Approaches to Teaching Beowulf - Beowulf and Allegory

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Beowulf and Allegory

Beowulf and Christian Allegory: An Interpretation of Unferth Morton W. Bloomfield

Mr. Maltese

True allegory is the personification of an abstract quality.

Beowulf is a Christian allegory. Nineteenth century romantic and nationalistic scholarship (particularly German) over-emphasized the pagan aspects of Beowulf.

Bloomfield contends that the Beowulf poet, a Christian, made Unferth (his name means mar-peace) symbolize discord (Unferth who murdered his brother, eventually seized the throne according to Scandinavian sources). Hence  Wealhtheow's fears.

Unferth accuses Beowulf of foolishness in a swimming match with Breca years before—therefore, Beowulf cannot defeat Grendel. Beowulf accuses Unferth of drunkenness, reminds the assembly that Unferth failed to kill Grendel and that Unferth murdered his brother. Later Wealhtheow, Hrothgar's queen, reveals her fears about her children's ambition.

Unferth makes his final appearance when he presents Beowulf with his special sword, Hrunting, as a sign of reconciliation and submission—Unferth recognizes a superior being in Beowulf. Unferth, pagan Disco•dia, submits to the new religion sweeping the poet's country. Unferth is the opponent and the foil of the hero; he enhances his might; he is proof of his moderating faith and glory.

The pagan word “wyrd” from which we get the word “weird” means fate.

I refer to the Song of Roland (capacity for hyperbole); exaggeration in storytelling was the norm….sort of like modern day generals overestimating how many of the enemy their armies killed.

The attitude which prevailed in the middle ages was that this life did not matter. Since people rarely lived past 35, why spend a great deal of energy on success in this life, when we should all be focusing on preparing for eternity?  This helps explain the dark ages and the relative lack of human progress.  Who cares about spending a great deal of time building a better mouse trap when there was praying to be done?  A person with arthritis was considered to be wise, because it takes a number of years to have arthritic knuckles---like the age of 40!



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