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Beowulf: A Critical Analysis

A presentatioin of the background of the poem (historical context and translation) and a close reading of the death of Grendel's mother.

Emily Birkett

on 26 October 2012

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Transcript of Beowulf: A Critical Analysis

Beowulf Language and Structure Language and Context Language and Literary Effects Grendel's Mother - Women in Beowulf Religion and Beowulf fights Grendal's mother Images for Grendel's Mother The making of Beowulf What has survived with it? Survival of text Creating and Preserving Beowulf Written - Seventh Century to 1025
Originally oral tale
Dr Francis Leneghan - "Scribe A and Scribe B"

Narrator suggests:
'I never heard before of a ship so well
furbished with battle tackle' (38-39).

Beowulf Anecdotes: 'I was granted one final chance: my sword plunged and the ordeal was over' (554-556).
Context - Christianity made eligible for recording. 'I would set myself twenty lines a day, write out a glossary of hard words in longhand, try to pick a way through the syntax, get the run of the meaning established in my head and then hope that the lines could be turned into metrical shape and raised to the power of verse.' (Heaney: xxxiii) quote of history saver and opposing quote
from tolkien 1. Semantic/lexical fields created. Beginning of [Another Attack]: 1. "Avenge" and "Revenge". By Emily Birkett,
Giulia Canigiani
Laura Brakewell
Natasha Boor The Death of Grendel's
Mother Poet believed to be of Christian faith, evidence: religious language, referring back to God.
Scandinavia - conversion, 'battle Jesus'
Possible before lacked religious input, performed for Pagan audiences originally
Extract of Beowulf fights Grendel's mother: religious imagery used throughout; descendents of Cain "he had dwelt...among the banished monsters, Cain's clan, whom the Creator had outlawed and condemed" -
Beowulf likened to Jesus- sent by God
Beowulf given supernatural powers, dives beneath water
God saves Beowulf in the fight Language in Beowulf Grendel's Mother is described as:
Living under water "the water is infested with all kinds of reptiles"
An inhuman character "Swamp thing from hell" & "Tarn hag"
She is animal like "savage talons"
She is masculine and strong "her grim embrace"
Comparison with Grendel's Mother and other women in the poem. Women were meant to be welcoming & subordinate to their husbands. Wealhtheow line 612
Beowuf's Mother line 941. Religious connotations
Sexual displays
Women have been portrayed as the downfall of men for centuries
Was Grendel's Mother was just trying to avenge her sons murder? She wanted justice for her only child. An eye for an eye. Grendel's Mother is described in the text as "a swap thing from hell" Some images portray this. This is juxtaposed with a modern representation for a contemporary audience.
'Poems, all poems - are historical artifacts. They are produced by these moments. ' (123)

'He assumed, in other words, that the Beowulf poet was an imaginative writer rather than some kind of back information.' (xxiv-xxv)

'Beowulf has been used as a quarry of fact and fancy far more assiduously than it has been studied as a work of art.' (103) 'It arises in response to the notion that the word-for-word and sense-for-sense task that aims for "faithfulness" provides at best only a partial description of all that a good translation entails.' (Donoghue: 237)
The fight between Beowulf and Grendel's mother could represent the battle between the devil and Jesus.
The lake that Beowulf dives into could be the Poet's image of hell, Line 1365 - "At night there, something uncanny happens: the water burns."
Poet goes on a tangent, line 1605 - "Meanwhile, the sword began to wilt into gory icicles ... when the Father eases the fetters off the frost and unravels the water-ropes, He who wields power over time and tired: He is the true Lord."
Heaven is mentioned, glorious battles lead to position in Heaven, line 1534 - "So must a man do who intends to gain enduring glory in a combat" Death-den Enemy Battle Mighty strength Wrestled Foe Revenge 2. If we consider Tolkien's interpretation of the structure of Beowulf, stating “if the poem is regarded as two-part in structure, balancing contrasts between the hero’s youth and old age, his rise a retainer and his fall as a king”... Sure-footed fighter Mighty strength Gallant man Hero Leader Old Yield War - Weary Far less powerful Mortal 2. "...For somebody who grew up in the political and cultural condition of Lord Brookeborough's Northern Ireland, it could hardly have been otherwise." (Heaney, xxxiv) 2. Alliteration 3. Kennings "Death-den" 'But he soon began
to shake with terror; . . . . . . in shock
the wretch . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . panicked and ran
away with the precious . . . . . .
metalwork' (2226-2231) "It would keep the bone-cage of his body safe" 1445 "...the shadow stalker, stealthy and swift." (703) 1. Lack of rhyming 'So times were pleasant
for the people there
Until finally one, a fiend out
of Hell,
Began to work his evil on
the world.' (99-101)
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