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The Narrative Structure of the Finnsburh Episode in Beowulf

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image of Amsterdamer Beiträge zur älteren Germanistik

The Finnsburh Episode in Beowulf is a story within a story, the re-enactment of a lay sung by Hroðgar’s minstrel in Heorot. It concerns events seemingly of the mid-fifth century, beyond living memory for the imagined listeners. For them, the story could have been kept alive only as oral tradition, and must have been so for centuries by the time Beowulf was composed. Accordingly, scholars have been apt to treat the Episode as a report of a lay or lays, and in some respects archaic. The view that it is summary or otherwise defective has been encouraged by its textual difficulties, and until recently its internal structure has been little regarded by mainstream commentaries. The present analysis shows the Episode to be internally coherent, an intricately wrought composition in Biblical style; its form and implicit values are those of a culture which can reflect on Finnsburh and Heorot, but is not condemned to relive their experience. The Episode is the Beowulf-poet’s making throughout, and here (as not for the first time) it is held to be integral to the form and meaning of Beowulf.

Affiliations: 1: Universität OsloNorwegen


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