Below you will find three outstanding thesis statements / paper topics for Beowulf that can be used as essay starters or paper topics. All five incorporate at least one of the themes found in Beowulf and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a summary of different elements that could be important in an essay but you are free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1 : The Role of Women in Anglo-Saxon Society as Reflected in Beowulf
It goes without saying that the active role women play in Beowulf is rather minimal and that they are mostly confined to the task of playing hostess to the action-seeking men. This, however, is not necessarily the case—especially when one looks beyond the surface. In fact, women throughout Beowulf play the important role of peacemakers and peace-weavers and are often seen bestowing gifts and honor, both of which are very important in this culture. For this essay there are a few directions you could. For instance, you could examine the way different women act to preserve and maintain this warrior culture and how without them, the violence and tribal nature of these societies might crumble without them. In short, it is too easy to write an essay based on the idea that women are simply subservient to the desires of men. Look deeper and consider the ways they serve a much higher purpose—just don’t forget to consider the context and different culture presented in Beowulf and more generally, the larger context of the role of women in medieval literature and society. (Click here for an excellent article on this topic)
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2 : The Value System in Anglo-Saxon Culture as Presented in Beowulf
The world of Beowulf is almost unrecognizable to the one we know today, mostly because of the entirely different set of cultural, societal, and even familial values that are present in this ancient world. Throughout Beowulf, the three most important values are kinship, courage, and honor. While these are all independent cultural and societal values, they work together to reflect a culture that puts a great deal of emphasis on someone holding true to his word, particularly because the reputation and honor of his family depends on it. Families in turn are very important because they are the source of identification (notice, for example, how no one is mentioned by his deeds, by rather by who his or her father and brothers are). For this essay topic or thesis statement, integrate at least three examples that reflect this cultural system based on kinship and honor and write a conclusion based on why these might have been important factors (hint: consider the transient nature of some groups, the higher mortality rate, etc).
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3 : Alliteration, Language and the Tradition of Beowulf
Although most analyses of Beowulf tend to center on major themes or symbols, the poem itself is worthy of study and analysis. Considering that Beowulf began as a tale that was passed through via oral traditions, it contains a number of language related intricacies that translators do not overlook. One of the most important aspects of the poem in terms of language is the use of alliteration. This was not only used to make the poem “beautiful” but more importantly, it was used to make Beowulf memorable. In other words, through the use of alliteration, the lines were easier to remember and repeat. For this essay, assuming you are using a good solid translation of Beowulf, go through and find a number of examples of alliteration and other linguistic devices that serve as markers that this was originally part of an oral tradition. This might require some outside research but will make for a very challenging and rewarding essay.
Other essay topics for Beowulf might include Christian versus pagan ideals, the function of blood-feuds, the role of fate, and the symbolism of Grendel (particularly in terms of her being a woman monster), or perform a character analysis of Wealhtheow
This list of important quotations will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes listed here for Beowulf correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned. All quotes contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of the text they are referring to.
(Hrothgar) “Yet God can easily prevent this reckless ravager from committing such crimes” (471-472).
“…powerful counselors, the highest in the land, would lend advice, plotting how best the bold defenders might resist and beat off sudden attacks” (171-74).
“Whichever one death fells must deem it a just judgment by God” (440-41) and “the Geat placed complete trust in his strength of limb in the Lord's favor” (669-670).
“Now sit down to the feast and in due time, listen then to the lays of the victories of warriors, as your heart my prompt you” (15).
“I do not consider myself a lesser fighter than Grendel does himself; therefore I will not kill him with a sword, and deprive him of life in that way…. No: this night we two will abstain from swords…” (19-20)
“…The grey-haired warrior, was sad at heart when he knew that his chief thane lay lifeless, that his dearest retainer was dead”. (36)
“He who caused the trouble to begin with, a downcast captive, was the thirteenth man in the troop: he had to show hem the place humbly.” (63)
From Beowulf in The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M. H. Abrams et al. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1987. 19-72.
Essay Topic 1
Compare and contrast Beowulf and Grendel. How do each epitomize good and evil?
Essay Topic 2
What do you believe to be the most important section of the book? Why? What does its inclusion add to the text? What would its exclusion mean to the history of Anglo-Saxon literature?
Essay Topic 3
Kennings and alliteration were used throughout Beowulf and the Elegies. Why was the use of both poetic devices important to the oral tradition of Anglo-Saxon literature? In what ways did the use of kennings and alliteration help to insure the passage of the tales throughout time?
Essay Topic 4
The text gives six examples of elegies from the Anglo-Saxon period. Which elegy do you believe was the most important? Why? Support your answer textually--make sure that your answer includes the characteristics of an elegy and why your choice best exemplifies the traditional Anglo-Saxon period.
Essay Topic 5
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