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ENGL 221- Week One Notes

by: Shelby Flippen

ENGL 221- Week One Notes ENGL 221

Marketplace > Towson University > Foreign Language > ENGL 221 > ENGL 221 Week One Notes
Shelby Flippen
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Notes for Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
British Literature to 1798
K. Attie
Class Notes
Beowulf Sir Gawain and the Green Knight ENGL 221 old English Grendel materialism agency knight king Arthur Bertilak




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This 4 page Class Notes was uploaded by Shelby Flippen on Monday February 1, 2016. The Class Notes belongs to ENGL 221 at Towson University taught by K. Attie in Summer 2015. Since its upload, it has received 76 views. For similar materials see British Literature to 1798 in Foreign Language at Towson University.

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Date Created: 02/01/16
1 Beowulf  1 .     Brief Background  Old English was preserved until the Norman Conquest of 1066. ­ French speaking people infused (or corrupted, depending on your point of view)  the English language.    Monasteries were the main centers of book production  SEE INTRODUCTION IN BOOK  2 .     Broad Themes  Christian theology confronting pagan tradition  Female agency (or lack thereof)  The power of narrative to immortalize­ the hero lives on through storytelling   Materialism (treasure and word hoard) vs. narrative power  3 .     Theme: Pagan Hero versus Christian Ethics  Pagan: Beowulf’s boastfulness (or rather, honesty), and desire for revenge  (Weregild), materialism  Christian: humility, desire to forgive, focusing on the being  4 .     Recurrences  Metapoetics: poetry about poetry (meta: of the self, self­referential)  Alliteration: repetition of initial or mediate consonant sounds ­ “I could never bring it to bear in battle” (1660)  Word­hoard concept: words only have value in circulation ­ Reinforced bond of kinship (remembrance, pride)  5 .     Beowulf   Heroic traits/tendencies ­ Physical strength, great pride, confidence, accomplishes great feats (such as  battling sea monsters) etc.  Pride and closeness to his lineage/people ­ Loyalty  ­ Desire to exact Weregild or man­price (Anglo­Saxon and Germanic belief that if a person dies, the victim’s side is allowed to exact revenge through paying or  slaying someone with the same/similar rank)  Jesus/Christ­like figure ­ Does not have a wife: could tempt him to submit to bodily sinful desires  ­ Mother is Mary­like ­ 12 followers who ultimately betray him in battle (leave out of fear) ­ Wiglaf washing Beowulf’s wounds  6 .     Grendel   Sinful (similarly to descriptions of non­Geats) ­ Linked to Cain ­ Isolated (outcast from the kinship that Beowulf possesses)  2 ­ Carnal, passionate desires: sex, alcohol (for Geats’ rivals), and food (they literally eat their fleshy desires) Sin/Christian Weakness  7 .     Narrator  Educates the reader not to be a pagan, despite their good traits ­ Pities them and is somewhat condescending ­ BUT romanticizes their culture  8 .     Theme: the Power of Narration  People may be almost inexplicably linked with objects  ­ BUT one needs to tell own story rather than remembering the objects  Focus on Beowulf’s non­biological son (Wiglaf) and his potential to continue the  story  Christian Moral: Narrative matters over materials because one’s story will live on if  circulated well enough   More pagan moral: Legacy is immeasurable and will encourage honor and kinship  ­ They want to “cherish his memory”  9 .     Theme: Flaw in Materialism   Descriptions of weapons: great descriptions of powerful weapons BUT they often fail (vs. actual people such as Wiglaf)  ­ Example: Beowulf’s sword failed when he fought Grendel’s mom, so he had to  use the sword by giants  Earthly existence and possessions will fade and one shouldn’t want to be remembered by it ­ Example: Beowulf’s men buried him with the horde so that they would remember the person, not the stuff   Christian Moral: don’t put faith in material things  10 .   Theme: Female Agency  The Queen ­ Some agency: not intimidated by her husband’s commands ­ Wise: knows her husband and how to talk to him ­ Focused on Motherly role/devotion to son  Grendel’s Mother ­ Motherly role/devotion to son ­ BUT Manly: exacts man price/revenge: commitment to proper code of ethics vs.  focus on grief ­ Devotion to kin elicits sympathy for the “fatherless creatures” (1345­1360) and  creates an abnormal lack of structure for social order Sir Gawain and the Green Knight 3  1 .     Themes  Knightly religious quest ­ Inward battles of morality and spirituality (as opposed to Beowulf’s physical  exertion)   Power of written text as opposed to merely narration ­ Expresses the transition from oral to written: “trips from the tongue; and as it has  been inked” (32­33)   2 .     Style  Heavy alliteration ­ More obvious than in Beowulf  ABAB rhyme scheme ­ Give it a sing­song quality  Early Modern English style­ translation  Play on words: game  ­ Wild animals to be hunted as opposed to a fun activity  3 .     Female Presence  Morgan Le Fay ­ Agency: her power transforms the Green Knight  Bertilak’s wife ­ Unclear Agency: ambiguous seduction (either acting upon own desires or merely  obeying her husband’s wishes)  4 .     Gawain  Model of courtesy (of the royal court)  ­ Projects proper knightly behavior for the honor of his king (Arthur) and the queen  Humble ­ Example: Claims he is the weakest knight when the Green Knight first asks for a  volunteer: “loss of my life would be the least lamented” (355)  Kind and Pure (mostly) ­ Respectfully decline’s Bertilak’s wife’s advances, but offers to serve as her knight  Religious figure (similarly to Beowulf)  ­ Materialism and religion: Excess armor is an outward sign of inward grace  because one needs spiritual protection  a. Walks to church with his armor b. Takes off his armor to be slain c. Details on armor: pentangle (symbol of eternity) on one side, and the  image of the Virgin Mary on the other side ­ Path to righteousness  a. Lone figure b. Battles animals (but does not hunt them) and avoids sexual desires   description of the hunt and preparation of meat is meant to deter the  reader from such acts, so that they will not have a tainted soul (as opposed to Beowulf’s focus on dying from this event) 4  5 .     Gawain’s Journey Expressed Through the Animals  Increasingly less gruesome description of the hunt and preparation  ­ Deer: innocent a. Gawain receives one kiss  ­ Boar: losing his will to fight seduction somewhat b. Gawain receives two kisses ­ Fox: cunning c. Gawain receives three kisses and withholds having the supposedly enchanted  gift  Coincides with strikes at the end ­ 1  strike: does not hit ­ 2  strike: does not hit rd ­ 3  strike: draws blood


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