The Strength of Diversity: Comparing Critical Approaches to Beowulf College

James Earl argued that Beowulf should be read in context of historical and external knowledge. He calls this method intertextuality, whose benefits are unlimited. Intertextuality gives the reader a heightened sense of genre, theme, and even “arbitrary details” (Earl 290). While Earl argues that outside contextual knowledge is necessary, some argue that the text itself is sufficient for such a task. J. R. R. Tolkien, the famous author of The Lord of Rings series, takes the second position. Both Tolkien and Earl exhibit distinctive strengths and weaknesses in their arguments regarding this topic. And thus, neither should be taken as the definitive answer to the question of interpreting this ancient text. Rather, the reader’s method of understanding Beowulf should be defined by his purpose in reading it. Ultimately, understanding the different strengths and weaknesses of these two methods of interpretation allows the reader to determine which method is best for his purpose. One weakness with Earl’s method of interpretation is related to the reality that knowledge is finite. The capacity of human knowledge must eventually come to an end for the individual; with the death of our bodies comes the end of that knowledge. This is not to...

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