Lecture Notes Beowulf
HU 123 LECTURE NOTES BEOWULF Genre A heroic folk epic rooted in the oral tradition of the Anglo Saxons, Beowulf is an anonymous poem committed to paper by an unknown Christian monk in 1000 Common Era, some 300 years after it was first composed. The manuscript is part of a document known as Cotton Vitellus A housed in a British Library. Beowulf belongs to the epic genre of long, narrative poems dealing with heroic deeds against a background of war and the supernatural and themes of grandeur and significance.
Full of legendary myths and somber, elegiac cadences, it has been composed in the Anglo Saxon vernacular and can be classed amongst other great epics such as the Illiad, Odyssey, Aenied and Paradise Lost to name a few. The name Beowulf is a kenning, Bee-Hunter reflecting the warrior heritage of the central character Basic Plot The poem is eponymously named for its hero Bewoulf, a great warrior and later King, who sets out to rescue King Hrothgar and his people from the monster Grendel. During the course of the poem, we see Beowulf slaying first Grendel and then his revenge seeking mother.
Beowulf’s final conflict takes place with the Dragon angered by the plundering of the treasure it is guarding. Structure of the Poem There are three prevailing views as to the structure of the poem: -the structure is defined by the three increasingly difficult conflicts Beowulf faces -the structure can also be viewed in terms of kingship for instance, young Beowulf and old Beowulf with a different set of problems to be faced during each phase -the structure is that of interlacing of memories with narratives of present, a cyclical process of action, memory and reflection
Background Although the poem is rooted in the Anglo Saxon as well as early Christian traditions, it reflects two distinct value systems frequently at odds with each other. For instance, in line with its Anglo-Saxon origins, the poem celebrates the Germanic heroic code, which, exemplifying the pagan warrior culture, lays stress upon family ties, genealogy, immortality through fame and revenge for wrongs done to one’s kith and kin. It values ancestral heritage and individual reputation.
Christianity, on the other hand, believes in immortality in terms of the afterlife and teaches that vengeance is best left to God. Bewoulf and Grendel Bewoulf is not just a warrior and king. He also serves as a cultural ideal and as an incarnation of Anglo Saxon values and beliefs. The ‘Cain-descended’ Grendel, with his innate desire to tear asunder whatever has integrity, represents chaos and disorder, in contrast to Bewoulf, who represents order and cosmos. Grendel is the ultimate exile. Unferth Unferth acts as a foil to Beowulf by accentuating through contrast the character of the latter.
He redeems his earlier verbal taunting (flyting) of Beowulf by offering him his sword in a later conflict. Literary devices/techniques Litotes-understatement e. g, ‘Cain had no pleasure from that find’ Kenning-metaphorical descriptions combining two words to offer evocative alternative to original Caesura-a pause in the line of a poem alliteration– In language, alliteration refers to the repetition of a particular sound in the first syllables of a series of words or phrases. Synecdoche-when the part stands for the whole e. , Grendel’s tearing of flesh is his penchant for destruction/disintegration for instance, the attack on the meadhall Themes (universal ideas in a literary work) Gift-giving- Genealogy/Fame Comitatus (Comradeship) Motifs (recurring structures/contrasts/literary devices) Monster-dragon representing external malice Oral Tradition-preserves lessons and lineages of past Meadhall/Heorot-microcosm of society/miniature civilization Symbols-(objects/characters/figures to represent abstract ideas) Golden Torque-bond of loyalty between Wealtheow and Bewoulf Banquet-rebirth of community