Beowulf
Anonymous Anglo-Saxon poet

by

Karim Chandra

Context

Beowulf is one of the longest-existing English poems which originates from the Anglo-Saxon days of literature. Although the story of Beowulf takes place between the ends 5th-8th centuries, it was possibly put in written form several centuries after. Many scholars have been able to narrow the time-frame and the location of the poems setting through the help of historical and cultural elements in the poem like a description of the Kings place of burial and the erection of the grand hall, also called Heorot, which was done by King Hrothgar. The mix between Christian values with pagan contributes to the poems glamour. However, its exact date and time is a matter that is often debated by scholars. Archeologists asserted to have found the ruins of Heorot in the year 2013. The ruins were found in Lejre, Denmark which is approximately 20 miles west of Copenhagen which was dating to the 6th century.

 It is likely that two monks in England wrote the poem. The single medieval script handwriting analyzing dated it to early 11th century. The manuscript which is one of the most translated texts currently resides in the British Medium.  The manuscript has been translated into both narrative and poetic forms. The story goes beyond time and space and is still relevant in the current world as it was in the middle ages. The original audience of the story possibly heard of the main protagonist heroism, loyalty, and honor while in a fire-lit room with a huge screen so that everyone can see. The themes of the poem Beowulf not only apply to entertainment and academic study but also in people’s daily lives.

Many would want to apply heroic codes in their lives especially when they want to get respect and trust from others and when they want to honor people they respect.  The good-versus-evil theme is still evident in daily life at the personal level and international level too. Loyalty is also expressed in friends and family relationships, fans devotion to a football club, citizen’s love for their nation and students feel about their college or school.

 The author is anonymous, it is not known who the poet was and the period when the poem is composed is still not clear.  Current information known about the author has been derived from studying the period the story was written, the poetic form used and the method of storytelling method. The story is believed to have been composed between 700-750 CE as an oral story which was documented centuries later. The poet had a gift in the use of alliteration and the art of storytelling. Alliteration is a literary stylistic device that is identified by repetition of words through the text with the aim of creating a rhythm.  In the poem, Beowulf, the beginning sounds of words are repeated by the poet thought the text thus creating a rhythm. The rhythm created makes people demand the people be performed and chanted too.

 The place where the story was composed is known. In the 5th century, there was warfare that drove a large number of Germanic-speaking tribes to flee from their homes. Some groups that also left their home include Saxons Jutes and Angles. A good number of people from this groups settled in England and established the Anglo-Saxon civilization. People who lived during the Anglo-Saxon period communicated in Old English. It is in Old English that the Beowulf poem was composed. The context, therefore, explains why the poet decided to use Scandinavian events and not English events as a ground for the poem Although the language is referred to as old English it is not similar from modern English which has Latin roots. Regardless of the disparity in the two languages, a keen observer can notice the use of some English words that also exist in modern vocabulary.

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