Friday, September 6, 2013

"So. The Spear-Danes..."

Working agenda:

I. Summer Reading Assessment on MONDAY


I. Multiple Choice (10 points)

II. Passage Analysis (20 points)--Choose two of the three passages. State context, significance, speakers (if appropriate) and any related themes or literary devices.  Watch your time on the two passages because you will want to devote time to the essay as well.

III. Essay (20 points):

In a well-structured thesis/support essay, use literary analysis….Be sure to use details (but not expecting page numbers, quotes, etc.)

II. Watch Newshour with Seamus Heaney - take notes!

Here's a link to the transcript:

What is alliteration? Tone?

III. Listen to more Beowulf

IV. Watch the beginning of The Adventure of English

V. Gratitude to Mr. McCreary for this Beowulf Introduction...

About the Poem:

  • Probably passed down through word of mouth as part of an oral tradition, Beowulf can be thought of as having multiple authors. Written down sometime between the 7th and the 10th century, the text we are reading in this class reflects, according to Heaney, “the poet’s Christianity and…perspective as an Englishman” (xvi). It has been speculated that the tale was originally written down by an Anglo-Saxon, Christian monk.
  • The poem exists as a single manuscript copy (dating from the 11th century) in the British Library.

Critical History of Beowulf:

  • At first, the focus was on understanding and mastering Anglo-Saxon, through study of its grammar, vocabulary, and nuances. Emphasis on the poem’s textuality and historical context sought to determine the conditions of its composition, as well as identify the author and date of composition.
  • With the advent of an early-to-mid-20th-century “boom” in medieval studies, spearheaded by scholars like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, the emphasis in Beowulf studies shifted to a consideration of the poem as a piece of imaginative writing, in addition to its identity as a really nifty textual artifact.

Poetic Terminology:

  • Kenning: a type of figurative language; “the standard use, in the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf and poems written in other Old Germanic languages, of a descriptive phrase in place of the ordinary name for something.”  Example: “whale-road” instead of “sea.”
  • Litotes: “A special form of understatement is litotes (Greek for ‘plain’ or ‘simple’), the assertion of an affirmative by negating its contrary….The figure is frequent in Anglo-Saxon poetry, where the effect is usually one of grim irony.  In Beowulf, after Hrothgar has described the ghastly mere where the monster Grendel dwells, he comments, ‘That is not a pleasant place.’”
  • Appositives: series of phrases describing a single entity or event.
  • Caesura: “Literary critics use the term to refer to any break or pause in a line of poetry. In common usage, caesuras are pauses marked by punctuation.” In Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale,” “Was it a vision, or a waking dream?” features two caesuras: an internal caesura after the comma and a terminal caesura in the question mark.
  • Alliterative Meter: A poetic style in which at least one stressed word in the first half of a line of poetry alliterates with a stressed word after the caesura in the middle of the line.

First two definitions taken from M.H. Abrams, A Glossary of Literary Terms, Sixth Edition (Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace, 1993). Fourth definition taken from Barton and Hudson, A Contemporary Guide to Literary Terms, Second Edition (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 2004). Final definition taken from The Longman Dictionary of Poetic Terms (White Plains, NY: Longman, 1989).

The Epic Hero:  The star of an epic or heroic poem.  Beowulf and The Odyssey are epic poems, which can be defined as long narratives about the adventures of the epic hero.  Epics are generally told in heightened, dramatic language.

Characteristics of the Epic Hero:
·               Larger-than-life leader or warrior
·               Strongly identified with a particular people or society
·               Performs great deeds in battle or undertakes extraordinary journey
·               Sometimes possesses supernatural ability or has gods or other supernatural beings to help him or her
·               Sometimes of noble birth (aristocrat or royalty)
·               Possesses a sense of honor or code of ethics that rule his/her destiny
·               Shows loyalty to his people
·               Has various motivations (personal quest, revenge, helping people, glory)
·               Almost always wins battles, but one monster may be his or her downfall
·               May receive help from friends or guides, sometimes has a “sidekick”

Examples:  Odysseus, Beowulf, Gilgamesh, King Arthur, Batman, Luke Skywalker

Adapted from information at

No comments:

Post a Comment