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Critical Essays Major Themes in Beowulf
A theme in a literary work is a recurring, unifying subject or idea, a motif that allows us to understand more deeply the character and their world. In Beowulf, the major themes reflect the values and the motivations of the characters.
One of the central themes of Beowulf, embodied by its title character, is loyalty. At every step of his career, loyalty is Beowulf's guiding virtue.
Beowulf comes to the assistance of the Danes (Scyldings) for complicated reasons. Certainly he is interested in increasing his reputation and gaining honor and payment for his own king back in Geatland. However, we soon learn that a major motivation is a family debt that Beowulf owes to Hrothgar. The young Geat is devoted to the old king because Hrothgar came to the assistance of Beowulf's father, Ecgtheow, years before. Now deceased, Ecgtheow had killed a leader of another tribe in a blood feud. When the tribe sought vengeance, Hrothgar, then a young king, sheltered Beowulf's father and settled the feud by paying tribute (wergild) in the form of "fine old treasures" (472) to Ecgtheow's enemies. Hrothgar even remembers Beowulf as a child. The tie between the families goes back many years, and Beowulf is proud to be able to lend his loyal services to Hrothgar.
When the hero returns to Geatland, he continues his loyalty to his uncle and king, Hygelac, risking his life even when the tactics of the ruler are not the best. After Hygelac is killed in an ill-advised raid on Frisia, Beowulf makes a heroic escape (2359 ff.) back to Geatland. Beowulf could become king then but is more loyal than ambitious. Queen Hygd offers Beowulf the throne after her husband dies, thinking that her young son (Heardred) is unable to protect the kingdom; Beowulf refuses and serves the young king faithfully. After Heardred is killed, Beowulf does become king and rules with honor and fidelity to his office and his people for 50 years. In his final test, the burden of loyalty will rest on other, younger shoulders.
Preparing for his last battle, with the fiery dragon, Beowulf puts his trust in 11 of his finest men, retainers who have vowed to fight to the death for him. Although the now elderly king insists on taking on the dragon alone, he brings along the 11 in case he needs them. When it is apparent that Beowulf is losing the battle to the dragon, however, all but one of his men run and hide in the woods. Only Wiglaf, an inexperienced thane who has great respect for his king, remains loyal. Wiglaf calls to the others in vain. Realizing that they will be no help and that his king is about to be killed, he stands beside the old man to fight to the death — theirs or the dragon's. For Beowulf, sadly, it is the end. Although he and Wiglaf kill the dragon, the king dies. As he dies, Beowulf passes the kingdom on to the brave and loyal Wiglaf.
Another motivating factor for Beowulf — and a central theme in the epic — is reputation. From the beginning, Beowulf is rightly concerned about how the rest of the world will see him. He introduces himself to the Scyldings by citing achievements that gained honor for him and his king. When a drunken Unferth verbally assaults Beowulf at the first banquet, at issue is the hero's reputation. Unferth's slur is the worst kind of insult for Beowulf because his reputation is his most valuable possession. Reputation is also the single quality that endures after death, his one key to immortality. That's why Beowulf later leaves the gold in the cave beneath the mere, after defeating the mother, preferring to return with Grendel's head and the magic sword's hilt rather than treasure. He has and continues to amass treasures; his intent now is in building his fame.
Unferth's slur accuses Beowulf of foolishly engaging in a seven-day swimming contest on the open sea, as a youth, and losing. If Beowulf can't win a match like that, Unferth asserts, he surely can't defeat Grendel. Beowulf defends his reputation with such grace and persuasion that he wins the confidence of King Hrothgar and the rest of the Danes. He points out that he swam with Breca for five nights, not wanting to abandon the weaker boy. Rough seas then drove them apart, and Beowulf had to kill nine sea monsters before going ashore in the morning. His reputation intact, Beowulf prepares to meet Grendel and further enhance his fame.
As he discusses Beowulf's later years, the poet lists the virtues (2177 ff.) leading to the great man's fine reputation. Beowulf is courageous and famous for his performance in battle but equally well known for his good deeds. Although aggressive in war, Beowulf has "no savage mind" (2180) and never kills his comrades when drinking, an important quality in the heroic world of the mead-hall. Beowulf respects the gifts of strength and leadership that he possesses.
As he prepares to meet the dragon, near the end of the poem, now King Beowulf again considers his reputation. He insists on facing the dragon alone despite the fact that his death will leave his people in jeopardy. Hrothgar's Sermon warned Beowulf of the dangers of pride, and some critics have accused the great warrior of excessive pride (hubris) in the defense of his reputation. A more considerate judgment might be that Beowulf is an old man with little time left and deserves the right to die as a warrior. The final words of the poem, stating that Beowulf was "most eager for fame' (3182), might be best understood by a modern audience by remembering that, in Beowulf's world, fame is synonymous with reputation.
Generosity and Hospitality
The Scyldings' King Hrothgar and Queen Wealhtheow embody the themes of generosity and hospitality. The code of the comitatus is at the heart of the Beowulf epic. In this system, the king or feudal lord provides land, weapons, and a share of treasure to his warriors (called thanes or retainers) in return for their support of the leader in battle. The leader's generosity is one of his highest qualities. There are more than 30 different terms for "king" in the poem, and many of them have to do with this role as provider. He is the "ring-giver' (35) or the "treasure-giver" (607); his seat of power is the "gift-throne" (168).
When booty is seized from an enemy in battle, everything goes to the king. He then allots treasure to each warrior according to the man's achievements as a soldier. When Beowulf defeats Grendel and Grendel's mother, he expects and receives great riches as his reward, including a golden banner, helmet, and mail-shirt, as well as a jeweled sword, magnificent horses with golden trappings that hang to the ground, a gem-studded saddle, and a golden collar. Such generosity is emblematic of Hrothgar's character. In turn, Beowulf will present these treasures to his own king, Hygelac, who will then honor Beowulf with appropriate gifts. Propriety/generosity is, thus, a crucial part of the political, military, social, and economic structure of the culture.
Wealhtheow shares in the gift giving and is the perfect hostess. When she serves mead in Heorot, it is an act of propriety and diplomacy, attending first to her king and then to various guests, paying special attention to Beowulf. An improper queen would be one like Modthrytho (1931 ff.) who was so inhospitable as to have her own warriors executed for the offense of merely looking into her eyes.
Hospitality is such an established part of the culture that the poet feels free to refer to it with casual humor. When Beowulf reports to Hrothgar on his victory over Grendel (957 ff.), he ironically speaks in terms of hospitality. He tried, he says, to "welcome my enemy" (969) with a firm handshake but was disappointed when he received only a "visitor's token" (971), Grendel's giant claw, "that dear [meaning 'precious'] gift" (973), a kind of macabre gratuity for services rendered. Beowulf had, ironically speaking, tried to be the perfect host; but he wanted the entire ogre body as his tip . Grendel left only his claw as a cheap compensation.
Despite Unferth's jealous rant at the first banquet, the most serious embodiment of envy in the poem is Grendel. The ogre who has menaced Hrothgar's people for 12 years is envious of the Danes because he can never share in mankind's hope or joy. The monster's motivation is one of the few undeniably Christian influences in the epic. Grendel is a descendant of Cain, the biblical son of Adam and Eve who killed his brother Abel out of jealousy (Genesis 4). The legend is that the monsters of the earth are Cain's descendants and eternally damned. Grendel resents men because God blesses them but will never bless him. The bright lights and sounds of joy emanating from Hrothgar's magnificent mead-hall, Heorot, especially annoy the ogre.
The scop 's "Song of Creation" angers Grendel because it reminds him of the light and hope of God's creation and the loss he suffers because of Cain's sin. Grendel stomps up from the mere to devour Danes and rule nightly over Heorot as a form of revenge stemming from this envy.
Revenge serves as a motivating factor for several characters throughout the poem, initially stirring Grendel and his mother. Grendel seeks revenge upon mankind for the heritage that he has been dealt. He delights in raiding Heorot because it is the symbol of everything that he detests about men: their success, joy, glory, and favor in the eyes of God. Grendel's mother's revenge is more specific. She attacks Heorot because someone there killed her son. Although she is smaller and less powerful than Grendel, she is motivated by a mother's fury. When Beowulf goes after her in the mere, she has the added advantage of fighting him in her own territory. As she drags him into her cave beneath the lake, her revenge peaks because this is the very man who killed her son. Only Beowulf's amazing abilities as a warrior and the intervention of God or magic can defeat her.
Revenge also motivates the many feuds that the poet refers to and is a way of life — and death — for the Germanic tribes. Old enmities die hard and often disrupt attempts at peace, as the poet recognizes. Upon his return to Geatland, Beowulf (2020 ff.) speculates about a feud between Hrothgar's Scyldings and the Heathobards, a tribe in southern Denmark with whom Hrothgar hopes to make peace through the marriage of his daughter. Beowulf is skeptical, envisioning a renewal of hostilities. In fact, the Heathobards do later burn Heorot in events not covered by the poem but probably familiar to its audience. Another example of revenge overcoming peace occurs in the Finnsburh section (1068-1159).
Beowulf's final battle is the result of vengeance. A dangerous fire-dragon seeks revenge because a fugitive slave has stolen a valuable cup from the monster's treasure-hoard. His raids across the countryside include the burning of Beowulf's home. Beowulf then seeks his own revenge by going after the dragon.
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Beowulf quotes in beowulf.
Beowulf is the first text written in Old English. The described events date back to the 6 th century, but the manuscript appeared between the 8 th and 11 th century AD. It explains why the poem needs a translation to Modern English for an unprepared reader to understand it. Moreover, some literary devices sound “strange” for a contemporary ear. But it does not make the poem less valuable from a theoretical point of view.
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Is Beowulf an epic? Where does Beowulf take place? Find all the answers on this Beowulf analysis page! This article by Custom-Writing.org experts explores the context, style, and figurative language in Beowulf . The symbolism of the opening lines and some Biblical allusions will open the deep meaning of the poem. Finally, you will learn why Beowulf is so important for understanding medieval history.
📜 Is Beowulf an Epic?
Figurative language, foreshadowing.
- Biblical Allusions
- Opening Lines Analysis
Beowulf is an epic poem because the protagonist is a hero who travels to prove his strength in battles against demons and beasts. The narration starts “in the middle of things,” which is typical for ancient epics. It is not a lyric poem, although some scholars classify it as an elegy.
🦄 Beowulf Symbols
The most important symbols in Beowulf are Heorot (Horthgar’s hall) and Beowulf’s sword.
Heorot (Hrothgar’s Hall)
In Beowulf , Heorot is the seat of the Danish government and the residence of the king’s warriors. Hrothgar built it as the largest mead-hall ever known. It serves as a symbol of human culture and civilization, as well as the king’s power. In short, it represents everything positive in Beowulf.
In due time it happened Early ’mong men, that ’twas finished entirely, The greatest of hall-buildings; Heorot he named it The hall is completed, and is called Heort, or Heorot. Who wide-reaching word-sway wielded ’mong earlmen. Beowulf , part 2
Hrothgar’s hall is bright and warm. People use it to celebrate happy events, sing songs, and share food. Here the scop sings his songs about the past kings and heroes. This activity preserves the values and history of society. Meanwhile, the mead-hall contrasts with the darkness of Grendel ’s swamps. This juxtaposition underlines how critical it is to unite.
Throughout the poem , Beowulf uses 4 swords:
- The first is his own sword . It defeats the sea monsters , showing the superhuman strength of the hero.
- The second is Hrunting , which failed to pierce Grendel’s mother. Unferth lent it to Beowulf before the battle. The sword represents Unferth’s unwillingness to fight for his people, as he could have used it himself. Even provided that the gift was sincere, the blade is associated with moral weakness. That is why it was useless in battle.
- Beowulf found the third sword in Grendel’s mother’s hoard . The weapon was made by giants (who were Cain ’s descendants like Grendel and his mother). This relation means that evil can be defeated only with evil. Besides, the giant sword melted to the hilt when Beowulf decapitated Grendel’s corpse. Thus, the monster is dead, so no weapon is needed anymore.
- Nægling is supposedly the sword of Hrethel given to Beowulf by Hygelac. The hero uses this fourth sword against the dragon in his last battle . Beowulf is too strong, so the weapon falls into two parts. The sword symbolizes that real power does not require any additional objects.
🏰 Beowulf Setting
Where does beowulf take place.
The epic poem takes place in Scandinavia , in the territory of modern Denmark and Sweden. Geatland was where Beowulf came from. The Geats lived in the south of today’s Sweden. Hrothgar and his mead-hall Heorot were located on the Danish island, Sjaelland . However, the descriptions of the landscape in the poem are fictional. Most likely, the poet never visited Scandinavia.
When Does Beowulf Take Place?
Based on the descriptions from the text, scholars have found that some of the characters of the poem lived in the 6 th century. The tribal groups of Scyldings and Geats really existed around 500 AD. So, Hrothgar, Wiglaf, and Hygelac could have been historical figures. Besides, the feud of Geats and Swedes was a real fact.
Anglo-Saxon Culture in Beowulf
The Anglo-Saxons were Germanic tribes that migrated to Great Britain from the continent. They lived on the island between 450 and 1066 AD. Anglo-Saxon society was divided into working men, churchmen, and warriors. They were pagans and believed in lucky charms that protected them from evil spirits and illnesses.
Loyalty, bravery, duty, and honor were the critical Anglo-Saxon values in Beowulf . Warriors were the most respected people. They lived according to the code of conduct, and cowardice meant “a life of disgrace,” as the poem claims.
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Death is more pleasant To every earlman than infamous life is! Beowulf , part 39
The main characters of Beowulf were role models for the Anglo-Saxons. The protagonist was “The mildest of men and the gentlest, kindest to his people, and most eager for fame.” In combination with strength and bravery , it made him a perfect hero.
The custom of wergild in Beowulf is an important tradition. People could pay for injuries or death they caused to be rehabilitated. For instance, Grendel refused to pay wergild to Hrothgar.
In conclusion, Beowulf is an instructive poem that showed people the difference between good vs. evil. It answered the moral questions of gratitude, hospitality, courage, and selflessness.
📝 Beowulf Literary Analysis
A metaphor is a description of one thing as if it was something different. For this comparison, an author does not use the words “like” or “as.” Otherwise, it would be a simile .
- “He crept inside a narrow crack in the rock…Teeth tore at him as he wriggled along.” In this passage, the metaphor is created by comparing the rocky cave walls to teeth.
- “Twelve winters of grief for Hrothgar, king of the Danes, sorrow heaped at his door by hell-forged hands.” Here the narrator speaks about Grendel, comparing his hands to metal objects forged in hell.
- The line “That shepherd of evil, guardian of crime” compares Grendel to a shepherd or a guardian of malicious actions. By the way, the words “evil” and “crime” are used as personification because only living creatures require a shepherd or a guardian.
These poetic devices communicate a message beyond the literal meaning of the words. The following types of figurative language can be found in Beowulf.
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- Alliteration is created by the repetition of first consonants in successive words. It is a traditional device in oral storytelling. The ear-pleasing effect makes it easier to perceive and memorize information. E.g., “He b ound to the b ank then the b road- b osomed vessel.”
- Personification arises when an animal or object is endowed with human characteristics. E.g., “vengeful creatures, seated to banquet at bottom of sea,” which means the sea monsters.
- Onomatopoeia means words, the pronunciation of which is similar to the sounds they describe. E.g., “The dragon roared with anger.”
- A simile compares objects, people, or phenomena, using the words “like” or “as.” E.g., “His anger clouded the hearts of men like smoke .”
- Hyperbole is a literary exaggeration. E.g., Beowulf is “ the mightiest man on Earth,” which is surely an overstatement.
The imagery appears when an author uses words that address the reader’s senses. Below you can find examples of imagery in Beowulf .
- “The only sound was the roaring sea, the freezing waves.” “Fastened those claws in his fists till they cracked .” These lines appeal to the sense of hearing. The sounds transmit the reader inside the text, creating real-time experiences.
- “Sorrow heaped at his door.” The word “heaped” creates a visual picture of sorrow. Metaphors often represent visual imagery, like in this case.
Almost all events in Beowulf are foreshadowed . Many of them are predicted right before they happen. For the first readers (or listeners) of the poem, foreshadowing did not equal “a spoiler,” as we know it now. Medieval people were familiar with the described events and characters. That is why foreshadowing emphasizes the inevitability of fate, which is one of the poem’s central themes .
For example, the lines “He was sad at heart, unsettled yet ready, sensing his death” foreshadow Beowulf’s death. He knows that he is too old, but still, he wants to try and win. The reader is warned that this might be the last battle, and the protagonist might die.
Kennings in Beowulf
A kenning is a literary device traditional for Anglo-Saxon and Norse poetry. The definition of this stylistic device is a group of two words describing an object instead of a single-word noun. It is a “compressed metaphor.” For example, “whale-road” in Beowulf represents the sea. Kennings make the reader a part of the story, creating a visual experience.
The poem is full of kennings: “horse of the sea,” “sea monster’s home,” “ocean stallion,” “wave skimmer,” “sword’s dew,” “Midnight Stalker,” “Bone Crusher,” “sky-plague,” to name a few. Approximately one-third of Beowulf consists of kennings. The protagonist is rarely called by name. Instead, the narrator names him “The Geatish hero,” “Chief of the Strangers,” “the Lord of the Seamen,” and “the Son of Ecgtheow.” These phrases help us to visualize the character and make him memorable.
Biblical Allusions in Beowulf
An allusion is a reference to events, people, or things that are well-known to the reader. A medieval reader of Beowulf would find many more allusions in the text than we can. Most of the described events, including the kings’ deaths of scop’s stories, were familiar to the first readers.
But some allusions are identifiable for us as well. The poem recalls or hints at several Biblical stories, including the death of Christ , Cain and Abel , the ten commandments , and the Great Flood .
Some pagan traditions also allude to the Bible. In the Book of Exodus, God tells people through Moses not to have other gods before him. This passage represents the author’s disapproval of Paganism: “Sometimes they sacrificed to the old stone gods… hoping for Hell’s support, the Devil’s guidance.”
What do Opening Lines of Beowulf Mean?
In Beowulf, the opening lines tell us a legendary tale of the first great Danish king, Shield Sheafson. His heroic deeds set the mood or the entire poem. Sheafson was an orphan found in the sea but grew to become the terror of all the other tribes. Then the author describes his pompous funeral. The king was put in a ship full of treasures and set out to the sea.
The narrator draws a genealogical tree from Shield Sheafson to Hrothgar, who eventually becomes the King of the Danes. Thus, the text starts by explaining the Hrothgar’s noble and heroic ancestry. This lineage justifies Beowulf’s loyalty and desire to assist a great king in defeating the evil.
The opening lines introduce the heroic code as the central theme of the poem.
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- Symbolism in Beowulf | Symbols, Importance & Examples
- Where is Beowulf set? What’s the significance of that setting?
- The History Behind Beowulf
- Beowulf – World History Encyclopedia
- Beowulf – The Three Evil and Powerful Monsters | Great Works
- Beowulf | Figurative Language, Analysis & Examples
- Grendel as a Personification of Evil in “Beowulf” Poem
- “Beowulf”: Cultural Elements of the Anglo-Saxon Piece of Literature
- Beowulf, The National Epic of the Anglo-Saxons
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In a work of fiction , a writer uses different characters to evolve a story and convey his idea through their personality. Without characters and their development, the story cannot progress. Beowulf ’s characters have life-affirming values that readers can take away while reading this epic story. Some of its memorable characters have been analyzed below. The quotations used in character analysis are borrowed from the translation Beowulf by Seamus Heaney.
Characters in Beowulf
Beowulf is the protagonist of the epic poem and demonstrates traits of heroism and extreme physical strength. He fights the demon, Grendel, then kills his mother and finally fights the dragon. Beowulf also displays other character traits such as fearlessness when he attacks Grendel. He also shows his pride and courtesy when he speaks to King Danes and other courtiers. He is loyal to Hygelac’s son when he faces the choice. In the third battle with the dragon, he once again displays his extreme courage and bravery and fights it until his death. He then hands over the kingdom of Geats to his comrade Wiglaf, advising him to care for the kingdom and people.
King Hrothgar is the second major character, living in peace after uniting the tribes which were at war with his ancestors. He is the second son of the King Healfdene and younger brother of Heorogar, who ruled Denmark after his father. King Hrothgar is brave, generous and honest and has won battles to bring peace in his land. When Grendel appears and terrorizes his people, Beowulf extends his help to Hrothgar. In the epic poem, he is most famous for building the popular hall, Heorot where Grendel, the monster, killed the Danes.
Grendel is the third most important character and one of three antagonists. Grendel is a monster and descendant of Cain, from the Bible. He is capable of thinking and acting like a human being. He first appears in Hrothgar’s hall of Heorot and kills several Danes merely for singing. Beowulf then comes to Denmark and offers to help Hrothgar to get rid of Grendel. Grendel is surprised to face stiff resistance from Beowulf, who also tears his arm, mortally wounding him. Grendel then flees, and his corpse is later found in the swamp where Beowulf severs his head and ends his terror.
Mother of Grendel
Grendel’s mother is a second antagonist in the epic story. She doesn’t have a name but is commonly addressed as a monster and Grendel’s mother. She attacks Heorot hall to exact revenge for her son’s murder. Beowulf is again assigned to find her. He discovers that she lives in a cave under the lake and is stuck a nine-hours fierce battle with Grendel’s mother. After knowing that his sword, Hrunting, cannot kill Grendel’s mother, Beowulf finds an ancient sword that he uses to kill her. Despite her importance, it is very interesting that she has not been named by the anonymous author of this epic poem.
The dragon is the last antagonist in the epic, Beowulf, who becomes the reason for Beowulf’s death and almost destroys the Geats race. He appears when Beowulf is older and had been ruling the Geats for several years. He has brought peace and happiness to his people. However, one day, a slave enters the lair of the dragon and steals its cup. The dragon wakes up and starts burning homes, killing everyone in the path while searching for the thief. Beowulf takes his thanes and starts his search for the dragon. Finally, he finds it in its lair and fights him with his young companion, Wiglaf. Beowulf is fatally wounded after killing the dragon and dies.
Although a minor character, Scyld Scefing (pronounced as Shield Sheffing) opens this old English epic and leaves it in the middle when he is followed by the king and caring princes and his progeny. As the founding father of the Danes, he conquered other surrounding tribes in battles. He was also very caring and loving towards his people, providing them everything abundantly. His tribe mourns his death and hands his casket over to the waves of the sea with treasures to pay him high respect.
Although Unferth is a minor character, he proves to be a good foil to Beowulf. He is the son of Ecglaf and follows Hrothgar after him. Not only is he a poor warrior, but also lacks various chivalrous codes of that time. In the beginning, he appears to be jealous of Beowulf for upholding moral values and demonstrating extreme boldness. Beowulf later accuses him of killing his brother after facing his taunts about losing the swimming match against Breca. However, Beowulf gives an exact account of that swimming adventure . He also tries to teach him a lesson and indirectly making Unferth realize his mistake. Later, Unferth shows his generosity by awarding his family sword to Beowulf.
Although Wiglaf is a minor character as compared to various other characters. He wins significance for his role of standing beside Beowulf during his final battle with the dragon. He is from the kingdom of the Geats and relative of Beowulf and follows him until his death. Later, as advised by Beowulf, he rules the Geats justly for many years. However, the kingdom is destined to witness their end during his time.
Ecgtheow is a minor character, and yet very important, as he is Beowulf’s father. He was involved in tribal feuds for killing people from the enemy tribes. He sought refuge with Hrothgar and pay indemnity. Beowulf later serves Hrothgar to show gratitude and to repay the kindness shown by Hrothgar and for helping his father. Beowulf also praises him and feels proud to be his son.
Cain’s character is only discussed in the epic story and is very important. Grendel and his mother are said to be Cain’s descendant. Cain is also the brother of Abel whom he kills. Beowulf states him as an “outlawed / condemned as outcasts,” for the Lord had cursed Cain as a penalty for killing Abel.
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Home — Essay Samples — Literature — Beowulf — The Poem “Beowulf”: Literary Analysis
The Poem "Beowulf": Literary Analysis
- Categories: Beowulf Literature Review Poetry
About this sample
- Alexander, M. J. (1987). Beowulf and the Grendel-kin: Politics and poetry in eleventh-century England. Speculum, 62(4), 771-782.
- Baker, P. (1998). Beowulf: basic readings. Routledge.
- Chickering, H. (2002). Beowulf: A dual-language edition. Anchor Books.
- Donoghue, D. (2006). Beowulf. Norton.
- Heaney, S. (2000). Beowulf: A new verse translation. W. W. Norton & Company.
- Hill, T. D. (1996). The textual history of Beowulf. Cambridge University Press.
- Kiernan, K. S. (2003). Beowulf and the Beowulf manuscript. University of Michigan Press.
- Mitchell, B. (1998). Beowulf: An edition with relevant shorter texts. Blackwell Publishers.
- North, R. (1996). Heathen gods in Old English Literature. Cambridge University Press.
- Orchard, A. (1995). Pride and prodigies: studies in the monsters of the Beowulf-manuscript. University of Toronto Press.
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From Little Simz to Beowulf: a complete guide to this week’s entertainment
The rapper and actor sets out on her biggest UK tour to date, while a sword-swinging Old English saga bursts on to the streets of Yorkshire
- 1 Going out: Cinema
- 2 Going out: Gigs
- 3 Going out: Art
- 4 Going out: Stage
- 5 Staying in: Streaming
- 6 Staying in: Games
- 7 Staying in: Albums
- 8 Staying in: Brain food
Going out: Cinema
How to Have Sex Out now The continental coming-of-age holiday is a rite for British teens every bit as sacred and messy as US colleges’ spring break road trips to Tijuana. In Molly Manning Walker’s award-winning feature debut, a trio of teen girls experience the light and dark sides of drinking, clubbing and hooking up in Malia.
Fingernails Out now Taking the idea of love being based on chemistry to its logical endpoint, this drama takes place in a world where attraction and compatibility are literally calculated. Jessie Buckley and Jeremy Allen White are a long-term “certified” couple, with Riz Ahmed as the attractive curveball who might just prove the scientists wrong.
London Korean film festival Various venues, to 16 November The biggest programme of Korean cinema outside of Korea returns with more than 25 feature films and three nights of shorts, including the critically acclaimed Riceboy Sleeps by Anthony Shim, about a Korean mother raising her child in 1990s Canada, and mystery thriller Dr Cheon and the Lost Talisman, based on the Korean webtoon Possessed.
On the Adamant Out now Awarded the Golden Bear by a jury presided over by Kristen Stewart at the Berlin film festival, this stately documentary from the French film director and actor Nicolas Philibert follows various patients and caregivers at a psychiatric centre with a difference: the entire thing is floating in the middle of the River Seine in Paris. Catherine Bray
Going out: Gigs
London jazz festival The “father of Ethio-jazz” Mulatu Astatke is a fittingly open-minded curtain-raiser for the 31st London jazz festival, which spans genres, generations and cultures. There are more than 30 gigs, including funk icons the Headhunters, on the opening night alone. John Fordham
50 Cent 9 November to 21 November; tour starts Glasgow What Up Gangsta hitmaker Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson III brings his the Final Lap tour to the UK. Celebrating the 20th anniversary of his game-changing debut, Get Rich or Die Tryin’, expect a litany of hits, some chest-beating machismo and a wide selection of caps. Support comes from Busta Rhymes. Michael Cragg
Little Simz 5 to 11 November; tour starts Manchester More than a decade into her career, 29-year-old Brit award-winning rapper, singer and actor Little Simz heads out on her biggest headline tour to date. Surprise-released at the end of last year, fifth album No Thank You found the north Londoner exploring mental health and the music industry. MC
The Nutcracker & Iolanta Royal Albert Hall, London, 8 November The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra recreates the premieres of Tchaikovsky’s final ballet score and final opera, first given as a double bill in St Petersburg in 1892. Vasily Petrenko conducts the second act of The Nutcracker before a semi-staging of Iolanta, with Maria Motolygina in the title role of the blind princess. Andrew Clements
Going out: Art
RB Kitaj Piano Nobile, London, to 26 January This painter who was part of – and helped come up with the idea for – the “school of London” was a contemporary of David Hockney, Leon Kossoff and Frank Auerbach. His paintings ambitiously mix contemporary settings, pop immediacy and history. Is he ripe for rediscovery, 16 years after his death?
Women in Revolt! Tate Britain, London, 8 November to 7 April This historical survey of feminist art in Britain from the 1970s to 1990 shows how conceptualism interfolded with activism in the era of Greenham Common. Artists include Ingrid Pollard, Mary Kelly and Lubaina Himid. It was an era when dangerous thinking produced brilliant work by Helen Chadwick and Mona Hatoum among others.
Artes Mundi 10 Various venues, Wales, to 25 February The exhibition for the biennial Welsh international contemporary art prize takes place across galleries the length and breadth of Wales from Mostyn in Llandudno to Cardiff’s National Museum. Artists include Mounira Al Solh, Rushdi Anwar, Alia Farid, Nguyễn Trinh Thi, Taloi Havini, Carolina Caycedo and Naomi Rincón Gallardo.
John Craxton Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, to 21 April Idyllic paintings of Greece by an Englishman abroad. Craxton was a talented postwar figurative painter who had an intimate relationship with the young Lucian Freud. But he found artistic happiness and inspiration in the sun-kissed islands of Greece where he painted young sailors, fishermen and sunsets. You can’t blame him. Jonathan Jones
Going out: Stage
BalletBoyz: England on Fire Sadler’s Wells, London, 8 to 11 November Inspired by the book of the same name by Stephen Ellcock and Mat Osman, BalletBoyz amasses creative talent in a cross-genre snapshot of British culture from folk to punk to jazz. More than 40 artists are involved, including choreographers Russell Maliphant and Holly Blakey and musicians Kami Thompson and Cassie Kinoshi. Lyndsey Winship
Paddy Young Soho theatre, London, 9 to 11 November; 15 to 20 January Young had a stonking Edinburgh thanks to the success of his debut show Hungry, Horny, Scared, which milked laughs from his Scarborough upbringing and “that there” London’s ridiculous rental market – catnip for anyone who spent their 20s in a freezing hovel with only an overheating laptop for company. Rachel Aroesti
Manic Street Creature Southwark Playhouse, London, to 11 November The Olivier-nominated Maimuna Memon brings her semi-autobiographical mix of theatre and gig to London after an award-winning Edinburgh run last year. Memon plays Ria, a musician trying to finish an album that charts the rise and fall of a troubled relationship. Beautiful and brutal in equal measure. MC
Beowulf Starts Byram Arcade, Huddersfield, 8 to 11 November A promenade adaptation of Beowulf, adapted by five Yorkshire-based poets. Created by Proper Job Theatre Company, the show encompasses a 60-strong community choir and a Viking procession. Miriam Gillinson
Staying in: Streaming
Culprits Disney+, 8 November Of all the phenomena film and TV are determined to overrepresent, the heist has to be up there. This new series from director J Blakeson (I Care A Lot) is set post-robbery, as the top criminal crew responsible find themselves pursued by an assassin. Gemma Arterton, Eddie Izzard star.
The Buccaneers Apple TV+, 8 November Anyone who found the rollicking Bridgerton too staid will be all over this new YA-vibed period drama about a group of American teens invited to 1870s London for the match-making “season”. It’s an adaptation of Edith Wharton’s unfinished final novel by comedian Katherine Jakeways.
Shakespeare: Rise of A Genius BBC One & iPlayer, 8 November, 9pm It’s been 400 years, but we’re still not bored of the Bard. This three-part documentary - the “centrepiece” of the Beeb’s celebration of Shakespeare’s first folio - aims to unearth new insights into his life and times with input from actors (Helen Mirren, Brian Cox) and academics (James Shapiro, Ewan Fernie).
Hullraisers Channel 4, 9 November, 10pm A second series for this (you guessed it!) Hull-set sitcom, which was originally developed by the city’s No 1 comic ambassador, Lucy Beaumont. Now left in the hands of Caroline Moran (Henpocalypse!) and Anne-Marie O’Connor, it continues to chronicle the uproariously messy entanglements of besties Toni, Rana and Paula. RA
Staying in: Games
Fashion Dreamer Out now, Nintendo Switch This Shibuya fashion simulator is like a safe non-toxic version of FashionTok for style-conscious kids and teens (and, let’s be honest, also adults seeking refuge from IRL judgment).
Football Manager 2024 Out 6 November, PlayStation 5, Xbox, Nintendo Switch, Mac, PC, iOS, Android Carry your addiction over from the previous season or start afresh with this long-standing king of football-management simulators. Keza MacDonald
Staying in: Albums
Kevin Abstract – Blanket Out now The erstwhile Brockhampton frontman releases his new solo album, the first since 2019’s Arizona Baby. Sidestepping the hip-hop sound of his former band, the scratchier, more guitar-leaning, Blanket recalls Sunny Day Real Estate, Nirvana and Modest Mouse, scene-setting lead single Blanket being a two-minute blast of alt-rock.
Bar Italia – The Twits Out now Feted London-based trio Bar Italia, AKA Nina Cristante, Sam Fenton and Jezmi Tarik Fehmi, return with their second album of 2023. As with May’s Tracey Denim, The Twits is a heady mix of post-punk, shoegaze, 90s alt-rock and grunge, delivered with interplaying vocals from all three.
Jungkook – Golden Out now With his K-pop boyband juggernaut BTS on hiatus, vocalist Jungkook unleashes this debut solo album, featuring production input from Diplo and BloodPop. While recent Top 5 single 3D channels Justified-era Justin Timberlake, this summer’s UK garage-aping Seven updates Craig David’s sex-rota anthem, 7 Days.
Tkay Maidza – Sweet Justice Out now Australian singer and rapper Maidza adds 14 more DayGlo slabs of top-tier R&B and hip-hop to her discography via this pulsating second album. Recent single Out of Luck, featuring Amber Mark and Lolo Zouaï, is all featherlight disco ball shimmers, while the Flume-assisted Silent Assassin is a playful yet bowel-rupturing banger. MC
Staying in: Brain food
Escaping Twin Flames Netflix, 8 November Following their series on the NXIVM cult, film-makers Cecilia Peck and Inbal B Lessner investigate another worrying organisation: Twin Flames Universe. It is promoted as a community of singles looking for unique soulmates, but here former members recount their indoctrination.
Ordinary Unhappiness Podcast Academics Abby Kluchin and Patrick Blanchfield host this fascinating series, viewing culture through psychoanalysis. For those looking for more in-depth theory, start with their episode on writing the “trauma plot”.
Great Books Explained YouTube The host of Great Art Explained, James Payne, presents his new channel analysing the world’s greatest works of literature in 15 minutes or less. We begin with the labyrinthine story and controversial afterlife of James Joyce’s Ulysses. Ammar Kalia
- Going out, staying in