans, however.Do not tell the students this fact.Be sure to label each picture 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5and write these categories on the board.Ask the students to write on a sheet of paper which country or continent they think each person is from, but the teacher is to trick the students and instruct them that only one is American.Under each category on the board, tabulate how many people pick 1-5 to be American.

The trick will be two-fold:a.) to see who they pick, but more importantly b.) to inform them that all are actually American.After tabulating, you inform them that all of the people are Americans.Before you move on to your point, you may ask them, why they think you did this activity.


What is my point?To show students that in America, it is quite visible to SEE our history, that many different people from all over the world have settled in America.This leads us to our main point, however.Ask the following question:“Who, among all these pictures would you say is from Britain (England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales)?”I am guessing that most kids picked the white person.

Anglo-Saxon Commentary

Today, England appears to be a unified nation, with an organized government, military, and peaceful life at home.England also has a dominant language, English.But in the first 1100 years of its recorded history it suffered a series of INVASIONS by different European people.Though these people looked similar (with their white skin), they were from different cultures with different languages, customs, etc.

In it’s first 1100 years, Britain was more like America today with its many different cultures, languages, religions.However, times were much less peaceful & unified in Britain over those first 1000 years; times were more violent & volatile.Many different kings & governments might rule different areas at once.Force was often a way to acquire power, not election.Life was much harder, shorter, & less comfortable.

How did England become the unified country it is today?One purpose of this class is to answer that question.So, in this class, we will not only explore literature, but we will also explore the history that goes along with it, in an effort to bring us from Britain’s origins to Britain today.

(Even if a bright student trips you up in this exercise, your point will still be made.Britain was settledby a variety of cultures, just like Britain.)

2.Where Did Your Ancestors Come From?

I have not tweaked this activity to perfection, but it should be quite workable.


Students can be instructed to speak with their parents, grandparents, or other relatives and try to trace their ancestry back in America as far as they can.How far will they be able to go back?I think that may depend on the family and what knowledge they have of their ancestors.However, every student should be able to go back at least 100 years.Their grandparents may be the best source.If the student is adopted or has a unique family situation, they will need to speak with the teacher.Maybe they can choose an aunt or uncle etc.


-The paper to be turned in should be at least a page long.Students can also answer the following questions in this assignment:

1.Where did your parents grow up?

2.Where and how often did they move?Why?

3.Where did your grandparents grow up?

4.Where and how often did they move?Why?

5.Where did your great grandparents grow up?

6.Where and how often did they move?Why?

7.What country (s) did your original ancestors come from?If you can answer this question, perhaps I will offer some bonus points in some manner.


I will simply grade on neatness, meeting length requirements, and effort.


What is my point?To try and relate how people move around to students own lives.To show them that few peoples have lived in any one place forever.People move around and influence each other.Today, with improved travel (i.e. airplanes) and communications like television, phones, and the internet our world is becoming even smaller.We are being influence by people most Anglo-Saxons would have never met.If I were an Anglo-Saxon regular person, for example, I would have never been able to go to Europe and as I did.I would never have dreamed of going to California as I have done.I wouldn’t have even known America existed, imagine that!

3.Looking at Pictures From the Anglo-Saxon Period

*Caution:it took me a lot of leg work to come up with the pictures I chose.It’s a great activity, however, I would skip this if you have to cut out something.The visuals are great, but the academic progress of the students is more important.

The pictures that I choose depict mostly warriors, dwellings, and castles inthe early Medieval Period (441-1066).These pictures seem to grab the student’s interest.To me, there are significant differences between this early Medieval Period and the later Medieval Period (1066 - 1453).It is useful, then, to see these pictures so that we can be aware of the early Anglo-Saxons and how English culture developed, changed, and advanced.

In the high school literature class, we don’t have much time for activities like this.If we did, I would present a more rounded picture of Anglo-Saxon culture.I have found that in the time we have, resources that have been available to me, and the immediate attention that these pictures spark in students, these types of pictures will work well.

Showing the Pictures:A Few Possibilities

-Show the day after your lecture on early British history as an event to start class

-Show the same day if you have time

-Pass them around the room

-Display pictures on an overhead

-Staple pictures to construction paper and hang in the room

-perhaps you can create caption to go along with the pictures

Commentary on Anglo-Saxon Dwellings

I think it is very important time marker to show these wood dwelling as opposed to the stone structures of later periods.

Commentary on Anglo-Saxon Arms and Armor

-Anglo-Saxon soldiers fought with a variety of weapons (spears, swords, axes, knives daggers, bows etc).

-The most prized weapon is the sword, however.They were handed down from father to son or passed as gifts to great warriors or kings.They head greater value of they were old or had belonged to a great warrior of the past.

-Armor was worn only by professional soldiers and great lords.The bulk of the army would wear every-day clothing perhaps with additional leather jerkin for protection.

-The mail shirt was introduced to the Anglo-Saxons at the end of the 7th century but rarely used because it was so expensive to purchase.It did become more common, however, perhaps around the end of the 10th to the 11th century.

-Helmets didn’t become common until the 10th century (900’s) but once again could only be afforded by high-ranking warriors and wealthier fighters.

4.The Lord’s Prayer” in Old English


Give every student a copy of the Old English version, the phonetic translation, and the modern English translation, if possible.Practice saying it together out loud with students throughout the unit, maybe at the beginning of each class.Perhaps just start with a few lines every few days.Feel it out, you’ll see what works for you.I taped myself reading it and brought in the recording for the students to hear the first time.That worked well.Also, you might quiz or test on it so students won’t think it is just a frivolous activity.

The Lord’s PrayerA Rough Phonetic Pronunciation Guide

Father our thou that art in heavensFathair oorah thoo thay on hay-o-phenum

Be thy name hallowedSee thin nama yuh-hell-good

Come thy kingdomToe baycuma thin reacha

Be done thy willYuwertha thin willa

On earth as in heavensOn airthen swa swa on hay-o-phenum

Our daily bread give us todayOorna yuh-day-wama-leeka hlaf seal us today

And forgive us of our sinsAhand foryeaf us oorah yeoltas

As we forgive those who have sinned against usSwa swa way foryeath oorum yeultandam

And not lead thou us into temptationAhnd ne yellayd thu us on costungay

But deliver us from evilAhk aleese us of yeeval



1.Students could be quizzed or tested on this, simply having to memorize and write out thetranslation.

2.Students could be orally quizzed on it, depending on if you want to take up class time.(You could always assign a written activity while you walk around and quiz students orally.Yes they will hear each other, but they if they don’t know the prayer (in Old English, no less) they will not be able to memorize it by listening to other students recite it.


One way of making the ancient culture of the Anglo-Saxon’s come alive is to get students to hear or speak that language. The Anglo-Saxon (a Germanic-based) language is an ancestor to modern English, but it sounds like a foreign tongue today.Why?Languages are constantly changing, most notably with the addition of new words over time.The very roots of modern English are found in this ancient tongue.The language of Britain has changed and evolved as Britain has done so over 2000 years.

Final Comments

I must explain that I received the pronunciation from a fellow teacher; I used common sense to write a phonetic translation (code for “I don’t know the phonetic alphabet”); and I got the translation from the following internet cite:http// said all this, I am not turning this in for pay or credit.I can be certain my pronunciation of these ancient words is not all correct.I think it is fun to attempt the activity though.The students will never know anyway--only the ardent medievalist scholars will be after me!

If you teach at a public school, you may not be able to do this activity.One way of justifying the use of it is to say that the Anglo-Saxons had been converted to Christianity, so this is more of a cultural artifact than an expression of belief today.(Of course, if you teach at a Catholic school, there should be no problems.We have to say a prayer at the beginning of class, so this could serve as out prayer.)

5.The 13th Warrior

Activity Time:10 minutes approximately.


Show clips which occur somewhere in the first 15 minutes of the film.Doing so before starting Beowulf grabs the students interest, as the film is loosely based on Beowulf.In the 5 - 10 minute clip that I show, they see the Beowulf-like character, a mead-hall, other warriors, and some of their ways.It should be at a local movie store.


This is a rated R movie, so you will have to be careful about what you show.
Quizzes and Testing

I usually have only one test on Beowulf.I will have various quizzes throughout the unit as well.Below you will see some examples of quiz and test questions.I try to have no more than 30% slotted for memorization and recall questions, the other 70% hoping to engage the students in a higher level of thinking.However, depending on the ability level of each class, you may need to adjust the percentages throughout the school year.


For SHORT quizzes you can use an ORAL quiz where you ask the students to pull out a pen and paper and ask them questions to simply determine if they read their homework.For a LONGER quiz, you can use QUOTATION quizzes.Here you provide a quotation and simply ask the students in the directions to write down what is happening in the quote (see quotation portion in the Test Questions section).Also, SHORT ANSWER questions can be on a longer quiz (see this portion in the Test Questions section).One or two long quizzes during this unit might be a good idea.Using the longer quizzes can give students an idea for the style of the test questions.


Example Breakdown for Beowulf Test (50 Minute Period)

30 points=15 Fact-based questions(x 2 points each)

35 points=5Higher-order, short-answer questions(7 points each)

35 points=5Quotation Identification (7 points each)//or 12 questions at 3 pts. ea)*see below

100 points total

Fact-Based Questions

This is fairly self-explanatory.I usually provide a word bank.It looks like this, in brief:

Word Bank

410 AD43 ADalliterationHrothgarkenningScyld

1.________________This man was the leader of the Scyldings.

2.________________This terms refers to the repetition of consonant sounds.

3.________________When did Rome finally conquer much of Britain?

Short Answer:

The first six questions are more memorization/recall.The next four involve higher order & application of knowledge.(Usually I will provide say 7 questions, and the students will need to answer only 5 out of 7.This seems to make the test more fair.)

1.Describe three characteristic of an EPIC POEM.

2.Provide a few facts that detail the pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon culture.

3.Name two ways the Anglo-Saxon culture change with the introduction of Christianity.

4.Besides religion, name two specific contributions Christianity made to the Anglo-Saxon culture.

5.Explain two reasons speeches often so lengthy in Beowulf.

6.Describe 3 ways either the Romans, Vikings, or Anglo-Saxons influenced British culture/history.

7.Name and define the three major literary conventions we saw as being used in Beowulf.Provide an example of at least one of these conventions.

8.Provide two examples that show aspects of the Christian Anglo-Saxon culture in Beowulf?

9.What aspects of Beowulf’s character make him an epic hero and why?

10.Name three ways Beowulf fits the model of the epic poem.

Quotation Identification:

The purpose of this section is two-fold.First, it tests the students contextual ability--to recognize a quotation from the story (what was going on in the story and in which it took place).

Secondly, it asks the students to use analytical skills in determining how the given quotation illuminates themes and issues in the story.You will want to pick quotes that best illuminate some kinds of themes/issues you discussed.I have learned two ways to structure this section.

A. Provide the students the following directions:

Quotations:In the space provided, answer 5 of the 7 following questions while considering:

a.)Identification of the author

b.)The context in which the lines took place

c.)The overall significance of the lines, regarding meaning in the story

1.And little I’ve heard

of any such adventures from you!

Neither Brecca nor you in the press of battle

Ever showed such daring with dripping 


Though I boast not of it!But you stained 

your blade

With blood of your brothers, your closest of kin.

B.Provide the students the following directions:

Directions:Listed below are 5 quotations.Answer 12 of the 14 questions following the quotes.(You may skip any two questions.)

And little I’ve heard

of any such adventures from you!

Neither Brecca nor you in the press of battle

Ever showed such daring with dripping 


Though I boast not of it!But you stained 

your blade

With blood of your brothers, your closest of kin.

1.Who is speaking here and who is being spoken to?

(Answer:Beowulf is speaking to Unferth.)

2.Why would it be meaningful that this person is not boasting?

(Possible Answers:Beowulf is the real deal.He has showed that he is strong and able.He shows his ability with action, not words.Unferth has done nothing, yet he still criticizes Beowulf.Beowulf shows here that he can win a battle with words, not only violence.He speaks wisely and well and that is important for a leader.For all these reasons, he is a great leader and a hero.)

Final Comment on Testing Procedure

From my point of view, my job is to get students to think critically during quizzes and tests.I want to raise their level of thinking beyond drill and recall information.I want to go a step beyond memorization so that kids can reach a higher more analytical and application-centered level of thinking.In our education classes we are taught different techniques to reach different styles of learners and to try and get students to reach these higher levels.We are also taught to vary our style of questions, so that learners who may be weak in one area have a chance at a decent grade.My style of testing seeks to fulfill these objectives.For example, if I simply had all-essay questions, this would not be fair to poor essay writers.If I only had fact-based questions (multiple choice or true/false), I am testing only low-level of thinking.

*This guide can be handed out to students so they will have a handy reference guide throughout the unit.You may change and adjust it depending on what information is in your textbook, though much of the information in this guide should be


British History and Beowulf:Student Study Guide

The following is a study guide for people, places, dates, events, and terms related to this unit.You may need to define and provide examples of some terms.Some of the terms are names, dates, places, and events whose significance you will need to be able to explain.Some of the terms are ideas and concepts you will need to be able to discuss.We will NOT be going through the list term-by-term and looking up the answers.It is up to you to pay attention in class, do your reading, and take careful notes.

From British History and Beowulf Notes

410 AD
793 AD

55 BC

Alfred the Great

Anglo-Saxon contributions to British culture

Christianity’s contributions to Anglo-Saxon culture

Hadrian’s Wall

King Athelbert

St. Augustine

Anglo-Saxon tribal culture before Christianity

From Beowulf

Beowulf-- Son of Ecgtheow (also called Hygelac’s thane)




Grendel’s mother

Heorot/Hallof Hart

Hrothgar-- Son of Healfdene









Unferth--Son of Ecglaf (also called Hrothgar’s herald)


Literature Terms Additional

epic poemBe aware of themes discussed

epic heroBe able to identify quotations and elaborate on their significance

alliteration Be able to write a kenning or alliterate if asked to apply these concepts

kenningKnow how Beowulf fits in the model of the epic poem

caesuraKnow how Beowulf fits in the model of the epic hero

Works Cited

Occasionally I quoted or paraphrased from the following textbook I have used in class:

McDonnell, Helen,Pfordresher, John, and Gladys V. Veidemanis.England in Literature. Glenview, IL:Scott, Foresman and Co., 1987.

Based on memory, the pictures I use come from the following books:

Castle (from Eyewitness Books) by Christopher Gravett

Saxon, Viking, and Norman (Ospery Books, I think) by Terence Wise and G.A. Embleton

Celtic Warriors by Tim Newark

Most of this material is common historical knowledge.The ideas on themes and interpretations are my own, as inspired by class notes and books I have read.

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