Beowulf Intro

Introduction to Beowulf
• Beowulf is one of the earliest poems
written in any form of English.
• Actually, this writer should be called
an editor because the poem had a
long oral tradition and finally came to
rest as what we know as Beowulf.
• The original poem didn’t have a title,
modern editors gave the poem its
More About the Editor
• The “editor” was obviously well-read
and conscious of his role as a poet.
• This is a Christian writer balancing his
faith with very Pagan themes.
• We know that the editor is Christian
because the only literate people of the
time were those from the church.
Review of Old English
• The Celts originally inhabited
• In the early 5th century, the
Romans withdrew and left Britain
vulnerable to Germanic invaders
Old English History
• The Britons had become Christians
in the 4th century.
• The 1st attempt to Christianize the
heathen Germanic tribes occurred in
597 AD when Pope Gregory sent
missionaries led by Saint Augustine
to Kent.
Review of Old English
• Before Christianity, there were no
books. The only formally educated
people were clerics in the church.
• The Anglo-Saxon invaders brought a
tradition of oral poetry (some of
which was later written down with a
religious spin after the Christian
Introduction to Beowulf
• There is only one surviving
Beowulf manuscript and it dates
from late 10th century.
• This manuscript was damaged in a
fire in 1731 that destroyed many
other medieval manuscripts.
(Note the burn marks
on the top and sides)
Introduction to Beowulf
• Beowulf is recognized as a hallmark
of English literature, yet its heroes
and its setting are not English.
• The poem is set in two places: the
first half on a Danish island and the
second half in Beowulf’s homeland
(an island off the SE coast of
Introduction to Beowulf
• Interesting Fact:
J.R.R. Tolkein (The Lord of the Rings
Trilogy) was a learned Beowulf
scholar. He played a huge part in
getting Beowulf accepted as classic
Introduction to Beowulf
• Beowulf is written in the epic
tradition, meaning it is larger than
• There is also liberal use of the
• The poem champions bravery,
loyalty, and devotion to community.
Introduction to Beowulf
• The poem portrays a strong sense of
fatalism (acceptance of death)
• The warriors of the era accepted their
mortality in a way that seems casual
to modern readers.
• The concept of fate was central to the
world view of Anglo-Saxons.
Beowulf The Epic
An epic…
• Is a long story in poem form
• Has a hero
• Is the story of the hero’s travels and his
fights with monsters, gods, and bad guys
• An epic is in 3rd person
• Was originally sung
• Jumps right into the plot
• Contains information about the culture that
created them
• Offers clues as to what the author might
have feared, admired, or questioned.
The Epic Warrior
• Has “Larger than life” qualities,
• Is a natural lead of others
• Is not emotionally connected to his
• Is appealing to the opposite sex, but
is rarely in a committed relationship
• Defeats monsters and or fights for
The Epic Warrior
•Has “good” on his or her side
•Is associated with strength and values
•Often stands alone in battle
•Is generally smarter than everyone
else. A problem-solver
•Has a fatal weakness
•Is constantly on the move
•Is a skilled fighter
• The central struggle between two
opposing forces in a story or drama
External Conflict
• Exists when a character struggles
against some outside force
-EX: fight between two people
Internal Conflict
• A struggle within the mind of a
Recurring Themes
Darkness and gloom
Battle and death
A mead hall

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