Mini-Lecture 4 The End of _Beowulf_

Mini-Lecture 4 The End of _Beowulf_ - Mini-Lecture 4: The...

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Mini-Lecture 4: The End of Beowulf : Dragons and Death 1. A story in two parts or three? Many critical editions of the poem (versions of the poem in the original Old English that scholars such as myself use) divide it into two parts, with Part II commencing at line 2200. They view the first 2/3 of the poem as about Beowulf’s youth, with the remaining 1/3 about his old age. They thus see the poem as one of contrasts the rise of an exceptional man demonstrating success in ̶ battle (Grendel and his mother) as against the fall of that same man with defeat in battle (the dragon). Another possible binary is the Christian-pagan divide, though that seems more to be a later, 10 th C. scribal imposition on the originally pagan narrative than one endemic to the oral poem. J.R.R. Tolkien, in his landmark essay “ Beowulf : The Monsters and the Critics,” articulated another interpretation: that the poem has three parts, each defined by a battle against a monster (Grendel, his mother, the dragon). There are other “threes” in the poem as well three funerals ̶ (Shield’s, Hnaef’s, Beowulf’s), three peaceweavers (Wealhtheow, Hildeburh, Freawaru), three kings (Hrothgar, Hygelac, Beowulf), three swords (Hrunting, the magic sword, Naegling). I suggest that neither interpretation holds the dominant position. The poem IS a study in contrasts, and not only between Beowulf’s youth and old age. It is also a study in contrasting ideologies of kingship: Hrothgar relies on his thanes and then on others to “solve” the Grendel problem; Beowulf finds he cannot rely on his thanes when he faces the dragon; Hygelac rashly leads his thanes on a raid borne of greed and conceived in folly in which most of his thanes perish. Others also enter into the story as points of positive and negative comparison: Sigemund, Heremod, Ingeld, Finn, Hengest, Hnaef. Women likewise serve as points of contrast
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Mini-Lecture 4 The End of _Beowulf_ - Mini-Lecture 4: The...

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