Major English Writers 1

Illinois Valley Community College

Beowulf: Concepts and Themes

Three Time Frames for the Poem

  1. Date of the poem’s action: A.D. 500-600
  2. Date of original composition: A.D. 675-750 (but maybe as late as 950)
  3. Date of the earliest extant manuscript: A.D. 1000

Characteristics of Old English Verse

  1. alliteration
  2. caesura
  3. stress pattern
  4. kennings
  5. litotes

Additional Terms to Understand

  1. scop
  2. wergild
  3. heroic-elegiac
  4. epic
  5. comitatus
  6. memento mori
  7. sapientia et fortitudo

Subjects and Themes in Beowulf

  1. Importance of telling stories (oral tradition)
  2. Importance of the Lord/Thane relationship
  3. Constant warfare (social instability and a strong code of retribution)
  4. Importance of public recognition and reputation
  5. Importance of bravery, courage, and good deeds
  6. The heroic code
  7. Importance of gift giving
  8. Good and Evil
  9. Christian and Pagan elements
  10. Temporality and mutability of life
  11. Role of God and Fate
  12. Limited roles of women

This page was last updated on June 06, 2013. Copyright Randy Rambo, 2011.