Students must read the novel Beowulf translated by Burton Raffel and write an essay on one of five topics. Select one of the following topics:
In the introduction to the Signet Classics edition of Beowulf, Burton Raffel writes: "Most attractive to us, of all the many-sided excellences of Beowulf, is the poet's insight into people." Cite examples of this.
Why is boasting important in Beowulf? Are the listeners expected to consider these tales of personal achievement as factual truth? How else might this style of discourse serve to express the values of the society? How does this oratory style relate to the behavior we expect from contemporary public figures?
We see Beowulf at both the beginning and the end of his life: first as a vital, physically imposing young warrior and later as a frail old man near death. What qualities does he display in each of these two, distinct life stages that reveal him as a great king and leader? Choose two or three incidents from the narrative to illustrate your point.
What significance—literary, spiritual, social, psychological—do you subscribe to the popularity of monsters in literature and film? Why are we fascinated by stories about deformed, violent, or malevolent figures who wreak havoc on human life? In Beowulf, what makes Grendel and his mother particularly troubling and "monstrous" to the close-knit warrior society they attack?
How do the three monsters—Grendel, Grendel's mother, and the dragon—differ from one another? You may want to consider their physical characteristics and capabilities, where they live, their methods of attack, the nature of their battles with Beowulf, and their motives. Do you find one creature more abhorrent than the others? Why?
Describe the ways in which the sea and its inhabitants are portrayed in Beowulf. What do these descriptions tell you about the role of the sea in the lives of the Anglo-Saxons? What do they suggest about the Anglo-Saxon view of the natural world and the universe in general?
Eligibility: Grades 11 and 12
Length: Minimum of two, but no more than three, double-spaced pages
Submission must be typed
Submission must be the original work of the student.