George Clark in “The Hero and the Theme” comments on his insights into the theme of the Old English poem Beowulf:
The poem opens with an illustration and assertion that success is achieved only by praiseworthy deeds and closes commending the hero’s pursuit of fame. . . .The poem’s creation of Beowulf gives its theme ethical force. . . .The poem’s three great stories lead the audience from an assured vision of a benevolently ordered world to the existential world of its minor stories where only the heroic will can achieve a lasting value, the memory and fame of praiseworthy deeds (271).
This essay will treat some of the many interpretations concerning the themes of the poem.
Interpretations of Beowulf ‘s theme vary widely. Ian Duncan in “Epitaphs for Aeglaecan: Narrative Strife in Beowulf” states his interpretation for the main theme in the poem:
Arguments for any interpretation of Beowulf have therefore described discursive configurations within the poem which have then been projected outside it to map, explicitly or otherwise, such a context of tradition, genre, ethos, Weltanschauung. The trouble is that the less aware the critic that this is his procedure, the more likely is he to be not “finding” but forming those very intratextual orders by projecting into the poem his own historical assumptions or the contemporary ideological and generic habits of his own reading. . . .Perhaps the central interpretive claim for B is that the monsters are “evil” and the hero “good,” and that the poem is articulated by a thematic conflict between good and evil. . . . (111-112).
H. L. Rogers in “Beowulf’s Three Great Fights” expresses his opinion as a literar...
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...rle, John. “The Conflicting Demands of Heroic Strength and Kingly Wisdom.” In Readings on Beowulf, edited by Stephen P. Thompson. San Diego: Greenhaven Press,1998.
McNamee, M. B. “Beowulf – an Allegory of Salvation.” In An Anthology of Beowulf Criticism, edited by Lewis E. Nicholson. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1963.
Rogers, H. L. “Beowulf’s Three Great Fights.” In An Anthology of Beowulf Criticism, edited by Lewis E. Nicholson. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1963.
Shippey, T.A.. “The World of the Poem.” In Beowulf – Modern Critical Interpretations, edited by Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.
Tolkien, J.R.R.. “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics.” In Beowulf – Modern Critical Interpretations, edited by Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.
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