THESIS: Beowulf is interesting because of what it shows us about Anglo-Saxon poetry and culture.
Your thesis #1: Beowulf gives an accurate description on Anglo-Saxon poetry and culture.
Your thesis #2: In Beowulf, essentials of Anglo-Saxon poetry and culture are incorporated throughout the story.
One aspect of Anglo-Saxon poetry that is evident in Beowulf is the use of kennings. These creative word-combinations appear throughout the story, naming objects in interesting ways that describe what they do or how they function. For example, Hrothgar is frequently referred to as “the great ring-giver” (line 10) and “treasure-giver (line 607) because he rewards his loyal thanes with valuable jewelry and armor, while the throne he sits on is the “treasure-seat” (line 168). As king of the Geats, Beowulf is the “gold-giver” (line 2652). The sea across which Beowulf sails is also described with several kennings: “swan’s road” (line 200), “sea lanes” (line 239), “gannet’s bath” (line 1861), “whale road” (line ??), Likewise, ships are described based on how they look (“ring-whorled prow” [line 32]) and what they do (“wave-crosser” [line 1907]). Even the sail of a ship is called the boat’s “sea-shawl” (line 1905). The evil monsters Beowulf fights in the story are also described with kennings. Because he patrols Heorot for “twelve winters” ready to kill any Danes who dare stay there, Grendel is referred to as the “hall-watcher” (line 142). As an evil presence who lurks in the night, he is also called the “shadow-stalker” (line 703). The dragon Beowulf fights in his last great feat is referred to as a “hoard-guardian” (line 2293) and a “hoard-watcher” (line 2303) in reference to the treasure it guards in its barrow. When it terrorizes the Geats from the air, it is then referred to as the “sky-winger” (line 231).
Another aspect of Anglo-Saxon poetry evident in Beowulf is the frequent use of alliteration. Alliteration is the repetition of a particular sound—usually the initial constant—,and it is implemented in many verses throughout the story. Alliteration is a primitive form of modern rhyming and the scops, story-tellers, may have used alliteration as an aid to remember stories, a mnemonic. When Grendal's “vicious raids and ravages” on the Danes of Heorot are being described, the narrator writes that someone such as him could never “stop his death-dealing nor pay the death-price” (line 156). Here, the d's in “death-dealing” and p's in “pay the death-price” are the initial constants that are alliterated. Another examples of alliteration can be found when Beowulf and his men land on the shores of Daneland. The watchmen, whose jobs was “to guard the sea-cliffs”, “saw shield glittering on the gangplank” (line 230). In this line, the s’s and g’s are stressed and repeated; therefore,“saw shield” and “glittering on the gangplank” are examples of alliteration. After defeating Grendal, Beowulf is giving another task to save Hrothgar and defeat Grendal's mother. Hrothgar say that he will,”compensate you for settling the feud” by offering Beowulf, “lavish wealth, coffers of coiled gold, if you come back.” (line1382). The c in coffers, coiled, come are alliterated in this line.
Beowulf not only is a good example of Anglo-Saxon poetry, but the story also shows us evidence that the Anglo-Saxons lived in more of a warrior culture—one that valued martial skill more clearly than ours does. In a warrior culture, establishing an identity is very important and central to the poem. Beowulf, itself is a tale concerning deeds and accomplishments of a Geat warrior. In Beowulf, important male figures are introduced as their…