The Cultural World in Beowulf | 2nd Edition
AUTHOR: Hill, John M.
PUBLISHER: University of Toronto Press
Also available at Amazon.com
Beowulf is one of the most important poems in Old English and the first major poem in European vernacular language. It dramatizes behavior in a complex social world--a martial, aristocratic world that we often distort by imposing on it our own biases and values. In this cross-disciplinary study, John Hill looks at Beowulf from a comparative ethnological point of view. He provides a thorough examination of the socio-cultural dimensions of the text and compares the social milieu of Beowulf to that of similarly organized cultures. Through examination of historical analogs in northern Europe and France, as well as past and present societies on the Pacific rim in Southeast Asia, a complex and extended society is uncovered and an astonishingly different Beowulf is illuminated.
The study is divided into five major essays: on ethnology and social drama, the temporal world, the legal world, the economy of honour, and the psychological world. Hill presents a realm where genealogies incorporate social and political statements: in this world gift giving has subtle and manipulative dimensions, both violent and peaceful exchange form a political economy, acts of revenge can be baleful or have jural force, and kinship is as much a constructible fact as a natural one. Family and kinship relations, revenge themes, heroic poetry, myth, legality, and political discussions all bring the importance of the social institutions in Beowulf to the foreground, allowing for a fuller understanding of the poems and its implications for Anglo-Saxon society.
PUBLICATION DATE: 2/10/1995
CATEGORY: Literary Criticism, Poetry