beowulf - believe that one can easily discern three levels...

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believe that one can easily discern three levels on which Beowulf can be profitably read: the heroic character of Beowulf, the nature of leadership and, hence, of the politics of the society, and the forces to which humans are subject. I also believe that most of these levels are apparent from the beginning of the work. There are a few points of background that one should understand if one is to appreciate some of the nuances of the speeches and to make some of the actions of the story understandable. Most of what follows is my own view of that background, and it is not necessarily definitive. Every time I read a work, I see more in it than I saw the time before, and I have learned not to claim that I understand what anything is really about. I've also learned that the person who reads and thinks about what he is reading generally understands things a lot better than those who are content to judge things on the basis of a superficial reading and thoughtless conclusion. Everyone has a right to their opinion, but not all opinions are created equal. Someday, you will all have become mature adults and will have given up drinking beer at some flesh pot. Instead, you will go to cocktail parties where your host and hostess will serve caviar with your choice of onion or lemon (take the lemon), brie, kiwi fruit, play Palestrina on their hi-fi, and where your fellow guests will get soused in a genteel and sophisticated manner. While in the process, they will talk about erudite things, and someone will say to you I find Beowulf dreadfully primitive, don't you? I really don't see why anyone would ever have written such a boring poem about someone like Beowulf, do you?" When that happens, you will be able to say (in a loud voice, attracting the attention of everyone in the room): " BEOWULF ISN'T REALLY ABOUT BEOWULF. IT'S ABOUT HROTHGAR " The poem seems to me to be composed of two separate works. The first section, the adventure of Grendel and his mother, is really centered on the figure of Hrothgar. The poem opens with the story of the death and funeral of Scyld Scefing, the mysterious ruler who had come to the Danes as a babe cast adrift in a box on the sea and whose body is returned in a blazing ship to wherever it was from whence he had come. The episode as recounted in Beowulf is probably just a reference to a longer poem about Scyld, just as the mention of his son, Beowulf, "famed in Scandia," and his grandson, Healfdeane, who divided the kingdom between his two sons, are probably references to songs in which they were the protagonists. The story of Beowulf probably takes up somewhere in the middle of a series of songs about Hrothgar. The first would have dealt with his youth and perhaps ended with his sheltering of Ecgtheow, a man cast out by his Geat kindred and being hunted down by the entire clan of the Wylfings for killing their kinsman. The second story might then have been about the building of Heorot and is the section in which Beowulf appears. It
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This note was uploaded on 11/18/2011 for the course HISTORY 170 taught by Professor Romero during the Fall '11 term at Rutgers.

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beowulf - believe that one can easily discern three levels...

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