Beowulf Background and History Beowulf Summary • The epic poem Beowulf opens describing the two great kingdoms of the Geat's and the Dane's. Beowulf, our title character, is the prince of the Geat's and a great warrior. Hrothgar is the Thane (Leader/Warrior) of the Danes. He is the epitome of the perfect man, with moral and physical strength. • The poem begins describing the glory of both Beowulf's kingdom and then explains that the Dane's have been tormented by a monster, Grendel, who's jealously is causing the destruction of the Danish kingdom. • Many warriors have attempted to protect the kingdom and destroy the monster Grendel but have failed, and this is where Beowulf enters the scene. Each battle and test Beowulf faces continue to prove the power the pure heart has over fate. Social Society • • • • Warrior–based society Focus on the hero, and trial of personal worth Security and threat – survival in harsh world Comitatus- agreement between lord and thanes: Thanes swear allegiance to lord in return for protection, wealth ,and weapons. • Your status was determined by who your father was, and to whom you pledged your allegiance. • Gathered at mead hall for flyting (boasting) and merriment. • Mead is fermented honey. (Bee puke) Important Terms • Epic- Long narrative poem that recounts in formal language, the exploits of a larger than life hero. They were meant to be sung or recited to music (ie. The harp or lute). Kenning- A compound poetic phrase, a figure of speech, substituted for the usual name of a person or thing. Example: The sea in Old English could be called sail-road or whaleroad. In modern terms, chess might be “The game of kings” Motif- A repeated symbol, metaphor etc. which brings unity to a literary work. Epic conventions • A concern with the fate of a nation or people • A correspondingly large scale, often ranging around the world • The intervention of supernatural figures • Extended similes, generally called epic similes: A simile is an explicit comparison of two things, usually with the word "as" or "like." • Long catalogues, whether of ships, characters, or places • Extensive battle scenes; • Begins “in medias res” Important Terms Continued… • Wyrd: Old English for fate, which was believed to be the controlling force of the world for pre-Christian AngloSaxon culture. • Wergild: “manprice”; As Donaldson writes, “If one of his kinsmen had been slain, a man had a special duty of either killing the slayer or exacting from him the payment of wergild. . . . The money itself had less significance as wealth than as proof that the kinsmen had done what was right. Relatives who failed either to exact wergild or to take vengeance could never be happy, having found no practical way of satisfying their grief.” • Flyting was key in the Anglo-Saxon world. Boasting before war prepared them for glory on the battlefield. Important Terms Continued… • Scop- An Old English poet or bard. A story teller. • Caesura - A pause in a line of verse dictated by sense or natural speech rhythm rather than by metrics. • Synecdoche- A figure of speech in which a part is used for the whole (as hand for sailor), the whole for a part (as the law for police officer), the specific for the general (as cutthroat for assassin), the general for the specific (as thief for pickpocket), or the material for the thing made from it (as steel for sword). • Archetype- The word archetype is commonly used to describe an original pattern or model from which all other things of the same kind are made Paganism • Paganism is a catch-all term which has come to bundle together (by extension from its original classical meaning of a non-Christian religion) a very broad set of not necessarily compatible religious beliefs and practices that are usually, but not necessarily, characterized by polytheism EPIC HERO • Gives his/her life to something bigger than him/herself. • Performs a courageous act, either physical or spiritual • Feels he or his society has had something taken from him/them. • Embarks on a series of adventures to recover what is lost • Leaves the known, conventional safety of his life to undertake the journey. • Devine intervention. • Nobel birth. • Magic/great weapons • Superhuman power. • Undergoes trials and tests of courage. • Has to achieve something. • Performs a journey that usually consists of Sutton Hoo Archeological Site • Helmet from Sutton Hoo, Suffolk, England. The hero Beowulf is never described in physical detail and remains fairly inscrutable. Since 1939, though, when the treasures buried at Sutton Hoo were unearthed, many people have been tempted to associate the poem with objects found at that site. This helmet, for some present-day readers, may be as close to the man "Beowulf" as one can get. Key Facts • Author- Unknown although it is thought the first written manuscripts of Beowulf came into existence between 700-1000 A.D. and were penned by monks?. • Genre- Poem/ heroic epic. • Language- Originally Anglo-Saxon (Old English) • ORIGINAL Hwæt. We Gardena in gear-dagum, þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon, hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon. • LITERAL • What. We of the Spear-Danes in old days of the people-kings, power heard, how the princes brave deeds did. Key Facts Continued… • Narrator-A Christian narrator telling a pagan story • Point of View- Third person objective. • Tone- Tone ranges from the enthusiastic to a sense of doom. • Tense- Past • Setting/Time – Around 500 A.D. with references to a much earlier time. • Setting/Place- Denmark and Geatland (modern Sweden) Key Facts Continued… • Protagonist- Beowulf • Major Conflict- There are three central conflicts. 1. Grendel’s domination of Heorot Hall. 2. The vengeance of Grendel’s mother. 3. The rage of the dragon. • Rising Action- Grendel’s attack on Heorot, Beowulf’s defeat of Grendel, and Grendel’s mother’s attack. Key Facts Continued… • Climax- Beowulf’s encounter with Grendel’s mother constitutes the moment at which good and evil are in greatest tension. • Falling Action- King Hrothgar’s praise of Beowulf as a worthy hero and king. • Themes- Good warrior vs Good king, Good vs Evil, Christian vs Pagan ritual. Major Characters • Beowulf- The protagonist, Beowulf is a Geatish hero who fights the monster Grendel, Grendel’s mother and a firebreathing dragon. Beowulf’s bosts and encounters reveal him to be the strongest and most able warrior. • King Hrothgar- King of the Danes. Hrothgar’s kingdom is terrorized by Grendel. He is a father figure to Beowulf and a model for the kind of king that Beowulf becomes. • Grendel- A ruthless demon descended from Cain. • Grendel’s mother- An unnamed swamp-hag who seeks vengeance for her son’s murder. Important Places • Denmark- Land of the Danes, located in Eastern Europe. • Sweden- Home of the Geats. • Herot- The battle/mead hall. • Lair- The underground home of Grendel and his mother, which exists in the old battlehall of a castle, beneath a lake.