Lecture Notes Beowulf

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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


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,...
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