Prof. G. Steinberg
Response Paper: Beowulf
Beowulf is full of brief digressions that mention other characters and
stories in passing. But these digressions really aren't digressions at
all. The characters and stories to which they allude are parallel to the
characters and stories that the Beowulf poet is telling. So,
whenever Beowulf begins to digress into a side story, pay close attention
to the themes and values that the side story suggests. Those themes and
values are going to be important for the main story of Beowulf as well.
The digressions in Beowulf reflect on the characters and events of the
main plot in really interesting, important ways.
Choose one of the following areas as the focus of your response paper:
- Beowulf begins by talking about Shield Sheafson ("Scyld Scefing"
in the original Old English). This brief history of Shield's life ends
with the comment, "That was one good king" (line 11). So, what is a
good king for the Beowulf poet? What are the elements that
define a good king? Is Hrothgar a good king? What of the many
other kings mentioned in passing in the poem? Why are some good and some
- Beowulf is clearly a hero. What defines a hero for the
Beowulf poet? What are the heroic qualities of Beowulf? Is a
hero the same thing as a good king? Are the criteria of evaluation and
expectations the same for both? What other heroes are mentioned in
passing in the poem? What qualities do these other heroes share with
- How are women portrayed in Beowulf? What role do
women play in the Beowulf poet's society? What women are
mentioned in passing in the poem? What qualities define them as good or
evil women? How does Grendel's mother fit into the picture? Is
she, as a monster, outside the social norms for human women, or do those
social norms for human women reflect negatively on her monstrous behavior?
How does Beowulf interact with women? Are his interactions with women
normal and unremarkable, or are they unusual in any way?
Click here to go to the syllabus.