A Study of Beowulf as an Old English Epic

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Beowulf is considered as an old English epic story that comprises of 3,182 alliterative lines. It is regarded to be the oldest surviving story and in most cases cited as the crucial work of English literature. The story of Beowulf was set in Scandivania. The event in the poem took place during the sixth century, immediately after Anglo-Saxons migrated to England and before the seventh century, a period in which Anglo-Saxons arrived in Northern Germany (Vickrey 23) The poem mostly deals with legends, and therefore, it was composed with the key aim of entertaining, and cannot be differentiated between the fictional components and historical events like a raid by King Hygelac. Even though, Beowulf himself was not mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon script; many scholars agree that many of the other figures that are considered to be in Beowulf can be found in Scandinavian sources.

Beowulf is addressed as being the first significant poem when it comes to English literature. This poem recounts the adventures of its Scandinavian protagonist as well as presenting a comprehensive the description of the mood and the life of the era of which it was transcribed (Carruthers 12). The diminutive is understood for the confident about the writer of this poem, the period, encouragement, or the technique of the composition of the poem. The current critics proceed to discuss such disputes, focusing on the pagan and Christian elements of the poem. Also, its apprehension with the brave importance and the poem’s systematic structure is a crucial aspect for discussion (Carruthers 14). Furthermore, the query of whether the composition of this poem was up-to-date with the conception of the only well-known text is also the issue that is being much discussed amongst the specialists.

However, the original manuscript of Beowulf epochs from 975 to 1000, and this is encompassed in the capacity having a sum of five tasks in ancient English (Blackburn 17). Basing on this notion of the historical setting, language, and the stylistic features, most of the opponents accept that the poem was composed during the 8th century or 9th century, with the present text which represents the future description of the poem. Additionally, it has been suggested that the version written can antecede the poetry of the 8th century; with probable structure date of 685 -725 and that the spoken version of this poem perhaps has been likely unruffled earlier. During the year 1731, after piecing together the text collection of Robert Cotton, the Beowulf script was smashed in a fire. Furthermore, the steady worsening of the words and the letters started, though it was curtailed during the 19th century (Blackburn 18). Two of the transcripts were prepared right from the manuscript during the year 1786 to the year 1787 by the Icelander Grimur Jonsson Thorkelin, and are recognized to be precious. These transcripts aided as the source of the first written version of Beowulf and they are integrated into the current version of this poem.

Even though, the Beowulf narrative is never undeviating and comprises of large deviations about Danish and Geatish, the plot of this poem is effortlessly summarized. Beowulf who is, in this case, the nephew of the Geats’ King, Hygelac, came to know that the monster called Grendel often attacks Heorot, the hall of Danish of Hrothgar King. However, Beowulf together with his men travels through the sea towards Denmark to liberate the land of the perilous monster Grendel. Although Beowulf succeeded, Grendel’s mother continues her progeny’s attacks at the Danes (Chickering and Howell 78). Successful enough, Beowulf slaughters the Grendel’s mum on the beast’s submerged home, and Beowulf is big-heartedly awarded the acclaim and Danish treasure. After that, Beowulf went back to the court of Hygelac, the king, he goes to the battle with the Geats, and was finally promoted to be the king. Since he served for about fifty years as the ruler of Geatish, Beowulf defended the Geats from the firedrake attacks. When Beowulf was out of control of his men, he nonetheless trails the dragon, and he, at last, murdered it with the support of Wiglaf who was his trustworthy retainer. After that, Beowulf realized the treasure of the dragon and died of his injuries. His followers raise a cremation bonfire, and this poem reached its conclusion with the sycophantic of the superman.

Critical Response

Several questions that surround the Beowulf composition still enthuse the current critical discussion. Paul F. Baum has went ahead examining a number of such issues, arguing that the date of the manuscript is much far as compared with the creative composition, connected with the information that the script the script was written with a diverse language from the original composition, suggesting that the poem has unremitting reading history or even recitation (Downey 52). Moreover, while of most of the people had a belief that Beowulf was recited other than reading, the length of the poem makes this assumption dubious. Paul on his side insisted that the proof shows that the poem was composed just for the entertainment of whoever wrote the poem, with the anticipation that other individuals can also take the inclination in it. Although most of the researchers, for instance, Baum, embrace that the poem was presented prior the time of the manuscript, while other individuals oppose that the manuscript, as well as the composition of the poem, are concurrent. On the other side, Kevin S. Kiernan marks this dispute, quoting linguistic and historical evidence for his allegation that both the manuscript and the poem were produced during the early 11th century (Kiernan and Prescott). Another issue that surrounds the composition of this poem is the technique in which the poem was produced. Some of the critics sustain that the original poem was the spoken composition, and others made its immediate form in the written arrangement.

Alain Renoir has analyzed the themes of Beowulf, comprising the attack of a monster on the individual home and the fight on the underwater, illustrating that the use of these devices by the author of the poem suggests that he was acquainted with the traditional approaches of spoken-methodic composition (Renoir). Renoir stated this acquaintance do not importantly designate that the poem was poised in spoken word. J.D.A. Ogilvy correspondingly suggests that it is unconvincing that Beowulf being the entire or even lesser components was composed via spoken word. Additionally, Stephen S. Evans emphasizes that the spoken form of this poem heralded the version that was written. The original poetry of the Pagan was expansively reformed, Evans contends, by Christian voiced poets sometimes between 625 to700 to produce a task which best suite with the Christian addressees.

Just like Evans, most of the critics have discovered the aspect of Christianity in the poem, predominantly the contrast of the Pagan and the Christian components. Larry D. Benson, on the other hand, suggests that though some of the critics seem to assure that Beowulf is the task done by the Christian author, other than the task of Pagan which was later on modified by the Christian transcriber, the query is far from the firm (Lapidge 11). However, the elements of the Pagan poem, comprising the funeral ship of Beowulf, the practice of cremation, and observance of the omens, appear to produce an erratic tone in this poem. Benson on his side keeps that the ostensible inconsistency curtails from the current conventions concerning the attitude of the poet towards the paganism.

However, the Christian Englishmen of the period reassures Benson, beheld the Germanic Pagan with the concern, and the systematic treatment of the values of the pagan in Beowulf offers a structure which permits the Christian to venerate the pagan (Neidorf 57). The same case with Stanley B. Greenfield proposes that the Christian writer of Beowulf observed the heroic world of the poem with the sympathy and the kindness and even extolled the social and ethical values of that setting (Neidorf 57). Nevertheless, Stanley B felt that the Beowulf and his setting are offered as defective in a determination to civilize them and provoke much more emotional feedback from the addressees.

Margaret E. Goldsmith however on her side took a diverse approach in describing the co-existence of Pagan and Christian symbols in this poem, resisting that the author of the poem was acquainted of the uncertainty of the representation that was used in verse, particularly Heorot and the Paragon (Niles 40). However, the large hall and the paragon appear to symbolize splendor and the richness, the reward of the hero, and on the other side the Christian addressees express the pride of the man and are to be observed to be expensive and valueless. Similarly, Benard Felix Huppe accentuates the Christian message on the poem, sustaining that Beowulf should have been utilized being apologetic of the Christian, stressing the blunder of English inherited customs (Niles 40).

Some of the critics endure being interested in the attitudes of the poem in relation to Christian as well as the possible encouragement of the poet, other individuals focus on the structure and the style of the poem. Eric Gerald Stanley acclaims the vocabulary used by the poet, the choice of the word, and the influence of the sentences which seem to be complicated (Niles 46). According to the viewpoint of Stanley, the superiority of Beowulf respites on the accord between the poet mode of expression and his way of thinking. John Leyerle, on the other hand, analyzes the poem being the analog of poetic to Anglo-Saxon art-characterized by intertwining design task remarkable for its intricacy-contemporary with the composition of the poem (Vickrey 33). Leyerle deputies ample prove to validate that the intertwine strategies had the formal as well as the fictitious structural counterparts in England and contends that the role of countless episodes in Beowulf turn into ostensible only during the prospect of the corresponding design was putative. The poem’s themes, as argued by Leyerle, are all together threated to form a complex intertwine which will never be unconcluded deprived of trailing the structure of the entire poem. Similar to what Leyerle suggested about the poem, Kathryn Hume distinguished the  intertwine of the poem and stated that this edifice holds the development of the thematic collocations and the moral, other than a modest narrative of the valiant (Vickrey 36). However, J.D.A. Ogilvy examines the methodic approach of this poem, remarking in a particular the utilization of the outmoded descriptions as well as the expressions, the poem’s sentence structure, the use of the solid linguistic forms, and the methodic explanation of the numerous themes of the poetry.

In this poem, Baum discovers the probable listeners for which Beowulf was unruffled, and he argues that the proof shows that the author of the poem had an intention of creating a “quasi-heroic” poem for his entertainment, with faith that other individuals can also be delighted with his task. On the other side, Stanley provides an impression of the style of the poem and its imager and tries to discriminate the way in which the Anglo-Saxons could have described the Beowulf. Leyerle on his side argues that the Beowulf poem’s structure is parallel to the designs of intertwine decorative art which is most common in the art of Anglo-Saxon of the 7th century and 8th century.


Being the hero may be described in several ways. Most of the qualities such as strength, respect, and courage can be used to describe heroism. However, a hero is recognized through his/her activities for his or her power, brave and acting with integrity. In Beowulf poem, the foremost character who is Beowulf shows all of these qualities via protecting Hrothgar, who is the Danish king and his followers. Beowulf has been described as being the true hero since he honors his nation and applying his strength and power to safeguard another individual in that country. Moreover, Beowulf symbolizes the characteristics of bravery, using his power and demonstrating his integrity; this is the reason why he was considered as being a true hero. The way that Beowulf demonstrated his bravery is the way that he was regarded as being true to the Geats via honoring the Geats. It was not only that Beowulf was respected and honorable, but he was also a brave man. The courage of Beowulf is revealed by not undetermined to endanger his life to conquer the enemies of Dane. Through being self-aware, he could capture his associates, Grendel, and his notorious mother. Sometime before, his preparation to defeat the angry dragon, he was not aware of the fear, being a young guy he battled in an endless fight. Since he was old enough at the period of which he pursues the Grendel, he had to fight once more, look for the reputation again, in case the dragon was walloping in his entrance, he challenges to face him. Beowulf felt no terror, his brave in battling the dragon alone and has never had qualms about endangering his own life to defend other individuals. Moreover, Beowulf asserts his heroism when he said, “When he returns to me I will not run, I will never run from his firing, I will stand up to time fortune decides which one of us will win. No one would pursue what I mean to pursue here, not even a man but I have faith to overcome this beast.” During Beowulf activities, his bravery is well illustrated all along this poem.

Works Cited

Carruthers, Leo. "Rewriting Genres: Beowulf as Epic Romance,"New York: Palgrave,


Blackburn, FA.  "The Christian Coloring of Beowulf,"PMLA, 12 (2012): 210–17,

Chickering,  Howell D."Beowulf and 'Heaneywulf': a review,"The Kenyon Review, new, 24

            (2011): 160–78

Downey, S. "Review of The Dating of Beowulf: A Reassessment,"Choice Reviews Online, 52

            (2015): 52–295

Lapidge, M. "The Archetype of Beowulf."Anglo-Saxon England. 29(2010). pp. 5–41

Neidorf, Leonard, ed. (2014), The Dating of Beowulf: A Reassessment, Cambridge: D.S.


Niles, John D. "Beowulf's Great Hall."History Today. 56 (2011): 40–44.

Vickrey, John F. Beowulf and the Illusion of History, University of Delaware Press,2009.

November 24, 2023



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