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Beowulf Background Info
Transcript of Beowulf Background Info
oldest piece of English literature; beginning of English literature tradition
written in Old English
recorded in writing around 700-900 AD, but is actually much older; told as an oral tale by "scops"
Contains pagan fatalism/duality mixed with Christian qualities, ideals, and motifs
conveys the inevitability of fate "wyrds"
advocates immortality through deeds
roughly 3000 lines long
does not use end rhyme, but attains rhythmic effect through caesura, alliteration, and kennings
Set in Europe (Denmark [Danes or Shieldings] and Sweden [Geats])
Beowulf, the character
archetypal blend of historical character and mythical heroes of earlier days
of noble birth
nephew to the King of the Geats, Hygelac C. Beowulf Background and Information D. Literary Devices and Vocabulary To Know 800-600 B.C.
The Celts migrated to Britain and settled there. They were called the Britons and settled mostly in the British Isles (England, Scotland, and Wales), so their land became known as Great Britain. 43 AD
The Romans started invading lowland Britain and the Celts were forced to move north into what is now called Wales or taken as slaves. Romans built walls and roads to help protect their strongholds and also brought Christianity to the Celts. After fighting off tribes such as the Picts, the Scots, and the Saxons, the Romans in Britain were finally driven out by more Germanic invasions by the early fifth century. Early 5th century
Britain was now vulnerable to more attacks and Vortigern, the ruler of the southeastern part, hired mercenaries (Angles, Saxons, and Jutes) to help protect his land. However, in time, these mercenaries turned on their ruler and seized Briton towns. A.D. 650
The Anglo-Saxons drove the Britons to the western part of the island and even though the Anglo-Saxons divided their land into smaller sections, they considered themselves English. England means “land of the Angles” At the beginning of the Anglo-Saxon rule, warfare was a way of life. Tribes consisted of warrior families and tenant farmers. The Anglo-Saxon ruler was normally a warloard who had helped them defeat opposing tribes. The Anglo-Saxons valued courage, strength, generosity, and loyalty. They worshiped pagan gods and some major ones were Woden, protector of heroes and rouser to battle, Tir, god of glory and honor, and Thunor, aid to warriors in battle. 596 AD
The Pope sent missionaries to England to reestablish Christianity. By the end of the 7th century, most of England was converted. Monks from Ireland had also brought over Christianity. Not only did the missionaries and monks bring Christianity, they also brought literacy and used Latin as a common language. 829 AD
King Egbert of Wessex paved the way for unification of Anglo-Saxon England. However, Vikings, also called Norse, were Scandinavian seafarers and were attacking the coasts of England. 879 AD
King Alfred, Egbert’s grandson, defeated the Norse (also called the Danes) at Edington. Alfred drove the Danes back and during the 10th century, the kings of Wessex won back and united England. 1016 AD
The English were being attacked by the Vikings again and the Danish prince Canute took the throne. He worked to reconcile the Danes and English. Across the sea, the Vikings had taken most of France and Canute and his descendents died within a decade of each other. The English turned to Edward, a nobleman with both Anglo-Saxon and Norman roots. 1066 AD
King Edward died and some accounts say that the throne was promised to William, duke of Normandy but Harold of Wessex also claimed the crown. Battle of Hastings, 1066 AD
William sailed across the English Channel and defeated King Harold. William was now the first Norman king and the Anglo-Saxon period came to an end. Oral tradition - literature preserved through word of mouth for many years before being written down
Scops - minstrels/storytellers who composed and preserved orally the literature which survived the Anglo-Saxon period
Comitatus - the band of professional warriors who served the king
Wyrd - the Germanic personification of fate; Wryd was never kind and was not to be placated
Caesura - the division of each line of Anglo-Saxon verse in half by a slight pause
Kenning - a kind of short, condensed metaphor which Old English poetry used in profusion; the king is the "gold giver;" the sea is the "whale road;" a boat is a "wave walker"
Pagan tradition - the love of war, the virtues of courage and loyalty, and the necessity for feud
Christian tradition - obedience to God and the observance of His laws, especially the avoidance of pride; mostly Old Testament allusions are found in Anglo-Saxon literature
Alliteration - the repetition of beginning consonants