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Becker: Early British Lit- Grade 12- Beowulf: Assignment Sheet


English 12: Early British Literature                                Beowulf Essay Assignment 


Your first major essay of the semester will offer you the opportunity to delve into one of the analytical topics introduced during our reading of the poem.  Review the following three options, select one, and prepare your thesis statement along with an outline of your main points.  If you wish to customize one of these topics, be sure to discuss this with your teacher in advance of drafting.  


  1. Treat this poem as a form of education for listeners in Anglo-Saxon times.  How might this poem have functioned to preserve (or create) a kind of social stability in Anglo-Saxon society? What specific values or codes of behavior does the poem teach (apart from the idea that it would be nice to be a Beowulfian superhero)? You might focus on the poem’s values relating to one or two topics such as battle, loyalty, wealth, status, or feuds. You might focus on Christian values vs. pagan values.  Choose your values so that they are related; this will give your essay cohesion.  Your thesis will be your assertion about the particular values celebrated in the poem. In your body paragraphs, identify particular passages and explain how they reinforce the values you are discussing. 


  1. Analyze the Monsters! The poem tells of Beowulf’s journey as a hero who battles three progressively more dangerous “monsters.” Analyze each monster that must be defeated, explaining HOW Grendel, Grendel’s Mother, and then the Dragon all function as symbols. Make sure your analysis identifies a progression in the symbolism and lessons taught in each section of the poem.  Use your conclusion to comment on how the overall build of these lessons transforms elevates the poem’s purposes far above mere entertainment.


  1. As a very current variation of topic A, discuss what this poem teaches listeners about the characteristics of and roles for women in Anglo-Saxon society. Consider this topic from two very different perspectives. First consider what values the poem might have taught to readers in Anglo-Saxon times. Then consider how present-day readers might critique these Anglo-Saxon values.  Queen Wealtheow, described as a "peace weaver" (freothuwebbein Old English), might be your initial focus, but be sure to consider the comments about Queen Modthryth as part of your analysis. Do not overlook the poem’s most powerful female character: Grendel’s Mother. To what extent are her maternal instincts noble and justifiable?  To what extent is she a negative female character?  Conclude with an overall assessment of the poem’s depiction of female characters and roles, considering both contemporary and Anglo-Saxon contexts. 




October 1                                           Topic Review & Selection


October 3                                           Outline & Research Sources Due (library)


Oct. 5                                                  Draft Check: Body Paragraphs


Tues. Oct. 9                                        Full Draft Due in Class


Th.  Oct. 11                                         Peer Editing & Final Editing

Friday October 12,                     Printed Copy of Essay Due in Class!  


Essay Draft Review  

If you want your teacher to read over an essay draft, schedule a meeting time well in advance of the due date!!!


Research and Sources

Scholarly Sources are Required!  In all cases you will be searching for relevant literary criticism from published books, mainstream journals, and especially the resources found through our School databases.  You need TWO quality research sources for this essay.  TO BE CLEAR: Wikipedia will not count here, and neither will random web pages, student projects, YouTube videos, or blogs. Your responsibility here is to review authentic literary scholarship and use it to strengthen your own essay (primarily by integrating quotes into your writing). Our librarians can offer further suggestions on research strategies.  



  • Creative title indicating main thematic focus 
  • Introduction with catchy hook(an anecdote or simile relevant to your topic)
  • Your thesis about Beowulf; this MUST BE AN ASSERTION BASED ON YOUR CHOSEN TOPIC
  • Body paragraphs beginning with clear analytical topic sentences that connect the paragraph to the overall topic
  • Body paragraphs that use quotes and details from the poem to SHOW HOW details/character actions/dialogue/allusions function to reinforce values or convey symbolism 
  • Use of quotes from AT LEAST TWO scholarly sources that discuss Beowulf
  • In stronger essays, use of multiple short quotes and precise descriptive details in each paragraph (avoidance of long block quotes)
  • Proper MLA setup for and citation of all quotes
  • Logical organization of paragraphs (including clear transitions between points)
  • Avoidance of redundant, hyperbolic, and/or generic phrasing 
  • Effective concluding paragraph-see class notes 
  • Adherence to MLA guidelines and punctuation rules set forth in Purdue’s OWL website: (
  • Works Cited Entries!
  • Proper format and heading; essay double-spaced in 12-point font 
  • Length of FOUR FULL pages (your writing should touch the top of page 5, and your Works Cited entries should be on page 6); double-sided printing

Careful proofreading to eliminate spelling, gramm

Questions? Ask Ms. Stuart