Now let's consider Beowulf's leadership. Beowulf ruled the Geat people for 50 years before he died after defeating the dragon. Beowulf does not give much insight into the protagonists' qualities as a leader or his specific actions while king. Nevertheless, the author reveals that his people were extremely sorrowful at his death, and they repeatedly declared that he was a good king. But perhaps Beowulf's virtues as a leader are not so cut-and-dried, for Beowulf's death left the Geat people in dire straits.
During Beowulf's fight with the dragon, only one of his hand-picked warriors--the young Wiglaf--did not flee in terror. Could this indicate that Beowulf--relying on his own strength as a warrior--had done a poor job of training his mean to be valiant warriors themselves?
Moreover, following his lord's death, Wiglaf lamented that the Frisians, Franks, and Swedes would probably now invade and conquer the Geats. Beowulf had to have known that his death would embolden the Geats' foes, yet he chose to ignore the risk of death and fight the dragon anyway. Was he being a heroic leader by fighting the dragon himself instead of sending in his men, or was recklessly pursuing his own glory at the expense of his kingdom's future?
A sample thesis for this topic could be as follows:
Although Beowulf was valiant warrior, he was a poor leader because he put his own glory before the well-being of his kingdom.
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 BeowulfIt 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.