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Epic of Beowulf Essay - Beowulf and Its Formulas

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Beowulf  and Its Formulas


  The making of Beowulf involved the choosing of formulas mostly, from a common body of narrative, rather than individual words, and largely on the basis of alliterative needs.

 

In his esay, “The Pessimism of Many Germanic Stories,” A. Kent Hieatt says:

 

The Germanic peoples seem to have inherited a common body of narrative, which is a key to understanding the often incomplete and puzzling allusions and interpolated stories forming a large part of Beowulf” (45).

 

In his essay “The Point of View and Design for Terror,” Alan Renoir states: “The theory that Old English poetry was formulaic and composed orally at the time of recitation is all but generally accepted today” (154). About 20% of the half-lines are repeated at least elsewhere in the poem. An essential part of 50% of the half-lines are likewise repeated. A large percentage of these essential parts, or formulas, have a resemblance to others in the poem, suggesting that the poet was guided by the sense of the poem, and perhaps by other factors like its sound or rhythm. “The diction of Beowulf is schematized to an extraordinary degree” (Creed 141).

 

The concept of “formula” needs defining perhaps. A formula can be a half-line, a whole line, a line-and-a-half sometimes, or as small as a single-syllable word as long as it is a significant part of the scop’s rhythm. If not a phrase or a clause, a formula should be an article and its noun, a noun/pronoun and its verb, a verb and its object, a preposition and its noun, etc. For example the verb-adverb pair hwearf pa is proven to be a formula because it is repeated at the beginning of lines 1188 (hwearf pa bi bence), 1210 (gehwearf pa in Francna faepm), and 1573 (hw...


... middle of paper ...


...er to Egbert. New York: Oxford University Press, 1969.

 

Creed, Robert P.. “The Making of an Anglo-Saxon Poem.” In TheBeowulf Poet, edited by Donald K. Fry. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968.

 

Hieatt, A. Kent. “The Pessimism of Many Germanic Stories.” In Readings on Beowulf, edited by Stephen P. Thompson. San Diego: Greenhaven Press,1998.

 

Magoun, Frances P. “Oral-Formulaic Character of Anglo-Saxon Narrative Poetry.”  In TheBeowulf Poet, edited by Donald K. Fry. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968.

 

Renoir, Alan. “The Point of View and Design for Terror.” In TheBeowulf Poet, edited by Donald K. Fry. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968.

 

Ward & Trent, et al. The Cambridge History of English and American Literature. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1907–21; New York: Bartleby.com, 2000

 


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