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 has been called "a cohesive and compelling case for Beowulf's early composition."[30][31] 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 a proto-version of 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 in its present form at a later date. Albert Lord felt strongly that the manuscript represents the transcription of a performance, though likely taken at more than one sitting.[32] 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,[33] and Tolkien's conviction that the poem dates to the 8th century has been defended by Tom Shippey, Leonard Neidorf, Rafael J. Pascual, and R.D. Fulk, among others.[34][35][36]

The claim to an early 11th-century date depends in part on 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 an earlier version of the story by the manuscript's two scribes. On the other hand, some scholars argue that linguistic, palaeographical, metrical, and onomastic considerations align to support a date of composition in the first half of the eighth century;[31][37][38][39] in particular, the poem's regular observation of etymological length distinctions (Max Kaluza's law) has been thought to demonstrate a date of composition in the first half of the eighth century.[35][36] However, scholars disagree about whether the metrical phenomena described by Kaluza's Law prove an early date of composition or are evidence of 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 favour of an eighth-century date."[41]

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