Thesis: In light of Aristotle’s Poetics should Beowulf be considered an epic or heroic tragedy.
Definitions of an epic and heroic tragedy according to Aristotle.
“Tragedy is a representation of an action of a superior kind-grand, and complete in itself- presented in embellished language, in distinct forms in different parts, performed by actors rather than by a narrator, effecting, through pity and fear, the purification* of such emotions” (Poetics 23).
“Now tragedy is the representation of action, and action involves agents who will necessarily have certain qualities of both character and intellect. It is because of the qualities of the agents that we classify their actions, and it because of their actions that they succeed or fail in life” (Poetics 23-24).
“Tragedy tries as far as possible to keep within a period of twenty-four hours or thereabouts, while epic, in contrast, is unrestricted in time” (Poetics 23).
“Anyone who can tell what is good and what is bad in tragedy understands epic too, since all the elements of epic are present in tragedy even though not all the elements of tragedy are present in epic” (Poetics 23).
“The story [of epic] should, as in tragedy, be constructed dramatically, that is, based on a single action that is whole and entire and that has a beginning, a middle, and an end” (Poetics 47).
Parts of Beowulf that fall under the definition of a tragedy according to Aristotle
On the definition of tragedy:
Tragedy is complete in itself- in distinct forms in different parts- Beowulf can be divided into three distinct parts that according to Aristotle’s completeness of a plot makes the plot whole. The beginning of the plot, the introduction and killing of Grendel, is “an item that does not itself fol...
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The banal conclusion is this: that tragedy will survive only so long as the artist does not work against the grain of common human nature; conditions of man and society may be such that it can survive even then only in an attenuated form; but survive it will, so long as man is man (Jarrett-Kerr 373).
The action in Beowulf’s life that is important to allow Beowulf to succeed or to fail
Pretending to sleep while waiting for Grendel (688-690).
The decision to fight the dragon.
“Tragedy tries as far as possible to keep within a period of twenty-four hours or thereabouts, while epic, in contrast, is unrestricted in time” (Poetics 23) - although the whole story of Beowulf is not in a period of twenty- four hours, a time limit that is necessary for the definition of a tragedy, the three distinct parts seem to be taking place in the time span of twenty- four hours.
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