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12 - Beowulf: a poem in our time

from II - EARLY ENGLISH LITERATURE

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 February 2013

Clare A. Lees
Affiliation:
King's College London
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Summary

Critical interest in Beowulf has reached, it would appear, an all-time high. The scope, variety and sheer volume of scholarship focused on this old poem continue to testify to its enduring appeal. In addition to burgeoning scholarship in traditional fields of inquiry, there are contemporary critical and interdisciplinary studies spanning postmodern to premodern (and back again), new translations of various kinds, including films and mixed media performances, and handbooks and companion volumes to help us interpret all of these. The reissue of Frederick Klaeber’s profoundly influential edition of the poem contains sections of ‘interpretation’ along with a welter of expansions and additions to Klaeber’s insights. It is worth remembering, however, that when his first edition appeared in 1922, ‘Klaeber had already begun work on revisions.’ He would continue with two more editions through the many personal hardships and pragmatic difficulties occasioned by the Second World War until his death in 1954. The tide of continuity runs deep, and runs both ways: the poem continues to engage us and to challenge us to find new ways to ask familiar questions. The editors of the latest edition of Klaeber’s work suggest that ‘perhaps the most important audience of all is the implied (or fictional) audience that is generated by the rhetorical action of the text itself with each and every reading of it’. What then remains to be said for Beowulf as a poem in our time, a poem for our time?

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2012

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References

Beowulf and Grendel (Gunnarsson, 2005)
13th Warrior (McTiernan, 1999)
Beowulf (Zemeckis, 2008)
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