The Function 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 a minimum of, have one thing in them which is inappropriate to the primary narrative and are detrimental to the poetic worth of Beowulf, this essay will argue that the digressions and episodes present a acutely aware stability and unity and, in truth, 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 related 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 position within the poem.

Earlier than we examine particular digressions, it is very important present a quick justification for his or her presence basically. 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 supply symbolic worth which contributes to the impact and understanding of the poem, and to intensify inventive impact. As well as, the digressions comprise welcome details about the hero’s life. It’s by digressing that the poet presents the values and views which are to be understood. Motion is, in any case, solely motion.

In his division of the digressions and episodes, Bonjour provides the Scyld episode its personal class, in all probability as a result of it’s the longest digression from the primary 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 could 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 could 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 function 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 spot on the a part of the Danes. As we are going to see later, if the Danes had not been glorified firstly 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 the whole 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 top of a wonderful previous whereas the longer term is fraught with foreboding.

The Scyld episode permits the poet using two of his favourite gadgets: parallelism and distinction. The distinction between Scyld and Beowulf is probably one of many most interesting inventive achievements within the poem, and the parallelism between the 2 kings could 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 completed his damnedest”.

The subsequent of Bonjour’s categorical divisions regards the digressions regarding Beowulf and the Geats. The primary of this group that we are going to look at is Beowulf’s battle in opposition to giants. This digression serves a twofold function: it permits the hero his conference of boasting, and it additionally, nonetheless subtly, allies the hero with God. The fast function of this point out of a wonderful feat in Beowulf’s formative years is to present us an illustration of his unusual energy, and to present on the similar time a justification for his arrival on the Danish courtroom. It additionally units Beowulf up as a specialist in preventing monsters: “I got here from the battle 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 understanding it, is preventing on the correct facet in any case.

Within the Ecgtheow digression we study 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 shield him, and he has fled to the courtroom of Hrothgar. Hrothgar, consequently, pays his wergild to the Wilfings. Bonjour asserts that this digression serves two functions: first, it creates yet one more 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 status, the poet additionally exhibits him as a distinguished thane. Had Unferth been decreased 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 type 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 study Beowulf’s for cleaning Heorot, and likewise that the hero will not be solely an awesome 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 provides us a superb occasion of a specific use of distinction attribute of Beowulf. It’s ironic that the primary trace of Hygelac’s fall ought to be known as up by the outline of the treasures given to Beowulf by Queen Wealtheow after Beowulf’s victory over Grendel. It appears 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 connected to it. Right here, the necklace is amongst “[the finest] below 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 outdoors the construction proposed by Adrien Bonjour because it has nothing to do with Beowulf and the Geats immediately. Nonetheless, we are going to deliver the Heremod digression out of the proposed construction because it offers 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 outstanding 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 study that Heremod was a robust, valiant hero whose profession confirmed nice promise, however that he subsequently proved to be a nasty ruler. Beowulf, alternatively, is first despised however he has now grown into a wonderful hero. Heremod’s tragedy redefines, although negatively, what king ought to be. Thus now we have a poor starting (by Beowulf) adopted by a prodigious ascent contrasted with a superb promise (by Heremod) ending in a depressing downfall.

The subsequent digression to be examined considerations 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 skills. Later, we study that Beowulf turns down Queen Hygd’s supply of the Geatish throne in favor of appearing 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 recommend 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 great of the folks. This distinction is made even larger when in comparison with the state of affairs on the Danish courtroom the place Hrothulf seizes his uncle’s throne. The story of the Danish succession serves as a foil: on the one facet now we 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 in search of the Dragon’s den, Beowulf makes a protracted speech during which he appears again over his life from the time when, on the age of seven, he got here to the courtroom of his grandfather, King Hrethel. The fast function of Beowulf’s lengthy speech seems to be a pause in order that the hero can collect energy and determination by trying again over a lifetime of valiant deeds. However this digression goes a lot deeper once we learn into King Hrethel’s angst over his eldest son, Herebeald, who’s unintentionally slain by his brother Hæthcyn. The unintended killing suggests the inexorability of wyrd (destiny), and alternatively, the poignant lament of Hrethel prepares the dominant temper of the top 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 provides us the keynote of not solely the digression, however of the entire ending of the poem.

The Final Survivor’s Speech is an elegy lower from the identical material: “Baleful dying has despatched away many races of males”. Tolkien states that right here, the poet is dealing with an historic 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 study of the historical past of Wiglaf’s sword. The first function of this digression is to present us one thing of Wiglaf’s pedigree, and to ascertain that Wiglaf will not be abnormal, 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 another Geat, Beowulf’s heroic braveness would seem to have been matched by an abnormal 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 method to foreshadow the destiny that awaits the Geatish nation.

The third class of digressions considerations historic or legendary digressions circuitously related with Beowulf and the Geats. The primary digression on this class considerations the destiny of Heorot. No sooner has the poet described the wonderful constructing of Heorot than he concludes, “it could look forward to 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 type 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 all of a sudden, 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 quick intimation of catastrophe provides to the impression of melancholy during 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 an awesome slayer of monsters and the best adventurer for the reason that unlucky Heremod. Beowulf, they are saying, is similar to Sigemund. Sigemund and Heremod are inroduced to present us a normal of comparability for Beowulf. Bonjour surmises that this entire digression is actually supposed to reward the hero.

The subsequent digression we are going to look at begins abruptly as Beowulf is returning dwelling from Hrothgar’s courtroom. We’re given an outline of Hygelac’s courtroom 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 seem, like Heremod, to be merely a nasty character launched to intensify the virtues of one (Hygd) in contrast. 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 offers 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 may be seen as a parallel to Beowulf’s inglorious youth; an unsavory starting which blossoms into a wonderful finish.

We are going to look at the Finn and Ingeld episodes collectively for the reason that 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 the intention 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 comparable outcomes. Bonjour claims that the central theme of the 2 episodes is precisely the identical, that tribal enmity eventually sweeps away all makes an attempt at human compromise. Certainly, this additionally proves to be a central theme of the whole poem.

The ultimate class during which to make be aware is the digressions of Biblical character. Owing to their Christian ingredient, the Music 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 Music of Creation seems virtually concurrently with the introduction of Grendel, “There he spoke who might relate the start of males far again in time, stated that the Almighty made earth…”. The Music of Creation goes again to the Biblical account in Genesis. Its fast function is obvious enough-it is a matter of distinction. The uncommon be aware 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, it is very important be aware that the monsters are introduced 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 degree just like the dragon that Sigemund slew, and on one other degree 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 battle is now felt to partake of the wrestle between the powers of excellent and evil. We have been instructed earlier that each monsters have been of the identical sort 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 virtually as if Beowulf has been raised to the rank of God’s personal champion. Beowulf, for all that he strikes on the earth of the primitive Heroic Age, nonetheless is [for a moment] virtually a Christian knight.

Bonjour concludes that Beowulf, as soon as within the place of a king truly transcends the picure of an excellent king by sacrificing his life for his folks, the importance of which is harassed by the very distinction with Hrothgar’s personal perspective in the direction of Grendel. However Hrothgar is already the determine of an excellent king, so now it turns into simpler to match 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 and glorify each pagan and Christian parts. John Leyerle echos this view when he describes the theme of the poem as “the deadly contradiction on the core of heroic society” during 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 primary story are extraordinarily assorted however, as now we have seen, they’re all hyperlinks of relevance that weave the primary 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 normal scenes along with a moralizing

commentary within the type of digressions, flashbacks, boasts, reflective

speeches, and a persistent emphasis on sudden 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 now we 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 combination. 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, now we have discovered that the entire digressions, in various levels, are artistically justified.

Supply by Rick L. Huffman


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