Saturday, June 2, 2007

Week 1: Beowulf

I'm experimenting with the format for how to compose these blog posts so feel free to let me know what you find useful/unnyt. I've written quite a bit on Beowulf in the attached study guide, so won't include more here: Beowulf Study Guide

For a way to start comments, perhaps we should consider how some of these themes can be considered in light of other items we're reading.
  • How about "othering" in light of Beowulf? There are: monsters (part human, part sin), tribal warfares, marginalization of women, questions of religion and so forth.
  • Relationship to community is also crucial -- many later works establish a relationship between the public and the private, but the characters of Beowulf are presented only in terms of their public speeches and actions.
  • I also think it would be interesting to evaluate how art is used -- the poet (I think, though this comes down on one side of a contentiously debated topic) adopts an oral style in writing; his whole story captures a time that has passed and is only a memory. Thus, viewing the scenes where we see scops singing songs or hear the songs of last survivors is a tightrope between imagination, history and residues in his own culture.
  • Time (i.e. the reversal that I list as a theme) is important. The Shakespeare plays in particular deal with time, change (esp. exile/usurption and homecomings) and circularity in interesting ways. A Long Day's Journey Into Night setting is a single day where lives fall apart for the final time; but does restricting its focus to a day challenge a progressive notion of time?
  • Richard II, A Winter's Tale and Beowulf all present portraits that participate in a debate on how rulers should lead their country and what happens when they rule badly. War could be an interesting point of comparision, too.


What else are people interested in discussing? Feel free to tackle an idea up here, or contribute your own!

NB: I've used Howell's Chickering's edition of Beowulf (it's a nice translation & has great notes) for references. Finally, if you're curious in hearing a translation that mimics the original meter as closely as possible, check out Richard Ringler's (of UW Madison) radio show reading. Prof. Ringler narrates the story and announcers from Wisconsin Public Radio join him to voice the individual characters!

Here's an audio link to the first fitt. It starts off with the waves in the background so wait for about 30 secs till the story begins. If the volume is too loud (it's just right on my computer), let me know, I can adjust its start volume.
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1 comment:

Josh said...

Those are really helpful categories to think about, I think. Particularly interesting to me was the way in which Beowulf engages in the formation of community. Witness the arrival of characters like Beowulf and Hrothgar on the scene -- they're always introduced with references to their genealogy. Does that seem to indicate that community here is something inherited and born into? Or does community hold together by a shared ethical dimension, as in the "ring-giver" motifs? One also thinks of "The Wanderer," where the speaker laments the loss of his lord and the protection given -- it seems like we're dealing with a society in which community is both inherited but also comes with requirements of behavior that govern actions.

That's perhaps too vague -- after all, how could you have a community in which your inherited historic role didn't come into play? Or one where certain expected actions don't shape the community? I might as well be claiming that Beowulf is a poem about people, places, and things, for all the helpful insight that statement has. How about this: is there a tension between the inherited roles of protector and/or subject and the obligations of society? And how does the threat of Grendel and his mother challenge said society? I'm thinking, for instance, of Grendel attacking soldiers in the mead-hall (a place designated as a zone of safety) at night (a time when they rest defenseless). Can we say that the challenge of Grendel is similar to the failings of those who turn away in cowardice when Beowulf challenges the dragon at the end of the poem?