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Beowulf : The Beginning of English Literature
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  1. Beowulf:The Beginning of English Literature

  2. Beowulf’s Name • Beowulf’s father– Edgetho • In most cases, the son is named after the father • Don • Donald (son of Don) • McDonald (son of son of Don) • McDonaldson (son of son of son of Don) • Proves Beowulf is own individual with own powers and abilities (and more important than his father)

  3. Bear • Wolf

  4. The background • The oldest pagan epic poem written in English more than 1200 years ago • Anonymous and composed in the first half of the 8th century • It is based on a Scandinavian Saga orally transmitted • It deals with a time following the initial invasion of England by Germanic tribes in 449 (5th~6th Cent.) • It contains Christian elementsprobably added by the scholar who wrote it down; the pagan deities are removed

  5. The story • It derives from folk-tales • It is a blend of legend and history • It contains precise references to real historical events and tribal struggles

  6. The characters

  7. The Geats (Beowulf; his retainer Wiglaf)

  8. The Danes (King Hrothgar)

  9. Grendel ( the monster)


  11. The fire-breathing dragon

  12. Mythical elements • A fantastic world • Monsters • Dragons • Imaginary creatures

  13. Geats and Danes • Beowulf was a war leader of the Geats, a group of people in what is now southern Sweden • Hrothgar was king of the Danes

  14. THE SETTING • Gautland • Palace of Heorot

  15. THE PLOT • Two stories unified by the presence of the same hero • The first: Beowulf is a young hero going to help Hrothgar, king of the Danes • The second: Beowulf in his old age as king of the Geats in Gautland

  16. SOCIAL LIFE • It reveals a way of life ruled by simple laws: • Eating • Drinking • Fighting • Hunting • Listening to the Scop during the feasts

  17. Features of the time • The generosity of the lord • The fidelty of the subjects • The sense of honour • The duty to help people in need • Violence

  18. The values of warrior society in the poem • Loyalty and kinship • The need to take revenge • Physical strength and courage • The search for glory in this life • Their main tools were the weaponspersonalized with names, a precious heritage • Fate

  19. The presence of nature • Cold Scandinavian countries • Unpleasant winters • Spring hailed with joy • Rough and stormy northern sea • Biting winds • Black pools • Gloomy marshes • Forests and caves

  20. The general atmosphere • Gloomy • Fierce • Melancholic • Solitary • A strong sense of doom • Stoic resignation

  21. Christian elements • Beowulf= good struggling against evil • He prays the Creator of all things, the ruler of the Heavens • God’s WILL, identical with FATE ( Wyrd ) • Reference to the Old Testament: • Heorot = symbol of the world • The Danes = mankind • The lake = hell • Grendel’s mother = the devil • The sword = the cross

  22. The typical mounds


  24. Origins Unknown author; possibly one Christian author in Anglo-Saxon England Unknown date of composition (roughly 8th-11th Century CE)

  25. Beowulf’s first page


  27. BEOWULF : OLD ENGLISH • Hwæt! We Gardena         in geardagum, þeodcyninga,         þrym gefrunon, hu ða æþelingas         ellen fremedon. Oft Scyld Scefing         sceaþena þreatum, • monegum mægþum,         meodosetla ofteah, egsode eorlas.         Syððan ærest wearð feasceaft funden,         he þæs frofre gebad, weox under wolcnum,         weorðmyndum þah, oðþæt him æghwylc         þara ymbsittendra • ofer hronrade         hyran scolde, gomban gyldan.         þæt wæs god cyning! ðæm eafera wæs         æfter cenned, geong in geardum,         þone god sende folce to frofre;         fyrenðearfe ongeat

  28. BeowulfThe Poetry of Beowulf Beowulf was composed in Old English, which uses a caesura,or rhythmic pause, to create unity. Locate the caesura in these lines: ða com of more         under misthleoþum Grendel gongan,         godes yrre bær; mynte se manscaða         manna cynnes sumne besyrwan         in sele þam hean. Line divided into two parts by a caesura.

  29. BeowulfThe Poetry of Beowulf Here are the same lines in modern English fromBurton Raffel’s translation: Out from the marsh, from the foot of misty Hills and bogs, bearing God’s hatred, Grendel came, hoping to kill Anyone he could trap on this trip to high Herot. Punctuation reproduces pause effect of the caesura.

  30. Wessex dialect • High poetic diction • Old English verse highly musical • Long lines divided in two halves • A pause in the middle of the lines • The two halves held together by allitteration • No rhyme

  31. BeowulfThe Poetry of Beowulf The Anglo-Saxon oral poet also used the poetic device of alliteration. Grendelgongan,godes yrre bær; myntesemanscaðamannacynnes

  32. Techniques • ALLITTERATION “He rippled down the rock, writhing with anger” • KENNING “The hoard-guardian” (the guardian of the treasure = the monster)

  33. The Ship Beowulf KENNINGS from the poem the bent-necked wood the ringed prow the swan-road the whale-road The Sea 

  34. The Sword KENNINGS from the poem the leaving of the file battle-lightning the storm of swords The Battle

  35. The Dragon KENNINGS from the poem the twilight-spoiler the ring-giver the dispenser of treasure The Lord/King Ray Winstone as Beowulf in Robert Zemeckis’ Beowulf, 2007

  36. The Feud= the tragic waste Themes A system of revenge is repeated in the poem:feud  peace  feud • The eternal conflictbetweendark and light,good and evil • Fate • Courage as the quality that can stand against Fate.

  37. 2 Types of Epics • Folk • Told out loud first (usually by scops) • Unknown author • Unknown dates • (E.g.—Beowulf is a folk epic because we don’t know who wrote it) • Literary • Known author • (E.g.– Paradise Lost, by John Milton is a literary epic because we know who wrote it.)

  38. 3 Epic Conventions • Invoke a muse • Muse– inspiration provided by the gods • Plot begins in medias res • In medias red– “In the middle of” the action • Serious tone • Not necessary to have all on these, but need most at least

  39. Reading / Language Arts • Literary Criticism: • 3.12. Analyze how a work of literature is related to the themes and issues of its historical period. (Historical Approach)