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Barron's Booknotes-Beowulf-Free Chapter Summary Synopsis
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11. Compare the relationship between Beowulf as a young man and Hrothgar as an older king. See how this parallels the later relationship between Beowulf and Wiglaf. Note the characteristics of Beowulf's youthfulness by citing examples from his first speeches when he arrives in Denmark. Compare the tone and content of these speeches with Beowulf's speeches as an old man.

12. Note Beowulf's superhuman qualities (for instance, his ability to stay underwater for long periods of time, as he does during the battle with Grendel's mother) that set him apart from other men. Discuss how he treats other people, citing examples from the poem: his conversation with the Danish soldier when the Geats first arrive in Denmark, his dialogues with King Hrothgar and King Higlac. Discuss his personality in terms of his capacity for loyalty, forgiveness, and generosity. Does his desire for fame and glory make him less a hero? Talk about why you think he insists on fighting the dragon alone, and relate this idea to the idea of the hero as a solitary and tragic figure.

13. The poem is divided into two parts. In part one we see Beowulf as a young man, in part two as an aging king. The main narrative involves three battles: Beowulf and Grendel, Beowulf and Grendel's mother, Beowulf and the dragon. The poem can be described structurally by comparing parts one and two or by comparing the three battles. The poem can also be viewed as being structured around the character of Beowulf.

In the course of telling the main story the poet frequently digresses with a related story from the past. The relation of the historical digressions to the main narrative is another possible interpretation of how the poem was put together. Take any of the digressions-the Finnsburg Episode, for instance-and see how it relates to what's going on in the main narrative. Discuss how the stories from the past are meant to parallel and illuminate what's happening in the present.

14. A kenning is a phrase signifying a characteristic of a person or thing that the poet uses instead of naming that person or thing directly. For example: a warrior might be described as "the helmet-bearing one" or a king as a "ring-giver."

Alliteration is the repetition of the same sounds or syllables in two or more words in a line. Litotes are a form of understatement, often intended to create a sense of irony. An example of litotes can be found in the poet's description of Beowulf after he returns to Geatland from Denmark (2165-69).

15. Throughout the poem (beginning with the description of Shild in the Prologue) we see how the code of comitatus forms the backbone of Anglo-Saxon society. The king known for his generosity will attract the most warriors. In return, the warrior will pledge his loyalty to the king and his country. Cite the Geat warriors' refusal (with the exception of Wiglaf) to help Beowulf when he fights the dragon. Refer to Wiglaf's speech to his cowardly comrades, and discuss the idea that, as Wiglaf puts it, death is better than the violation of the code.

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Barron's Booknotes-Beowulf-Free Chapter Summary Synopsis

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