This lesson will help students:
We read lines 3136- 3183,which cover the lavish funeral the Geat people have for their beloved leader. Closely examining Beowulf's funeral and the implications of the lone Geat woman's song. We discuss why the poem gives essentially the last word to a woman, when women have largely been silent through the whole poem. I then ask students if it's certain that the Geats are going to be defeated. Some say yes and some no.
The students now realize that without an heir Beowulf's heroic actions are for nothing. Some of the students think that aging heroes will have different roles throughout their lifetime and some students dislike the idea of the hero fading away and simply dying. Most of the students dislike that the ending is ambiguous and that there is no 'sequel' wherein the fate of the Geats is determined. This is the perfect point to discuss ambiguity and why authors, even early poets leave matters uncertain.
Some of the students suggest that there could be a lost sequel to Beowulf and while I can't dispute that, I encourage them to think a little deeper. One student mentions that it's not the fate of the Geats that's important to Beowulf's story, it's that he rose up and became a leader at all.
We discuss why the poem continues past the point of Beowulf becoming king and ends with his people left leaderless and vulnerable. They realize that it comes back to Hrothgar's advice, that no king can live forever and that part of being a good king is to ensure the safety of your people even after your own death.
I then show the students this Ted-Ed video
Perhaps the reason authors leave matters uncertain in a text like Beowulf, is the suggestion that while circumstances are hopeless now, perhaps it's a matter of time before another hero arrives.
Or, perhaps, the Geats have no place in the Christian world of the scribe who is writing the story down.
"The point of all this, is to understand that there will be times when several answers are possible and not to feel uncomfortable or think you are too ignorant to understand the story.
"One of the fun parts of reading literature is debating the ambiguity of passages, or looking at the way ideas about an ending reflect a certain cultural ethos."
The quiz I give students at the end of the poem is more of a check for understanding. I want to make sure that the students understand the major plot points, themes & the literary terms I introduced to them.
A majority of the class did not write answers out in complete sentences. I created this short PowerPoint and presented it the day after the quiz. I then handed the students back their corrected quiz and explained that I expected them to make any necessary corrections.
I did not change their grade.
Students made the appropriate corrections.