Beowulf P R E S E N T A T I O N B Y D R. N A N C Y K. K E R N S

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1 Beowulf P R E S E N T A T I O N B Y D R. N A N C Y K. K E R N S

2 Basics Oldest existing major work in the English language (Old English, not modern English) Narrative heroic epic poem Written between 8 th and 11 th centuries Set in Scandinavia in the 6 th Century

3 Early Medieval Context of Authorship (8 th 11 th Century Britain) Britian populated by Anglo-Saxon tribes Germanic roots Each tribe had kingdom Constantly fighting Vikings Christianization Christianity had gained ground since Roman occupation of Britain in 1 st Century Advanced by St. Patrick in the north (5 th Century) and Saint Augustine in the south (7 th Century) Monks commonplace; were the educated ones Difficult transition from pagan warrior god mentality to Christ s grace

4 Where did Beowulf originate? You decide. Monks Tales There is only one existing manuscript The manuscript was definitely in a monk s hand There are Biblical touches that Germanic tribes would not have put in themselves Pagan hero may be designed to draw in the average reader Oral Tradition The poem echoes style of Germanic / Anglo-Saxon scops or bards It was common for monks to transcribe oral poetry and add Biblical touches Biblical touches few and far between; no mention of Christ The hero himself is pagan, not Christian

5 Cultural Setting: Pagan Warrior Society Honor and reputation are everything Only deeds live on after death The strongest is the greatest Feuds are commonplace and constant Code of vengeance perpetuates tribal warfare

6 Physical Setting: Sixth Century Scandinavia Political landscape Land of the Danes (future Denmark) is a wealthy country which has prospered under several good kings Danes are allied with the Geats Geats are feuding with the Swedes (centuries later would be conquered and become part of Sweden)

7 Main Characters: The Danes King Hrothgar King of the Danes Wealthy Builds Heorot mead hall Attacked by Grendel Bailed out by Beowulf Unferth Danish warrior Insults Beowulf Gets schooled by Beowulf Gives Beowulf his sword, admitting Beowulf is better Aeschere King Hrothgar s advisor Killed by Grendel s mother

8 Beowulf Main Characters: The Geats Famed hero of the Geats even before arriving at Hrothgar s Superhuman warrior Eventually, king of the Geats for 50 years Killed by dragon Wiglaf One of Beowulf s followers Only warrior to stick by him at the end Last of the great Geat warriors

9 Main characters: The Monsters Grendel Outcast monster Descended from Cain Resents human celebration Harasses the Danes by attacking their mead hall for 12 years Unable to be hurt by weapons Dies after arm ripped off by Beowulf

10 Main Characters: The Monsters (cont.) Grendel s mother Also race of Cain Also immune to human weapons Lives in a cave under watery mire Attacks the Danes to get back Grendel s arm Hoards treasure and corpses in lair Beheaded by Beowulf with a magic sword from her own lair

11 Main Characters: The Monsters (cont.) The Dragon Huge, flying, serpent-like fire-breathing monster Guards treasure in barrow for three centuries Gets enraged when slave steals a gold-plated cup Kills Beowulf by biting him in the neck and poisoning him Gets killed by Beowulf and Wiglaf while Beowulf is dying

12 Poetic Structure Alliterative verse Uses alliteration same letter sounds close together not rhyme. Alliteration links two halves of line divided by caesura or full stop Example: My flesh was not \\ for feasting on Kennings Figurative compound words to describe something. Example: The monster is called things like shadowstalker, terror-monger, hell-serf etc.

13 Study Questions as you read: What makes Beowulf a hero? How does he fit into the Warrior Society? How are Grendel, his mother, and the dragon similar? How are they different? Is older King Beowulf from the end of the story different from young hero Beowulf at the beginning? What are some morals of the story you get from Beowulf? Do you see Biblical values here? Why or why not?

14 Sources (informally cited) Content Norton Anthology of English Literature. Norton Anthology of World Literature. Images (in order of appearance) Beowulf graphic over manuscript. Anglo-Saxon England. Anglo-Saxon warriors. 6 th Century Scandinavia. Anglo-Saxon king. Beowulf. Grendel. Grendel s Mother and Beowulf. Beowulf and the Dragon. Alliterative verse.

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