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Beowulf. EH 2301. Beowulf. Of unknown origin In the late 900’s, two anonymous scribes wrote the story on parchment using West Saxon, a Germanic dialect dominant for literary composition in England at that time. Beowulf. Was bound together with 4 other works in Old English

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beowulf

Beowulf

EH 2301

beowulf1
Beowulf
  • Of unknown origin
  • In the late 900’s, two anonymous scribes wrote the story on parchment using West Saxon, a Germanic dialect dominant for literary composition in England at that time.
beowulf2
Beowulf
  • Was bound together with 4 other works in Old English
    • The Passion of St. Christopher
    • The Wonders of the East
    • Alexander’s Letter to Aristotle
    • Judith (a poem)
      • All have the presence of monsters, so this suggests that was the common thread.
beowulf3
Beowulf
  • The whereabouts of the manuscript was unknown for about 500 years.
  • Lawrence Nowell, Dean of Litchfield, owned it in 1563.
      • May have save the manuscript from destruction when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries and broke up their libraries.
beowulf4
Beowulf
  • Manuscript made its way to the famous library of Sir Robert Cotton, an Elizabethan physician.
      • In 1731, Cotton’s library caught fire and the codex containing Beowulf was scorched.
      • After Cotton’s death, his library collection was taken over by the Crown.
  • Today, the manuscript is in the British Library in London.
beowulf5
Beowulf
  • No one knows who “wrote” Beowulf.
  • Oral poetry was sung by many; was performed when warriors gathered in meadhalls during celebrations.
    • It is from this poem that we derive many of the details for the reconstruction of Anglo-Saxon social life.
beowulf6
Beowulf
  • Seems to have been entirely fictional.
  • The only historically verifiable moment in the poem:
    • Hygelac, lord of the Geats, died in battle against the Frisians.
      • Chronicled by historian Gregory of Tours that Chlochilaichus (Latin name of Hygelac) was killed in the year 521.
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Beowulf
  • Why has this story lasted through the ages?
    • Interlaced with the battles of monsters are tales of human struggle.
      • Less than exemplary people:
        • Heremod: wicked king who hoarded people
        • Modthryth: queen who arbitrarily executed those who displeased her
        • Hrothulf: treacherous usurper
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Beowulf
  • Why has this story lasted through the ages?
    • Interlaced with the battles of monsters are tales of human struggle.
      • Good against evil
      • Strength of heart and spirit
      • Truth and light vs. dark powers
        • Darkness: Grendel, a dragon, greed, treachery, pride
beowulf9
Beowulf
  • Why has this story lasted through the ages?
    • Interlaced with the battles of monsters are tales of human struggle.
      • Challenge is constant.
      • Death always awaits.
        • Great victories, such as the one over Grendel, but in the end, even the hero’s strength and vitality must be extinguished by old age.
structure of beowulf
Structure of Beowulf
  • Use of alliteration
    • Beginning 3 or 4 words in a line with the same letter
      • OE: “waes se grimma gaest Grendel haten”
      • TRANS: “a horror from hell, hideous Grendel.”
      • “Then out of the night/came the shadow-stalker, stealthy and swift“ (702-703)
structure of beowulf1
Structure of Beowulf
  • Use of kenning
    • A specific type of compound used for stylistic effects; a compressed metaphor.
      • “swan-road” for ocean
      • “wave-courser” for ship
      • “death-shadow” for Grendel
structure of beowulf2
Structure of Beowulf
  • Use of oral structure
    • Tendency to digress into stories tangent to the action of the main plot.
      • Contribute to artistry of broad contrasts
        • Youth vs. age
        • Joy vs. sorrow
        • Good vs. bad
          • Hrothgar’s story of King Heremod
          • Contrast of good Queen Hygd and bad Queen Modthryth
structure of beowulf3
Structure of Beowulf
  • Use of oral structure
    • Tendency to digress into stories tangent to the action of the main plot.
      • Commentary from the poet
structure of beowulf4
Structure of Beowulf
  • Use of oral structure
    • Epic form
      • Viewing hero’s life as part of a historical pattern
        • Iliad: Homer focuses on one sequence – the withdrawal of Achilles from the Trojan War
          • Recalls Helen’s abduction, which started the war
          • Looks ahead to defeat of Trojans
structure of beowulf5
Structure of Beowulf
  • Use of oral structure
    • Epic form
      • Viewing hero’s life as part of a historical pattern
        • Milton’s Paradise Lost: disobedience of Adam & Eve; Enveloping action includes:
          • Earlier rebellion of Satan
          • The creation
          • Whole future of fallen mankind
structure of beowulf6
Structure of Beowulf
  • Use of oral structure
    • Epic form
      • This narrative method enables epic poet to delineate his central figure or episodes with vitality, yet at the same time to enlarge the dimensions of the poem and encompass a wider range of human experience.
      • Poet also uses digression in a subtle way to foreshadow dark events to come.
themes in beowulf
Themes in Beowulf
  • Identity
    • Ancestral heritage
    • Individual reputation
      • Heroic acts
themes in beowulf1
Themes in Beowulf
  • Heroic glory
    • Characteristics of good warrior
      • Strength
      • Loyalty
      • Courage
    • Characteristics of good king
      • Hospitality
      • Generosity
      • Diplomacy
themes in beowulf2
Themes in Beowulf
  • Distribution of treasure
    • King rewards strong, loyal warriors
      • Gold
      • Horses
      • Armor
themes in beowulf3
Themes in Beowulf
  • Pagan vs. Christian elements
    • Blackburn, The Christian Colouring in Beowulf:
      • Poem was composed by a heathen from old stories. At a later date, it was revised by a Christian to include the Christian allusions.
      • Poem was composed by a Christian who had heard the stories and used them in the material of his work.
themes in beowulf4
Themes in Beowulf
  • Pagan vs. Christian elements
    • Blackburn
      • Passages containing references to biblical history or allusion to scripture
      • Passages containing disapproval of heathen ideas or pagan worship
      • Passages containing references to distinctively Christian doctrines (heaven, hell, day of judgment)
      • 53 cases of incidental allusions to the Christian God
slide24

Beowulf

  • http://faculty.virginia.edu/OldEnglish/Beowulf.Readings/Prologue.html
http www lone star net literature beowulf index html

http://www.lone-star.net/literature/beowulf/index.html

Audio readings of Beowulf:

http://www.wwnorton.com/college/english/nael/noa/audio.htm

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