The Goal of Digressions in Beowulf
Few different options are extra attribute of Beowulf than using quite a few digressions and distinct episodes. Whereas some students have made makes an attempt to indicate that the digressions, or a few of them at the least, have one thing in them which is inappropriate to the principle narrative and are detrimental to the poetic worth of Beowulf, this essay will argue that the digressions and episodes present a aware steadiness and unity and, actually, contribute to the inventive worth of the poem. Beowulf scholar Adrien Bonjour divides the digressions and episodes into 4 classes: the Scyld episode; digressions regarding Beowulf and the Geats; historic or legendary digressions not linked with Beowulf and the Geats; and Biblical digressions. It’s inside this construction the place we are going to discover particular digressions and decide their function within the poem.
Earlier than we examine particular digressions, you will need to present a short justification for his or her presence typically. As Bonjour observes, the poet adeptly makes use of digressions so as to add to the coloring of the poem, to function a foil to a given state of affairs, to contribute to the historic curiosity and significance, to offer symbolic worth which contributes to the impact and understanding of the poem, and to intensify inventive impact. As well as, the digressions include welcome details about the hero’s life. It’s by means of digressing that the poet presents the values and views which are to be understood. Motion is, in spite of everything, solely motion.
In his division of the digressions and episodes, Bonjour offers the Scyld episode its personal class, in all probability as a result of it’s the longest digression from the principle narrative within the poem, and presumably as a result of it raises so many questions. At first look, the opening of the poem with Scyld and the family tree of the Danish kings appears unusually misplaced in a poem about Beowulf, a Geatish hero. However upon additional research, a big parallelism will be discovered between Scyld and Beowulf. First, each Scyld and Beowulf got here miraculously to liberate the Danes. Scyld, being the primary liberator within the poem, foreshadows Beowulf who comes later. A second contact of parallelism between the 2 kings will be discovered of their inglorious youth. Scyld was discovered a wretched and deserted youngster and Beowulf is conspicuous for his inglorious youth. The hanging reversal of their fortunes is clearly harassed by the poet.
Bonjour factors out that one other inventive goal on this episode is the glorification of the Scyldings. Had the distressing situation at Heorot served as the one introduction to Beowulf’s mission, this will have created an impression of weak point on the a part of the Danes. As we are going to see later, if the Danes had not been glorified at first of the poem, the greatness of Beowulf might have been diminished.
Lastly, the hanging distinction of the funeral scenes are endowed with a “symbolic worth which heightens the inventive worth” and the unity of all the poem. The gorgeous description of Scyld’s funeral suggests a starting and is the image of a wonderful future. In distinction, Beowulf’s funeral symbolizes the tip of a wonderful previous whereas the longer term is fraught with foreboding.
The Scyld episode permits the poet using two of his favourite units: parallelism and distinction. The distinction between Scyld and Beowulf is probably one of many best inventive achievements within the poem, and the parallelism between the 2 kings might be summed up within the legendary epitaph of a cowboy as indicated by J.D.A. Ogilvy and Donald Baker: “Right here lies Bronco Invoice. He all the time finished his damnedest”.
The following of Bonjour’s categorical divisions regards the digressions regarding Beowulf and the Geats. The primary of this group that we are going to study is Beowulf’s struggle in opposition to giants. This digression serves a twofold goal: it permits the hero his conference of boasting, and it additionally, nonetheless subtly, allies the hero with God. The rapid goal of this point out of a wonderful feat in Beowulf’s adolescence is to offer us an illustration of his unusual energy, and to offer on the identical time a justification for his arrival on the Danish court docket. It additionally units Beowulf up as a specialist in combating monsters: “I got here from the struggle the place I had sure 5, destroyed a household of giants…”. The artwork of boasting is necessary in an epic hero because it showcases his accomplishments and glorifies his title. As Victor Bromberg denotes, a person’s title is essential in epic poetry as a result of it turns into equal to the sum of his accomplishments.
The second operate of this digression is to surreptitiously ally Beowulf with God. When Beowulf pits his energy in opposition to the giants, he’s unwittingly allying himself with the true God of Christianity. This lends dignity to the heathen hero who, with out figuring out it, is combating on the fitting facet in spite of everything.
Within the Ecgtheow digression we be taught that Beowulf’s father has killed Heatholaf, a member of the highly effective Wilfing tribe, and has begun a feud from whose penalties the Geats can not defend him, and he has fled to the court docket of Hrothgar. Hrothgar, consequently, pays his wergild to the Wilfings. Bonjour asserts that this digression serves two functions: first, it creates yet another bond between Beowulf and the Danes; second, it counterbalances the truth that the Danes are accepting assist from Beowulf.
The Unferth episode serves primarily as a foil to emphasise Beowulf’s greatness. Regardless of the sinister overtones of Unferth’s fame, the poet additionally exhibits him as a distinguished thane. Had Unferth been lowered to a mere swashbuckler, Beowulf’s superiority over him wouldn’t have meant a lot because it truly does. In his essay “Beowulf: The monsters and the Critics”, Professor J.R.R. Tolkien means that Beowulf’s conquest of the nicors in his youth are referred to [in this digression] as a presage to the form of hero we’re coping with. Beowulf’s reply to Unferth’s criticism additionally establishes him as a person to reckon with in phrases in addition to along with his sword. So, from this digression we be taught Beowulf’s for cleaning Heorot, and in addition that the hero just isn’t solely a terrific warrior, however a person able to delivering a coup de grâce in a battle of wits.
Bonjour notes that the primary allusion within the poem to the autumn of Hygelac offers us a high quality occasion of a selected use of distinction attribute of Beowulf. It’s ironic that the primary trace of Hygelac’s fall ought to be referred to as up by the outline of the treasures given to Beowulf by Queen Wealtheow after Beowulf’s victory over Grendel. It seems to be as if there are already some implications of the identical nature as these to be met with within the Dragon story the place, as Bonjour remarks, the great thing about the treasure of the Dragon’s hoard stands out in distinction to the curse hooked up to it. Right here, the necklace is amongst “[the finest] beneath the heavens”, but Hygelac had it when he was slain.
Subsequent, we are going to have a look at the digression on Beowulf’s inglorious youth and Heremod’s tragedy in conjuntion with each other. Heremod’s tragedy truly falls exterior the construction proposed by Adrien Bonjour because it has nothing to do with Beowulf and the Geats straight. Nonetheless, we are going to deliver the Heremod digression out of the proposed construction because it supplies such an necessary distinction to Beowulf’s inglorious youth.
The brief digression on Beowulf’s inglorious youth is however one other contact that contributes to the glorification of the hero. The inglorious youth heightens the impact of his later superb deeds and makes all of them the extra exceptional by the use of distinction. However this digression reaches its full impact when contrasted with the tragedy of Heremod. In Hrothgar’s speech to Beowulf, we be taught that Heremod was a robust, valiant hero whose profession confirmed nice promise, however that he subsequently proved to be a nasty ruler. Beowulf, however, is first despised however he has now grown into a wonderful hero. Heremod’s tragedy redefines, although negatively, what a great king ought to be. Thus we now have a poor starting (by Beowulf) adopted by a prodigious ascent contrasted with an excellent promise (by Heremod) ending in a depressing downfall.
The following digression to be examined issues Hygelac’s dying in Friesland and Beowulf’s return by swimming and his subsequent guardianship of Heardred. The poet tells us how Beowulf escapes from Friesland, the place Hygelac is slain, by swimming again to his nation with thirty to panoplies of armour on his arm. Clearly, this a part of the digression serves to additional glorify Beowulf’s extraordinary talents. Later, we be taught that Beowulf turns down Queen Hygd’s provide of the Geatish throne in favor of performing as counsel to Heardred, the rightful inheritor. Beowulf’s refusal of the crown illustrates his ethical greatness. Right here, the Geats current a hanging distinction to the Danes. Ogilvy and Baker counsel that in contrast to Wealtheow, who’s obsessive about securing the succession of her sons to the throne, Hygd asks Beowulf to take the throne in favor of her personal son for the nice of the folks. This distinction is made even better when in comparison with the state of affairs on the Danish court docket the place Hrothulf seizes his uncle’s throne. The story of the Danish succession serves as a foil: on the one facet we now have a treacherous usurpation, and on the opposite, a refusal to simply accept the crown out of sheer loyalty. Together with the glorification of Beowulf, this digression brings the theme of loyalty to the forefront.
In searching for the Dragon’s den, Beowulf makes an extended speech by which he seems to be again over his life from the time when, on the age of seven, he got here to the court docket of his grandfather, King Hrethel. The rapid goal of Beowulf’s lengthy speech seems to be a pause in order that the hero can collect energy and backbone by trying again over a lifetime of valiant deeds. However this digression goes a lot deeper after we learn into King Hrethel’s angst over his eldest son, Herebeald, who’s by chance slain by his brother Hæthcyn. The unintentional killing suggests the inexorability of wyrd (destiny), and however, the poignant lament of Hrethel prepares the dominant temper of the tip of the poem (Bonjour 34). This thematic “Christian” acceptance of earthly woes anticipates the rationale of Beowulf’s actions. He, too, will settle for his destiny. Bonjour states that the looks of wyrd right here is of nice significance because it offers us the keynote of not solely the digression, however of the entire ending of the poem.
The Final Survivor’s Speech is an elegy minimize from the identical material: “Baleful dying has despatched away many races of males”. Tolkien states that right here, the poet is dealing with an historical theme: that man, every man and all males, and all their works shall die.
Within the brief digression on Weohstan (Wiglaf’s father) and his slaying of Eanmund, we be taught of the historical past of Wiglaf’s sword. The first goal of this digression is to offer us one thing of Wiglaf’s pedigree, and to ascertain that Wiglaf just isn’t strange, he’s of the identical blood as Beowulf. The establishing of Wiglaf’s historical past is necessary, as a result of if this half have been performed by every other Geat, Beowulf’s heroic braveness would seem to have been matched by an strange human. Additionally, there’s a particular parallel between Wiglaf’s loyalty to Beowulf, and Beowulf’s loyalty to Hygelac.
The final digression that we are going to have a look at on this division offers once more with Hygelac’s fall and the battle at Ravenswood. Since Hygelac’s raid, the enmity between Franks and Geats has remained. The Swedes are to not be trusted both since Beowulf’s dying is prone to rekindle their reminiscence of the feud between them and the Geats. With the opening of this final digression, Bonjour observes that the poet permits us to catch a glimpse of what the longer term has in retailer for the Geats. Plainly, the writer is utilizing Wiglaf’s messenger as a way to foreshadow the destiny that awaits the Geatish nation.
The third class of digressions issues historic or legendary digressions circuitously linked with Beowulf and the Geats. The primary digression on this class issues the destiny of Heorot. No sooner has the poet described the fantastic constructing of Heorot than he concludes, “it could await the fierce flames of vengeful hearth”. The allusion is to the feud between Ingeld and Hrothgar. This illustrates one other instance of the poet telling his story with a form of structural irony which alternates affluent with tragic occasions. Right here, William Alfred remarks that Hrothgar is about up because the heroic king of a loyal comitatus, however abruptly, what begins as an outline of the spectacular halls of Heorot breaks down into an account of its destruction by hearth in a feud. On this level, Bonjour mentions that the distinction inherent between a harmonious state of affairs and a short intimation of catastrophe provides to the impression of melancholy by which a lot of the poem is steeped.
After Beowulf has killed Grendel, a scop improvises a lay in honor of Beowulf and compares him to Sigemund and Heremod. Sigemund was a terrific slayer of monsters and the best adventurer because the unlucky Heremod. Beowulf, they are saying, is corresponding to Sigemund. Sigemund and Heremod are inroduced to offer us a normal of comparability for Beowulf. Bonjour surmises that this complete digression is actually meant to reward the hero.
The following digression we are going to study begins abruptly as Beowulf is returning dwelling from Hrothgar’s court docket. We’re given an outline of Hygelac’s court docket earlier than Beowulf’s arrival, and right here begins the digression. The passage is dedicated to a comparability between Hygd, Hygelac’s queen, and Modthryth, queen of Offa, king of the Angles earlier than their migration to England. At first look, Modthryth could appear, like Heremod, to be merely a nasty character launched to intensify the virtues of a great one (Hygd) against this. Modthryth, nonetheless, is extra advanced than that. She begins as a merciless and tyrannous princess, however redeems herself as soon as on the Anglican throne at Offa’s facet. This opposition supplies a connecting hyperlink between this episode and Heremod’s tragedy. Nonetheless, the respective careers of Heremod and Modthryth run precisely reverse programs. This digression serves a number of functions: Modthryth serves as a foil to Hygd; the connection to Heremod once more stresses the “abuse of energy” theme, and Modthryth’s starting is also considered as a parallel to Beowulf’s inglorious youth; an unsavory starting which blossoms into a wonderful finish.
We are going to study the Finn and Ingeld episodes collectively because the parallelism between the 2 is unmistakable. The Finn episode is an account of a blood-feud between the Danes and the Frisians. Hnæf’s sister, Hildeburh is a Danish princess who was married to King Finn of the Frisians with a view to deliver an finish to the feud. The peace, nonetheless, is short-lived and the Finn episode factors on to the theme of the precarious truce between the 2 peoples. The prophetic telling of the story of Ingeld by Beowulf means that the martial alliance between the Danish princess, Freawaru, and Ingeld, prince of the Heathobards will yield related outcomes. Bonjour claims that the central theme of the 2 episodes is precisely the identical, that tribal enmity ultimately sweeps away all makes an attempt at human compromise. Certainly, this additionally proves to be a central theme of all the poem.
The ultimate class by which to make observe is the digressions of Biblical character. Owing to their Christian ingredient, the Tune of Creation in addition to the allusion to the Giants’ warfare in opposition to God and the allusions to Cain all take a entrance row seat.
The Tune of Creation seems nearly concurrently with the introduction of Grendel, “There he spoke who may relate the start of males far again in time, mentioned that the Almighty made earth…”. The Tune of Creation goes again to the Biblical account in Genesis. Its rapid goal is evident enough-it is a matter of distinction. The uncommon observe of pleasure in the great thing about nature contrasts deeply with the melancholy impressed by the dreary abode of Grendel.
We are going to now have a look at the allusions to Cain and the Giants, and in doing so, you will need to observe that the monsters are offered from two factors of view. To the pagan characters, these creatures are eotenas [giants], and scuccan [evil spirits]-all phrases from Germanic demonology. However the poet in his personal voice tells us of the true family tree of the Grendelkin: they’re the monstrous descendents of Cain. This two-leveled portrayal of the monsters locations them on one stage just like the dragon that Sigemund slew, and on one other stage it has connotations of Satanic evil which the Bible invests in them. At this level, new Scripture and previous custom unite.
The destruction of the Giants is claimed to be carved on the hilt of the magic sword which permits Beowulf to slay Grendel’s mom. Beowulf’s struggle is now felt to partake of the wrestle between the powers of fine and evil. We have been instructed earlier that each monsters have been of the identical variety because the Giants, however as Bonjour exhibits, we now know that God himself truly helps the hero by directing his consideration to the magic sword which depicted God’s personal motion in opposition to the accursed race. Now, it’s nearly as if Beowulf has been raised to the rank of God’s personal champion. Beowulf, for all that he strikes on this planet of the primitive Heroic Age, nonetheless is [for a moment] nearly a Christian knight.
Bonjour concludes that Beowulf, as soon as within the place of a king truly transcends the picure of a super king by sacrificing his life for his folks, the importance of which is harassed by the very distinction with Hrothgar’s personal angle in the direction of Grendel. However Hrothgar is already the determine of a super king, so now it turns into simpler to check Beowulf to the Savior, the self-sacrificing king, the prototype of supreme perfection.
Scholar B.J. Timmer sees the type of the poem as a failure due to the poet’s compromise in an try to glorify each pagan and Christian components. John Leyerle echos this view when he describes the theme of the poem as “the deadly contradiction on the core of heroic society” by which the impelling code calls for for the hero particular person achievement and glory, whereas society calls for a king who achieves for the frequent good. However why ought to there be a needed separation right here? Would it not not require a heroic particular person to realize for the frequent good? The Beowulf poet, rightly, doesn’t carry out this separation.
In conclusion, it ought to be said that whether or not or not we admire the digressions, we should always acknowledge that they’re a part of the poet’s technique, not the outcomes of ineptitude. Right here, I agree with Bonjour that the hyperlinks of the digressions and episodes to the principle story are extraordinarily diversified however, as we now have seen, they’re all hyperlinks of relevance that weave the principle theme and its background into an elaborate tapestry. Theodore M. Anderson sums up the importance of the digressions when he writes:
The poet drew his settings from the scenic repertory of the older heroic
lay, however he strung the standard scenes along with a moralizing
commentary within the type of digressions, flashbacks, boasts, reflective
speeches, and a persistent emphasis on surprising reversals-all tending
to underscore the peaks and valleys of human expertise.
An excellent dose of frequent sense ought to expel any lingering beliefs, on the a part of skeptics, that the poet’s digressions are reckless or that they diminish the worth of the poem. As we now have seen on this essay, there are just too many situations of foreshadowing, cautious distinction, and parallelism for the digressions to have been carelessly thrown into the combo. So, we will draw the conclusion that behind all of the digressions is discovered a particular inventive design clear sufficient to permit us to agree with Bonjour that every one performs a helpful half within the poem. In different phrases, we now have discovered that the entire digressions, in various levels, are artistically justified.