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Beowulf

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  1. Beowulf

  2. The Basics • An epic poem • Probably originated sometime between 700-1000 CE • Country of origin unknown • Assumed to be work of the Geats (North Germanic tribe in what is now Gotaland, in modern Sweden) • Brought to England • Considered earliest major work of English poetry • Passed down orally through storytellers, or scops • Written down eventually • Author unknown • Translation is subjective

  3. Language • The English language is divided into three periods: • Old English (449-1100) • Letters that are now unfamiliar • Beowulf – Every version of this story is a translation. • Middle English (1100-1500) • Norman invasion in 1066 introduced many French words into the language • Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales • Modern English (1500-present day) • Major changes in pronunciation, phonetics, grammar

  4. Old English • First written in runes

  5. Old English • Shifted to a Latin alphabet around the 9thcentury • The text below appears in Beowulf three times: ætwæs god cyning

  6. = “wynn” Makes “th” sound æ = short “a” sound, as in “cat” O In “god” makes extended long “o” sound c in “cyning” makes “k” sound y makes short “i” sound

  7. Poetics • No translation will ever be exact to original text • Many poetic elements are lost in translation (literally) • Some of the poetic elements you may find: • alliteration • compounding • kennings • formulas • variation • versification

  8. Alliteration • Repetition of stressed sounds from the beginning of words or syllables • She sells seashells by the seashore. • In Beowulf: • “The Hall of the Heart” • “His pledge and promise” • “Dragging the dead men home to his den” • “Showed sea-cliffs shining”

  9. Compounding • Combining two words to make one word • Done to meet alliterative meter, as part of poetic formula, or to make a new word • feorhseoc = “life-sick” • feorh = life • seoc = sick • Gar-Dena = “Spear-Danes”

  10. Kennings • Special form of compounding that are metaphoric • banhus = “bone-house” • hronrad = “whale-road” • rodorescandel = sky’s candle

  11. Formulas • Ready-made phrases which fulfill the metrical needs of a line or half-line • Standard tool of oral poets • Traditional • gombangyldan = “pay tribute” • geong in geardum = “young in the courtyard” • folce to frofre = “as a comfort to the people”

  12. Variation • Restatement of concept/term using different words • “Beowulf spoke, the son of Ecgtheow” • “The nobleman’s son then passedthe steep rocky cliffs, the narrow path,the narrow single-file path, an unknown way,precipitous headland, the homes of many water-monsters.”

  13. Versification • Verse form • Shakespeare writes in iambic pentameter • Syllabic meter • Beowulf is written in alliterative verse • Accentual meter • Four stressed beats per line, undetermined number of unstressed • Typically two half-lines separated by a caesura (strong pause) • Rhyme is extremely rare

  14. Basic plot • Noble warrior (Beowulf) • Told in two parts • Young warrior • Older king • Fights three battles: • Grendel • Grendel’s mother • Dragon • Eventually becomes king of the Geats *Although Beowulf himself is fictional, other characters in the poem seem to be historical.

  15. Part One • King Hrothgar builds a beautiful hall, Herot • Christian songs in Herot stir up monster, Grendel • Grendel begins his rampage • Beowulf called upon to help