Beowulf s allusive and digressive qualities present to view a mass of half-concealed meanings and allusions that beg explication. (Fulk). Discuss.

This is an essay on the Old English epic poem Beowulf.

All quotations should be from the original poem and not translations. There should be mention of some literary features kennings, variation, Old English poetic formulae, themes of exile, heroism, elegy, litotes, parallelism, envelope patterns and unusual alliteration or metre.

I want the essay to explore the digressions from the main narrative of the poem all the extra stories and characters and their fates, and how and why they relate to Beowulfs actions and life.

The essay should also explore the allusive aspects of the poem. It hints at later events, and towards the end of the poem reflects on previous events how, and why?

How does it fit into cultural ideas and identities both in the time period it was written in and the time period it represents?

Why does the poet halfconceal his meanings rather than state them outright?

Look at the differences between being a hero and a king, and between right and wrong especially interesting are the parallels between Beowulf and Grendel, and also Grendels mother and a typical woman.

This is a sample essay I found which may be useful:

 Beowulf s allusive and digressive qualities present to view a mass of half-concealed meanings and allusions that beg explication (Fulk) Discus

 The Monsters and the Critics present the digressions in Beowulf as an antiquarian collection of  old tales, mostly darker , holding an innate lure for being placed at  the outer edge . Tolkien criticizes Chambers interpretation of Beowulf which privileges the more historical human elements; Chambers believes the concern with monsters is inconsistent with the  well constructed epic , the components of which have been driven into  episodes and digressions . Tolkien s criticisms of this view rest on his own ideas of the poem s aesthetic contrasts between clarity and darkness. He notes the poet s central concern with  man on earth against the  hostile world of monsters; with regard to the digressions, he believes that a  greater and darker antiquity behind the main narrative creates an overall impression of  the dark antiquity of sorrow .

An over emphatic  vivisection of meaning and explication of pagan allusion (especially attempts to  recover for each reference an original, single-purposed historic source) denies the obscurity that the digressions seem to cultivate deliberately. Tolkien s claim that  the digressions belong in the background , in light of modern criticism, seems fair. However, there are important ways in which and understanding of the digressions may shed light on the  central narrative, the monsters included. Furthermore, what does seem to require  explication are the reasons the Beowulf poet may have obscured and concealed so willfully in the digressions.

Robert E. Bjork uses the example of the Scyld Sheafson prologue to emphasize the shift in how critics have treated the digressions (aided by a selected chronology of critical thought). While there was a time where the prologue seemed hardly relevant, a  separate entity reflecting vegetation myths (Neckel suggests Sampsa as a model, a Finnish vegetation deity) it accepted now as  integral to the poem and a reflection of  cultural realities . George Jack points out in his introduction to Beowulf, that this opening genealogy reflects extra-textual Anglo-Saxon royal genealogies from around the date of the poem s composition suggesting that the poem may have been  perceived by the Anglo-Saxons as part of their own heroic past . But the passage refuses to be seen in isolation within the text and draws on the culture of the poem itself; the poet s choice of subject and diction ties it clearly to other elements of Beowulf s narrative. The word for boat (hringedefna) at Scyld s funeral is used again to describe the journey made by Beowulf back home after the defeat of Grendel s mother:

to scipe foron”

?a w?s on sande saegeap naca

hladen herewaedum hringedstefna

mearum ond ma?mum

This subtle allusion to the opening funeral hints at tragedy even after Beowulf s great victory. Thematically, the inevitability of one s death-day is also evoked in the prologue:

Him ?a scyld gewat to gesc?phwile

felahror feran on frean w?re

Hi hyne ?a ?tb?ron to brimes faro?e.

Pamela Gradon (1971) suggested that the structure of the prologue (Scyld s arrival, rise to fame and death) represents in microcosm the Beowulf poem and thus already predicting Beowulf s fate . The poet, in the language used through structure, clearly draws parallels in the text to develop central ideas.

Tolkien seems right when he emphasizes the attraction of the digressions; careful reading can cultivate a deeper understanding of the poem s message. However, there are moments when the digression resists this very critical activity the poet seems to encourage in an audience it is deliberately difficult to draw neat parallels. This can be shown in two different versions of the story of Ogentheow s death (as told by Beowulf and then later by a messenger after Beowulf s death). Just before the death of the Swedish King (2479-82) Beowulf describes his friend giving his life (... ?e o?er his ealdre gebohte) as a high-price or hard-bargain (heardan ceape). It is through these economic terms that he justifies his fighting ethic, relating his heroic past to his current situation:

symle ic him on fe?an beforan wolde

ana on orde ond swa to aldre sceall

s?cce fremman (2497-2499a)

Linda Georgiana describes this language as that of  heroic economy demanding action . Beowulf finds a parallel  single-minded purpose with which to approach the dragon a link may be established between the slaying of Ongentheow as justified price, and Beowulf s act of vengeance on the dragon. But this single-minded interpretation misses the irony which the retelling gives to the first narrative by Beowulf. The messenger s digression portrays Ongentheow with sympathy:

wi?res ne truwode

??t he saemannum onsacan mihte,

hea?oli?endum hord forstandan

bearn ond bryde (2953b 7a)

By drawing attention to his hoard (his wife and child) and Ogentheow s incentive to protect his people reflects Beowulf s kingly responsibility both are seen as justifiable in their actions. Lines 2938 2941 describe graphic threats towards the Geats just as earlier on Beowulf had described Eofor s violent attack of Ogentheow. In the second narrative, the violence is confused:

(W?s sio swatswa?u Swona ond Geata

w?lraes weora wide gesyne)

as Swede and Geat alike are caught up in the bloody-slaughter (swatswa?u). Georgiana s claim that  differences between fight and despair are more apparent than real is evident, enforced through the blurring of right and wrong in these two accounts. Both acts of violence are seen as  versions of the same thing not  antidote .

In the preceding account of King Hrethel and the loss of his son,  deferral and delay are used to deny any simple explication. It is the narrative itself which is difficult to follow, not necessarily the dense historical references. Georgiana highlights the moments at which two fathers (Hrethel and the father of the felon to be executed) are compared; when Hrethel is first introduced it is  abruptly done:

W?s ?am yldestan ungedefelice

maeges daedum mor?orbed stred (2345-2346)

Having been told neither the deed nor the identity of the vague  kinsman , the poet follows a conventional narrative before breaking again to make a sudden comparison to the father of a felon (swa bi? geomorlic) but with obvious disparity. An attempt by Thorpe to find a simple explanation by referencing Anglo-Saxon homicide law (in which even accidental killing is punishable) fails to account for the jump to the execution of a guilty man. The diction shifts from  daed (as above) to (f??o) and from  doer to lifeslayer (feorh bonan) . The sudden allusions to these figures (far from needing to be explained with