Authorship and date

Beowulf was written in England, but is set in Scandinavia; its dating has attracted considerable scholarly attention. The poem has been dated to between the 8th and the early 11th centuries, with some recent scholarship offering what one reviewer called "a cohesive and compelling case for Beowulf’s early composition."[28][29] However, opinion differs as to whether the composition of the poem is nearly contemporary with its transcription, whether it was first written in the 8th century, or if the poem was perhaps composed at an even earlier time (possibly as one of the Bear's Son Tales) and orally transmitted for many years, then transcribed at a later date. Albert Lord felt strongly the manuscript represents the transcription of a performance, though likely taken at more than one sitting.[30] J. R. R. Tolkien believed that the poem retains too genuine a memory of Anglo-Saxon paganism to have been composed more than a few generations after the completion of the Christianisation of England around AD 700,[31] and Tolkien's conviction that the poem dates to the 8th century has been defended by Tom Shippey, among others.[32]

The claim to an 11th-century date is due in part to scholars who argue that, rather than the transcription of a tale from the oral tradition by an earlier literate monk, Beowulf reflects an original interpretation of the story by the manuscript's two scribes.[33] Kevin Kiernan argues on the basis of evidence from paleography and codicology that the poem is contemporary with the manuscript.[34] Kiernan's reasoning also has to do with the political context of the poem: many scholars have held that the poem was composed in the 8th century on the assumption that a poem eliciting sympathy for the Danes could not have been composed by Anglo-Saxons during the Viking Age of the 9th and 10th centuries.[34] The poem begins with a tribute to the royal line of Danish kings, but is written in the dominant literary dialect of Anglo-Saxon England, which for some scholars points to the 11th century reign of Cnut (the Danish king whose empire included all of these areas, and whose primary place of residence was in England) as the most likely time of the poem's creation.

On the other hand, some scholars argue that linguistic, paleographical, and onomastic considerations align to support a date of composition in the first half of the eighth century;[29][35][36][37] in particular, the poem's regular observation of etymological length distinctions (Kaluza's law) has been thought to demonstrate a date of composition in the first half of the eighth century.[38][39] However, scholars disagree about whether the metrical phenomena described by Kaluza's law reflect an early date of composition or correspond to a longer prehistory of the Beowulf meter;[40] B.R. Hutcheson, for instance, does not believe Kaluza's Law can be used to date the poem, while claiming that "the weight of all the evidence Fulk presents in his book[b] tells strongly in favor of an eighth-century date."[41]

This content is from Wikipedia. GradeSaver is providing this content as a courtesy until we can offer a professionally written study guide by one of our staff editors. We do not consider this content professional or citable. Please use your discretion when relying on it.