An Analysis of the Epic Poem, Beowulf - The Structure of Beowulf

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The Structure of Beowulf

There are several structures which scholars find in the poem Beowulf. It is the purpose of this essay to briefly elaborate on these structures.

The first theory regarding the structure of Beowulf is put forth by J.R.R. Tolkien in “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics.” Tolkien states:

The poem “lacks steady advance”: so Klaeber heads a critical section in his edition. But the poem was not meant to advance, steadily or unsteadily. It is essentially a balance, an opposition of ends and beginnings. In its simplest terms it is a contrasted description of two moments in a great life, rising and setting; an elaboration of the ancient and intensely moving contrast between youth
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He wore those gold wires, rarest gem-stones,

across the cup of waves, a mighty prince.

He fell beneath his shield. Into Frankish hands

came his life, body-gold, and the great ringed collar;

lesser warriors rifled the corpses

after the battle-harvest. Dead Geats

filled the field (1202-14).

In consequence of this, some scholars have given the poem a tri-partite division, seeing very clearly a middle to the poem in the fight with Grendel’s mother and Hrothgar’s sermon. So each of the three divisions of the poem involves a fight with a monster. These are the three stages through which the hero evolves, from the powerful, ideal warrior to the perfect ruler who has ruled for 50 years.

A third viewpoint of structure is that it is an interlayering or interlacing of narrative episodes. John Leyerle in “The Interlace Structure of Beowulf” says:

From the early Anglo-Saxon priod there are thousands of interlace designs surviving in illuminations of manuscripts, in carving on bone, ivory and stone, and in metal work for

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