Beowulf Oral Tradition

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Have you ever been told a story, any story, which somehow morphed into multiple stories at once? Suddenly, you appear to have 3 different sets of stories and you are unsure how they all fit together? It seems that you have read the epic poem Beowulf. One unique characteristic of Beowulf is that it contains multiple stories within stories. The epic uses this style for a number of different reasons. One reason is that it follows the oral tradition. Another reason is it was the history of the time, a way to continue on the stories of these early civilizations and societies. The last and most important reason is that the overall function that these stories within stories serve, is the help the audience have a better understanding and a different …show more content…
The oral tradition created an “assumed knowledge,” which meant that when you were told the story, you were already expected to know all the major players within that story. One of the reasons that Beowulf contains the stories within stories is because it follows the oral tradition. We see the assumed knowledge factor being practiced with the story of Queen Modthryth. The narrator provides the audience with the story of the Queen who was vicious to her own people until she met a King to her liking. She is described as “unqueenly ways for a woman to follow” (1938-1939). At first, the story seems to have no connection with the main plot. It is not until you understand that Queen Modthryth is used as a device to contrast Queen Hygd (the rash and arrogant queen Modthryth is described in order to contrast her to the wise queen Hygd (cite)). The oral tradition of assumed knowledge is demonstrated because the narrator assumes you understand the comparison between the two …show more content…
For example, the first story we hear is in the form of song. After we are told a recount of Beowulf’s victory against Grendel (after hearing how it happened the first time), we are told of the hero Sigemund. He was a great hero who defeated a dragon and brought the kingdom a hoard of gold and treasures. Both, accounts of the stories praise their valor and heroic motives. Yet, the story of Sigemund foreshadow the actions Beowulf will take on himself. The bard sang, “Sigemund it was who had slain the dragon, the keeper of the hoard; the king’s son walked under the gray rock, he risked alone that fearful conflict” (lines 885-887). Here we see foreshadow at play because Beowulf will also take on a dragon alone. The only difference being Beowulf does not escape that conflict unharmed. The story of Sigemund works not only to show the audience what will become of Beowulf, but to demonstrate to the audience who Beowulf is. Beowulf is the ultimate hero who risks his life for others, treasure, and for glory. For Beowulf, and many heroes of the time, there was no greater honor than to die on the battle field. The story within the story helps us to grasp the character of

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