ENG 240; Beowulf

Find several examples of kennings. What function does the keening serve and what impact do the examples in the assigned reading section have on you?
“ring-hoard” – line 920

“hall-thanes” – line 981

“hall-troops” – line 1026

“battle-shields” – line 1243

“war-sword” – line 1520

The above words are examples of kennings, which are created by stylistically compounding two words (often nouns) to represent a simpler concept. It is important to distinguish these kennings from compound adjectives that are also often used in Beowulf (“wide-ranging” line 839 and “well-known” line 866). The five examples of kennings listed above demonstrate the various roles that kennings can play in a literary work. The most obvious effect of using a kenning is the heightened style and fantastic feeling of the text which is characteristic of the epic genre. A simple weapon becomes a “war-sword” and the king’s treasury becomes his “ring-hoard.” Each kenning also affects its immediate surroundings. Take the kenning “hall-thanes” for example: by referring to the king’s thanes as “hall-thanes,” the author emphasizes the importance of Herot hall, showing that the men’s allegiance to the great hall is just as important as their allegiance to the king. Kennings can also serve to break up the monotony and repetition of text when referring to the same thing over and over again. When referring to the soldiers quartered in the hall, the author may call them “soldiers” and “hall-troops” to provide variety while still maintaining clarity. In addition, kennings can hint at the work’s mood or theme. The general theme of the kennings in this section are militaristic and noble, a fact which relects the glorification of battle shown in the section.

Look up the term “Enjambment,” a frequently used feature in Beowulf’s verse. Find examples and discuss how it functions as a feature of the verse.
Enjambment is found in poetry. It is a continued sentence pattern of two lines, skip a line, and then two more lines, in that manner until the poem is complete. It is the running on of the thought from one line, couplet, or stanza to the next without a syntactical break.

How does the fight with Grendal’s mother differ from the fight with Grendal? Cite several specific examples.
The fight between Grendel and Beowulf, and then Grendel’s Mother and Beowulf differs in several ways, the first being that instead of waiting for the Grendel’s Mother to return to the mead-hall and fight her there, Beowulf goes to her domain in/under a lake to actively seek her out. He also choses to not fight her with his bare hands, as he had fought her son. He goes to face Grendel’s Mother “donned in his war gear” (1442).

As well as being protected by his armor, Beowulf also doesn’t seek to face Grendel’s Mother unarmed. He takes with him “a hilted weapon/a rare and ancient sword named Hrunting” (1447-8). He was also not facing a single foe. Instead of just fighting Grendel’s Mother, Beowulf also had to fight “a bewildering horde…from the depths, droves of sea-beasts/who attacked with tusks and tore at his chain-mail” (1509-11). Perhaps because Beowulf brings a weapon, Grendel’s Mother is also symbolically free to use them, and she almost kills him with a whetted knife, after his own great sword failed him.

Finally, Grendel’s Mother dies with one strike to the neck, instead of surviving only to die later as Grendel did. She also fights for revenge, to “avenge her only child” (1546-7), as much as Beowulf does, something that Grendel never claimed as a driving force.

Describe Herot and explain why it’s important to the Danes part of the story.
Herot is the first place Grendel attacks, which makes sense since Herot is described as “the foremost halls under heaven” (Beowulf). Grendel, in the story, is evil from the underworld. And, of course, evil must always fight against good and what better way to attack than the most heavenly place in the story which is Herot. Herot isn’t only a hall, it’s the hall. It’s where everything GREAT happens. Grendel was defeated in Herot. Beowulf was flourished with horses, gold, and was adopted as a son. Herot, like any other King’s hall, symbolized it’s strength of its King and its warrior. To have been defeated easily, is astounding, since the warriors were suppose to protect this “hall of halls” (43). Herot was the mead-hall where people could show their wealth and mingle with other people, without it, it took away the mediator between the King and the comman land people. However, going back to my previous statement, Herot still stands even throughout all the misfortunes and feasts it has had. Not only does the Herot mean a lot to the Danes, but, ironically, the mead-hall is a place where warriors return after fighting. However, in the story, the warriors are cautious of Grendel attacking the mead-hall. After Grendel is killed, Beowulf, as I mentioned before, receives all these gifts for defeating Grendel, even the King speaks as if he is about to die by adopting Beowulf and sounding like he is on his death bed. Mostly seeming like the King was handing down the kingdom to Beowulf, as a fresh start now that Grendel was killed. Of course, later Grendel’s mother attacks Herot for revenge, which, in the same sense represents the same process with Grendel’s death and Beowulf’s luxuries. Overall, Herot represents the community as a whole, patching itself throught the rough times and the fun times, while still remaining with their traditions of what a mead-hall is to warriors, comman people, and the King.

What do you make of the role of women in Beowulf? Be specific.
In the poem, Beowulf, several different female characters are introduced, and each one of them possesses a unique set of characteristics. They are, for the most part, portrayed as strong individuals, with a specific role thrust on each of them throughout the poem. The women in the poem are: Wealhtheow (queen), Hygd (queen), Hildeburh, Freawaru, Thyrth, and Grendel’s mother. At the first reading of the poem, the women tend to be overlooked, but if you look closer the second time around, you realize that the women play roles that are key to the story and to that of the society in which they live. The women are peacemakers, entertainers, and also are constantly contradicting the expectations for women within the society.

The peacemaker allows the women to unite different groups of people and to also keep good relations with them at the same time. The character most fitting to this title is Hildeburh. She maintains loyalty with her homeland and also the land of her husband’s. The entertainer, or hostess as some people like to call it, allows the women to reaffirm social customs and publicly establish the status of men. The woman closest to this characteristic is Wealhtheow. She reiterates this characteristic by her use of the cup of mead in which she switches the order of whom gets it first depending on the circumstances of the men she is in front of. The characteristic of the monster within the female characters in the poem is a masculine characteristic and it completely disagrees with the social expectations of women in the society of that time. The number one character for this is Grendel’s mother. She uses force and violence to solve any conflict in her way.

In the end, the women of the poem are expected to maintain duties that are in the best interest of the men of the land. The roles that female characters within the poem play are very underestimated because many of the women have more power than most would think for the time period that the poem takes place. The female roles within the poem are very central to the poem itself and without them, this poem would not be as complex as it is.

In Beowulf, from lines 800 or so on, find an example of where the author breaks from the main chronology of the story and does a significant “flash back” to an earlier time (in life of Beowulf? in life of other characters?). Briefly discribe this “flash back” and what it might contribute to Beowulf.
Beowulf begins his tale by describing the courteous treatment that he received from Hrothgar and Wealhtheow. He then prophesies an unhappy outcome to the peace-weaving engagement of Freawaru, Hrothgar’s daughter, to Ingeld the Heathobard. He predicts that the sight of the ancestral possessions of each worn by the kin of the other (the result of many years of warring and plundering) will cause memories of the deep and lengthy feud between the Danes and the Heathobards to surface, so that they will not be able to keep themselves from continuing to fight.

What is noteworthy about the tone and significance of the final funeral pyre recounted in Beowulf?
The tone that was conveyed throughout the description of the final funeral pyre was very melancholy. The tone suggests that the death of Beowulf had a huge effect on many people who had been helped by him or who had heard of his great feats. According to the reading, everyone at the pyre had mourned his loss, sang songs in his memory, and recounted his tales. (p. 108) This is significant because the people of these lands were brought together to honor the memory of their great king. The highborn priests declared a curse on anyone who would try to steal from the pyre. (p. 106) The troops had mourned the death of Beowulf. Many people had constructed the largest funeral pyre of the day. (p.108) According to the text, Beowulf had been the best king the people had ever had. (p. 108)

Note the religious references in the poem as a whole-e.g., names for God, any allusions to characters/stories from the Bible. Is this in any sense a “Christian” poem?
As one can observe upon reading the epic poem, Beowulf, there are multiple references to the religion of Christianity. As early as line 106, the narrator, in introducing Grendel to the reader, references the biblical story of Cain and Abel. “…Cain’s clan, whome the Creator had outlawed/and condemned as outcasts. For the killing of Abel/the Eternal Lord had exacted a price:/Cain got no good from committing that murder,” (106-109).

Along with the reference to the killing of Abel by his brother Cain, there are multiple instances throughout the epic where the mentioning of God takes place, whether it be directly or by using a name that alludes to Him. For example, in lines 1724-1727 it reads, “It is a great wonder/how Almighty God in His magnificence favors our race with rank and scope/and the gift of wisdom; His sway is wide,” (1724-1727)

Throughout Beowulf, there are, as well, various instances where, as Beowulf fights his opponets, or in reference to the outcome of the battle, the narrator mentions that everything that takes place occurs because it was part of the Lord’s ultimate plan. As stated by the narrator after the death of Beowulf, “What God judged right would rule what happened/to every man, as it does to this day,” (2858-2859)

While there are multiple instances of religious reference throughoout the epic, Beowulf, I do not belive that this is a “Christian” poem. From reading the epic, it can be concluded that Christianity was the dominant religion of the author’s time. The author was, therefore, writing in referel to the times in which he lived, incoorporating aspects of his culture into the text.

What is the status of gold and gift-giving in the poem? Who gives gifts, who receives them, and why?
In response to the giving and receiving of gold in Beowulf: gold was a very valuable metal. To give gold away showed extreme wealth and high status among the people. In order to receive gold, a noble and dangerous task had to be accomplished. We see this in Beowulf with the killing of Grendel and his mother. To receive gold gave you honor and respect among the people. Another form of gold receiving was to the family in the event a kinsman falls in defense or in battle of their king. This occurs after the attack by Grendel where the king pays the family for their loss.