Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Beowulf and the Grendel-Kin: Politics and Poetry in Eleventh-Century England

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Beowulf and the Grendel-Kin: Politics and Poetry in Eleventh-Century England

Article excerpt

Helen Damico, Beowulf and the Grendel-kin: Politics and Poetry in EleventhCentury England, Medieval European Studies XVI (Morgantown, Va: West Virginia University Press, 2015). xiv + 345 pp. + 15 colour illustrations. ISBN 978-1-938228-71-1. $49.99.

In 1981 Kevin Kiernan controversially claimed that Beowulf was contemporary with its sole extant manuscript which, he argued, was copied during the reign of King Cnut (1016-35). Prior to Kiernan, scholars had usually assigned the poem's copying to the reign(s) of Æthelred the Unready (978-1013, 1014-16) and it was widely, though not universally, accepted that the manuscript itself was a late copy of an already ancient poem. Helen Damico's new monograph locates both the copying of the manuscript and the poem's composition even later than Kiernan, proposing that the first two-thirds of Beowulf allegorize the struggle over the English royal succession which took place after Cnut's death in 1035. Given the radical nature of Damico's thesis and the ongoing, at times heated, arguments concerning the poem's date, this book will be of interest to all Beowulf scholars.

In four chapters Damico lays out a series of what she contends are striking parallels between certain episodes in the poem and some of the major political events of the first half of the eleventh century. Chapter 1 argues that in describing the beheadings ofÆschere (lines 1279-99, 1408-24) and Grendel (lines i573a-90), the Beowulf poet 'imaginatively refashioned' (p. 50) the deaths of two rivals for the English throne after Cnut's death, Alfred atheling and Harold Harefoot. Chapter 2 proposes that Grendel's attacks on Heorot reflect the eleventh-century Danish invasions of England. Chapters 3 and 4 explore links between various accounts of Cnut's two queens, Ælfgifu of Northampton and Emma of Normandy, and Grendel's mother and Wealhtheow respectively, as well suggesting that illustrations in the Harley Psalter lie behind the poem's depiction of royal banquets. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.