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  • Print publication year: 2014
  • Online publication date: October 2014

Introduction

Summary

From the publication of the poem's editio princeps in 1815 to the emergence of the present collection two centuries later, few topics in Anglo-Saxon studies have generated as much speculation and scholarship as the dating of Beowulf. Marshaling disparate forms of evidence and argumentation, scholars have assigned dates to Beowulf that range from the seventh to the eleventh century. Various individuals have been unpersuasively identified as the author of Beowulf and dozens of kings, clerics, and contexts have been associated with the poem's genesis. Scholarship on the dating of Beowulf is markedly uneven in quality: alongside sober and thoughtful argumentation, there has been a great deal of improbable hypothesizing about the author of the poem or the milieu in which it was composed. Awareness of the qualitative differences in the scholarly literature is tacitly registered in the relative frequency with which publications are cited, but these differences have rarely received explicit discussion. This introduction to the dating of Beowulf controversy examines the changing standards of evidence, methodology, and argumentation that have attended this topic, particularly in the past thirty years. The dating of Beowulf has not been a static or monolithic subject, but has undergone considerable change in the disputes it connotes and the practices it encompasses. In the following account, emphasis will be given to the reasons for prevailing opinions rather than to the multiplicity of opinions as such.