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An Introduction to the English Folk Epic

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1 An Introduction to the English Folk Epic
BEOWULF An Introduction to the English Folk Epic

2 The Anglo Saxon Period 440 AD-1066 AD
Britons: Celtic people, original inhabitants of Britain 449 AD: the first people from North German plain settled in Kent Jutes: from Jutland in Denmark Angles and Saxons followed Britons were no match King Arthur, Whales Brought Old English A/S England – military society born in warfare 1066 AD: Norman Invasion ends A/S society

3 Anglo Saxon Civilization
Admired men of courage Loyalty to leader and tribe Person of rank received with courtesy Ruler was generous to followers Believers in an impersonal fate Aware of short life span: ubi sunt

4 Christianity Christianity came to Britain in AD 314
St. Augustine – 597 AD First archbishop of Canterbury

5 Folk Epics are tales of a national HERO
But what is heroic?

6 Characteristics of a Pagan Hero
Good Fighter Loyal Persevering (Never Gives Up) Wins “Fame” (in Songs in a Mead Hall)

7 Pagan Characteristics, cont.
Little Regard for Danger or Self: Brave Battle as a Way of Life Personal Vengeance as Familial Requirement FATE: Revenge and/or Death

8 Characteristics of a Christian Hero
Recognizes God as Creator Humility in the presence of God’s Power Altruism in Action

9 Christian Characteristics cont.
Contrast between Good and Evil Rulers Personal Vengeance transmuted into Fighting Evil Good is Rewarded and Evil is Punished (Evil in the World)

10 Historical Background
Beowulf Historical Background

11 During a time of Old English Warriors
Called the “Dark Ages” - - a time of Barbarians






17 Author/Composer Likely an educated Christian, possibly a monk

18 Author/Composer Wove together many oral traditions with consummate skill Sanitized slightly the pagan traditions Produced a single tale

19 Manuscript History First English literary masterpiece
Beowulf was probably composed between 700 A.D. and 900 A.D The place of its composition was probably Northumbria Northumbria was home to Roman Catholic monks who excelled in learning and literature First transmitted orally for one to three centuries

20 Manuscript History Although its author did not write it down, two English scribes did so in about 1000 A.D Saved from looting of monasteries under Henry VIII

21 Manuscript History Saved from fire in Sir Henry Cotton’s Library in 1731 Danish scholar translated it in 1787; first published in 1815

22 Part of the Original Manuscript

23 BEOWULF Setting

24 Danish kingdom ruled by Hrothgar, situated on the island of Zealand (site of present-day Copenhagen, Denmark) A mead hall was a communal gathering place for feasting and drinking mead an alcoholic beverage made of water and fermented honey Mead was a popular drink in Denmark and other Scandinavian countries during the Middle Ages because grapes, a crop that thrives in warmer southern climates, were not readily available to make wine.)

25 Important Terms Heroic Ideal: A/S culture governed by ideals of bravery, loyalty and generosity Comitatus: loyalty to king and king to men Wyrd: Old English for fate Wergild: “manprice”

26 BEOWULF Structure and Style

27 Style of the Folk Epic Lyric Epic Narrative

28 Literary Devices Scops used harp to add beats to poetry
Four Lifts per line; with a caesura “chosen champions cheerlessly grieved for the loss of their lord, leader and defender. They called him of captains, kings of the known world,” Allusions two or more words having the same initial sound

29 Literary Devices, cont. Kennings: bardic formulae, used as appositives, for example, "bone-house," refers to the human body "whale's road," refers to the sea "sky's candle," refers to the sun.

30 Themes Good vs. evil Identity Strength and skill
Not moral but about fate and reputation Good will fight knowing that eventually they will be defeated Identity Boasting = resume Strength and skill Highly valued even in enemies Skill slightly devious

31 More Themes Wealth Religion Violence Courage
Glory and treasure - immortality Religion Christianity vs. paganism Wyrd and providence Violence Loyalty, vengeance and feud Courage Fortitude and wisdom

32 More Themes Mortality Supernatural Tradition and customs Ubi Sunt
Monsters Tradition and customs Comitatus Wyrgild boasting

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