“We don’t talk enough about assonance”: Teenage Insights into “Beowulf”

John complains, “We don’t talk enough about assonance.” So true.  I imagine all 14-year-olds have the same complaint at home.

By pure coincidence (or is it???), he is studying in 9th grade the same material I am teaching this semester: Gilgamesh, Beowulf, and John Gardner’s Grendel.  In school when discussing Beowulf, they learned about alliteration, caesura, and kennings, those compact, compound metaphors like “whale-road” or “seal-path” for the ocean.  In John’s class, they came up with “Couch potato.”

Reverent Couch Potato. Note the potato. And the couch. And the reverence. Performed by John C. Kilfoyle.

Reverent Couch Potato. Note the potato. And the couch. And the reverence. Performed by John C. Kilfoyle. Not the beatific coach potato below.

And “eye candy.”

Eye Candy. As performed by John C. Kilfoyle.

Eye Candy. As performed by John C. Kilfoyle.

They saw the meadhall as a place of sanctuary violated by Grendel, and women as peace-weavers. As one of their projects, they can write their own boast.  After all, in Anglo-Saxon culture it seems that you can boast as long as you can fulfill that arrogant vow.

His fellow students commented on how John can pronounce the king’s name.  It’s Hrothgar, which can be a mouthful.  Fortunately, John has studied German, so that helps with the sound of Old English.

In John’s class, they broke up into 5 groups, each one examining a different aspect of the work. This is what each group came up with.

  1. John’s group compared Hrothgar, Beowulf, and Wiglaf as kings (or potential king in the case of Wiglaf).  Hrothgar was ideal king, they decided.  He takes the glory, but gives it out too.  John points out the king should be humble.  Being humble is not the warrior’s job.  Beowulf is a good king, but still had the warrior’s instinct after 50 years, so killed the dragon.  Pride had overtaken him. Wiglaf has both warrior and kingly instincts.
  2. Did Beowulf goes on a hero’s journey according the hero cycle model?  This group decided that he doesn’t quite, since pride is his downfall in the last third of the poem.  Pride helps the warrrior, but proves his downfall against the dragon.  As a king, pride is what kills him. A good flaw becomes a bad flaw.
  3. Group 3 examined Beowulf’s transition from warrior to king.  While his warrior past ultimately kills him, he became king in the first place because he’s the last good man standing.
  4. This group did a literary analysis comparing how the 3 authors influenced the story: the monk scribe, the scop (minstrel or poet-singer) within the poem, and Seamus Heaney the translator. They decided the monk added God; the scop made it all grander than it was; and Heaney word choice moved us.
  5. Several speeches were chosen for the groups to analyze: from Beowulf, Hrothgar, and Wiglaf.  The students considered how the speeches reflect each character.

I think it’s amazing that a high school (9th grade!) has such sophisticated activities and material for its students. Thank you, LASA!

Beatific Couch Potato. Note the potato. And the couch. And the beatitude. Performed by John C. Kilfoyle.

Beatific Couch Potato. Note the potato. And the couch. And the beatitude. Performed by John C. Kilfoyle.

#grendelsmotherthenovel

Follow me on Twitter: @medievalwomen

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s