History Behind Beowulf

To this day, there is nothing less satisfying in school than when an English teacher gets the history wrong during the introduction to a new piece of literature.

Small mistakes are forgivable. Commonly held beliefs, less so. Plus, teachers too often skip the fun stuff of the fashion. How can students imagine the story if they have no idea what the characters dressed like?

Trust me, I know I am going to irritate some English teachers with this thinking but believe me, you do not want me trying to guide students through the analysis of the poem or story. Plus, the Dark Ages is a very tough period of history to understand. I can’t entirely blame teachers if they leave out the history lesson preview. Never fear: leave the history to me and focus on the story at hand.

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What’s in the resource?

The resource was created to take only one class period in its entirety. You can certainly use aspects of the resource and shorten the time spent on the background but I didn’t want to create something that took a lot of time because knowing every piece of history behind Beowulf isn’t the point of the reading.

There are 16 pages of infographic designed pages. Printable for students to keep and reference, you can also just project it on the board and cover the material in a lecture-like lesson.

The resource includes the history of the English language, an explanation of how Old English developed and its influences, and a history of Old Norse, the language most likely spoken by the characters in Beowulf.

There are maps that show present-day countries and another that shows the borders along with people and kingdoms of the time period.

One of my favorite sections to research was the Fact vs. Fiction of Beowulf. Although there are certainly real historical references that can be found in multiple sources, it is period of history that is shrouded in mystery.

Setting the Stage helps students understand some of the actual historical events that occurred when Beowulf probably too place.

To help students visualize what the characters would be wearing, there are several pages discussing the clothing, the background, and importance of the the clothing and the armor.

Finally, there are two pages at the end of the resource that can help guide you towards discussion about the portrayal of women in Beowulf. Beowulf isn’t just one of the oldest pieces of literature in the English language, it is also one of the first writings that emphasized a woman’s place in society – hidden and quiet. Add discussion about how the women are portrayed in Beowulf. It’s only right to add more discussion about women in history.


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