Beowulf: Written Oral Literature College

Beowulf: Written Oral Literature

Beowulf, transcribed by Christian monks around the eighth century, is originally an oral piece of literature meant to be performed. To keep the listener interested in the piece and to make it easier to remember and retell, Beowulf uses the conventions of kennings, alliteration, and hyperbole to tell the tale of Beowulf. These devices are used to make the tale easier to remember and more appealing to both the performer and listener. The poet who transcribed Beowulf for his Christian audience keeps these conventions intact to preserve the feel of an oral work.

The first of these poetic conventions is a metaphorical compound word or phrase used especially in Old English and Old Norse poetry, called a kenning. This type of metaphor is used as a substitution for the usual name of a person or thing. The epic Beowulf uses two different types of kennings to help prevent constant repetition of names. The first type of kenning simply substitutes a title for the person’s name. So instead of constantly saying Beowulf the orator uses such kennings as “the Geatish hero,” “son of Ecgtheow,” and “the Lord of the Seamen.” The ways in which Beowulf is referred to are simple examples of kennings, but Beowulf also...

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