Beowulf Essay

May 17, 2015

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How’s your Old English? Not so good? Well, if you are in an early English literature course, you may want to brush up on it, or, better yet, fid a modern translation of Beowulf if you intend to understand the plot, characters and themes of this Old English epic poem written somewhere around 1100 AD by an anonymous poet.

As an epic poem, Beowulf, meets all of the standard qualifications – there is a hero; the setting is large and/or magnificent; the actions include deeds of valor; and there are supernatural forces. So, when students study Beowulf, they understand that this epic poem is a lot like The Iliad or The Odyssey.

With the study of Beowulf, however, comes the inevitable Beowulf essays, and that is where students must send time thinking about topics, themes and attempting to create a scholarly piece that will result in a good grade. And, even with a decent English translation, Beowulf may be a difficult piece to read with comprehension. Sometimes, students are so focused on deciphering the verbiage that they do not spend time considering possible topics for a Beowulf analysis essay. There are, however, a huge number of potential essay topics for Beowulf, so hopefully, the following will assist you somewhat.

General Understanding of the Work

Before you can even begin to write an essay on Beowulf, you must first understand the historical context within which this epic poem was written. The story occurs in Scandinavia and the Germanic “code of heroism” was predominant. So, any essays on Beowulf will, of course, have to relate to this “code.” Basically the definition of a hero related to courage, loyalty to royalty, and strength, both physical and moral. And Beowulf certainly represents all of those character traits. Most Beowulf essay introduction content should probably make reference to these hero characteristics.

Writing the Essay about Beowulf

Like any other literary essay, Beowulf essay topics and types will range from descriptive, expository, analysis, and persuasive.

Some essay topics will relate to Beowulf as an epic hero. So, the student may decide to choose a topic related to that:

  1. A Beowulf epic hero essay might compare the work to the other epic heroism poems of the Greeks – The Iliad or The Odyssey, for example. What are the common characteristics of the heroes in all of these epics?
  2. A Beowulf hero essay might compare the values and actions of Beowulf to heroes in modern literature.
  3. Still another heroism essay might compare the medieval concept of hero with a contemporary one. Do we, for example, demand that our heroes be willing to sacrifice their lives for the good of a group or society as a whole?

Good ideas for essays on Beowulf may come from thought-stimulating Beowulf essay prompts, such as the following:

  • You are a loyal subject of Geatland, and you must now prepare a Beowulf eulogy essay that will be read at his funeral. What will you say?
  • Beowulf addresses the concept of loyalty. Write a loyalty essay that defines the term and relates it specifically to Beowulf’s character.
  • Beowulf embodies heroism by his actions. Write a Beowulf summary essay that describes the specific actions that make Beowulf a hero based upon Germanic ideals.

Other Beowulf essay questions may relate to the themes of this work. Consider the following universal themes in literature:

  1. Identity: What defines a person? Identity in Beowulf’s time was a factor of one’s ancestry. Is this still true today?
  2. Heroic Code vs. Other Value Systems: How did the pagan Germanic code conflict with early Christianity? Focus on the pagan belief that greatness is only an earthly accomplishment vs. the Christian concept of an afterlife.
  3. Write a Beowulf descriptive essay that speaks to Beowulf as the young warrior vs. Beowulf as the good king. Address the idea of youth looking for personal glory vs. the older hero looking to protect others or society in general.

Essay questions for Beowulf may also relate to motifs and symbols in the poem

  • The symbolism of monsters is a common one in literature. Given the time context of this poem, the definition of “monster” really related to someone who was born with such physical deformities that s/he could not be allowed to exist within the mainstream of society. Thus, these “monsters” were relegated to physical isolation. Perhaps Grendel was merely seeking revenge for the manner in which he had been treated.
  • The dragon which is the enemy of the last battle of Beowulf, may represent Satan or all that is evil in society. Thus Beowulf, in battling this dragon, defeats the dragon but, in so doing, loses his own life. He may thus be considered a “Christ figure.”

The Tale is Not Complex – The Analysis May Be

Before you begin your own Beowulf essay, it might be a good idea to read some Beowulf essay examples. These may be found all over the Internet, and may, indeed, give your good ideas for your own. If you are out of time, however, or if you have concerns for your ability to organize and/or write at the level of expectation of your instructor/professor, please contact for some professional help. We are here 24 hours a day!