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“Beowulf”

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					     Anglo-Saxon Lit
In the beginning was the word…
                  Bede

• Bede—one of the greatest scholars of his
  age
• Works were on theology, science, and
  rhetoric
• *Spread of Christianity
from An Ecclesiastical History of the
English People/ The Dream of the
Rood
• What gift was given to Caedmon?
• What does the gift prove?
• Based on the selection, what can the
 reader infer was important in this time
 period?
“The Dream of the Rood”

• What poetic device is used in the “The
  Dream of the Rood?”
• What biblical story is told in the poem?
• How is Christ described? Why?
• What was the sin of the tree?
• The message in the poem?
The Elegy
What is it?
Elegy

• Any poem that laments/grieves the loss or
 passing of beloved persons, places, or
 things
Characteristics/Conventions
• Invokes a muse
• Contains a poetic speaker
• Raises questions about justice, fate, or
    providence
•   The poet digresses about the conditions of his
    time or is own situation
•   Digression allows the speaker to move beyond
    his original emotion or thinking to a higher level
    of understanding
•   The conclusion provides consolation
Old English Laments

• A formal expression of sorrow or
  mourning in verse or song—
• An elegy or dirge
The Exeter Book

• Contains “The Wanderer,” “The Wife’s
  Lament,” “The Seafarer,” and other old
  English poetry (123 leaves)
• Written by a single scribe b/t 950s-990s
Questions: “The Wanderer”

• Who is the “Wanderer”? (and) What has likely
    lead him to where he is in the poem?
•   Where is the poem set?
•   What is “the Wanderer” lamenting?
•   Why does the Wanderer lament the loss of his
    “gold-friend so much? What did that person
    represent?
•   What is the symbolic significance of the
    “mead-hall” in this poem?
•   What is the Wanderer seeking?
More Questions
• What role does memory play in the poem?
• The poem is structured with at least three
    divisions. What and where are they?
•   What is the poem’s central message? How
    does it relate specifically to its time, and how
    is the message timeless?
•   Where do we see “ubi sunt”?
•   In what sense do the voice of the framing
    narrative and the voice of the Wanderer seem
    to be at odds?
The Wife’s Lament
•   What is unique about this passage?
•   What role did the wife probably play before the
    context of the passage?
•   Why is the wife in the situation she is in? Where is her
    husband?
•   What misfortunes does the wife suffer?
•   Is her situation meant to be taken literally or
    figuratively? Does she live in an earth cave at the
    bottom of a tree?
•   Why can we infer that “The Wife’s Lament” is older
    than “The Wanderer”?
               Resources

• Readings from Beowulf
• Old English Pronunciations
• Terms
“Beowulf”
The World of Beowulf
• The world of “Beowulf” was old even when it
    was written.
•   The heroic poem was set (ca. 520) at least two
    or three centuries before it was thought to be
    written.
•    Beowulf is thought to be the oldest surviving
    English epic poem.
•    The setting was the harsh world of the English’s
    Germanic forefathers.
• And even though the poem was written in
 English, it was set in Scandinavia, and its
 characters and heroes are Danes and
 Geats—two Scandinavian tribes
• The world of “Beowulf” is pagan
• The most important relationship in Germanic
    society (Anglo-Saxon) is that between the thane
    (warrior) and his lord (king)
•   The relationship between kinsmen is important
• Often we see the conflict of the writer
 evident in the characters’ seemingly
 Christian and un-Christian behavior.

• The Christian mode is combined with the
 Heroic mode to create poetry ripe with
 contradictions.
Beowulf Questions
• In Beowulf, where do we see evidence of contradictions
  between heroic Anglo-Saxon Society and Christianity?

• What role does the mead hall play in Anglo-Saxon
  culture and in Beowulf?

• How does Beowulf reinforce values upheld by Anglo
  Saxons?

• How does one honor one who has been killed?
More questions
• How are men rewarded for their valor, bravery,
  and loyalty?

• How is Beowulf rewarded?

• How does Grendel’s mother’s actions keep in line
  with Anglo-Saxon tradition?

• How are women presented in Beowulf?
• Is Beowulf in any way elegiac?
• What is telling about the end of Beowulf?
• Compare and contrast Beowulf and
  Hrothgar as kings?
• Discuss the epic attributes of Beowulf.
At the end of Beowulf, the protagonist has one last
  battle against an antagonistic force, why might it
  have been more beneficial to his people for
  someone else to take up the cause against the
  dragon?
More questions
• Discuss the purpose of the song that appears
  from lines 1070-1157.

• Discuss the contradictions in the first part of the
  poem.

• Discuss examples of synecdoche and metonymy.

• What makes Beowulf both a likable hero an
  unlikable at the same time?
The Battle of Maldon
Questions

• How is Beowulf both an epic and an
  elegy? What is being grieved?
• In what ways does “The Wanderer” fit
  the mold for an elegy?
• In what ways does “The Wife’s Lament” fit
  the mold for an elegy?

				
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