Literary Devices In Beowulf Essay

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Beowulf - A Literary Epic

There are ten basic elements that help to classify a poem as an epic. Although Beowulf does not contain all of these elements, it has enough of them to still identify it as an epic.

There are ten characteristics of an epic: the central character has heroic or superhuman qualities, the action takes place on an immense scale, the action involves the fate of an entire population or the whole human race, gods or semi-divine creatures aid one side or the other, the author announces his theme in opening, a character calls on the muses to help him, the poem begins "in media res," the style of poem is often noble and majestic, the characters speak in long set speeches, in some cases there is literary…show more content…

An epic contains action at an immense level. Throughout the book there were battles between men and horrendous beasts. Each of Beowulf's battles contained exciting elements that enhanced the action. In his battle with Grendel, Beowulf fought with neither weapon nor human help. When challenging Grendel's mother, her immense strength and the fact that Beowulf was hours below the surface of the water hindered his fighting ability. In his final battle, Beowulf was up against one of the most feared beasts of all time, the dragon. With its ability to use poison and fire, it was an opponent that was not easily overcome.

Often, epics involve the fate of the country's population, or sometimes even the whole human race. In the many wars throughout the book, opposing nations slaughtered entire populations. For nearly twelve years, Grendel raided Herot, killing the Danes remaining after the day's festivities. Because of these raids, all of Denmark feared the beast. In the battle with Grendel, all of Beowulf's soldiers were in danger of being killed had their great leader not killed Grendel. If Beowulf had not slain Grendel's mother so quickly after her discovery, she may have killed more Danes than her weaker son. The Fire Dragon terrorized Beowulf's kingdom, burning homes, churches and other town buildings. When Beowulf and Wiglaf

An Analysis Of The Epic Poem, Beowulf Poetic Devices In Beowulf

Poetic Devices in Beowulf


    There are a small variety of poetic devices employed in the composition of the poem Beowulf, and they are repeated numerous times.

The Old English poetry of Beowulf is distinguished primarily by its heavy use of  allliteration, or the repetition of the initial sounds of words. In the original manuscript version of the poem, alliteration is employed in almost every line (or two half-lines); in modern translations of the poem this is not so. In lines 4 and 5 of the poem we find:

Oft Scyld Scefing                               sceapena preatum

monegum maegpum                           meodo-setla ofteah

The repetition of the “s” sound in line 4 and of the “m” sound in line 5 illustrate alliteration, and this occurs throughout the poem, providing to the listener what the rhyme of modern-day poetry provides – an aesthetic sense of  rightness or pleasure. The Old English poet would “tie” the two half-lines together by their stressed alliteration (Chickering 4). Each line of poetry ideally contains four principal stresses, two on each side of a strong medial caesura, or pause. “At least one of the two stressed swords in the first half-line, and usually both of them, begin with the same sound as the first stressed word of the second half-line” (Donaldson 67). Such stressed alliterative binding together created hundreds of pairs that are used over and over, such as halig/heofon holy/heaven, dryhten/dugud lord/troop, fyren/feond sin/enemy. The pairs need not be complementary, but rather can be contrastive, like eadig/earm happy/wretched and wearm/winter warm/winter. These dictional contrasts provide the listener additional pleasure by surprising his expectations. The alliteration also includes stressed vowels (Tharaud 34).

These pairs are the backbone of Beowulf:  Prof. Magoun, in examining the poem, considers it probable that nearly 100% of the language in Beowulf is formulas, (88-89) or phrases from a common bank of phraseology that all poets drew their language from.

A second poetic device found in the poem is the reliance on kennings to portray the imagery of the poem. Kennings are compound expressions using characteristics to name something. The kenning hronrade literally means “whale-road,” which translates as “sea” to the listener or reader. There are hundreds of kennings in the poem:

         Life-lord           living Lord                    war-dress         armor

bed-companion            spouse              earth-dwellers   humans

kin-slaughter     killing of relatives          gift-throne         throne

wave-rider        boat                             sea-skilled        sailor

sea-currents      waves                           battle-dress      armor

battle-shirts       mail                              word-hoard      vocabulary

hearth-companions       friends              pitch-black       dark

shield-bearer   ...

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