Dating and Locating the Composition of Beowulf
Dating and locating the composition of Beowulf is impossible to do with precision at this time because we do not have enough information about the poem’s specific historical context and because the poem is not constructed in such a consistently symbolic way to warrant a single allegorical-historical interpretation..
Estimates of the date of the poem’s composition “range from 340 to 1025, with ca. 515-530 and 1000 being almost universally acknowledged as the possible extremes” (Bjork 13). Current thinking is balanced between roughly this view and the late ninth to early tenth centuries. “critics generally agree upon an early period, ranging from the late seventh to the early ninth century (Greenfield 66). The Cambridge History of English and American Literature states in v1, ch3, s3,n11: “. . . most of the historical events mentioned in Beowulf are to be dated within the first three decades of the sixth century.”
One clue to dating the composition was thought to lie in the use of the word merewioingas (translated by some scholars as Merovingian), a word which is used only in this poem and in no other Old English poetry or prose. In 752 the Merovingian dynasty ended, but poetic reference to it could have been added later – so this is no real help. “. . . the composition of the poem, thich is usually thought to have taken place no later than the eighth century” (Stanley 4).
Scholars now consider that there were only five times and places possessing the power and culture that could have supported the production of such a sophisticated work of art as Beowulf: (1) seventh century east Anglia (the age of Sutton Hoo); (2) late seventh to earl...
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...ert Bjork and John D. Niles. Lincoln, Nebraska: Uiversity of Nebraska Press, 1997.
Fulk, R.D.. “Textual Criticism.” In A Beowulf Handbook, edited by Robert Bjork and John D. Niles. Lincoln, Nebraska: Uiversity of Nebraska Press, 1997.
Greenfield, Stanley B. “Nature and Quality of Old English Poetry.” In Beowulf: The Donaldson Translation, edited by Joseph F. Tuso. New York, W.W.Norton and Co.: 1975.
Stanley, E.G.. “Beowulf.” In The Beowulf Reader, edited by Peter S. Baker. New York: Garland Publishing, 2000.
Thompson, Stephen P. “The Beowulf poet and His World.” In Readings on Beowulf, edited by Stephen P. Thompson. San Diego: Greenhaven Press,1998.
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