Further reading

Bjork, Robert E., and John D. Niles, eds. A Beowulf Handbook. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997. Damico, Helen. Beowulf's Wealhtheow and the Valkyrie Tradition. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1984. Hill, John M. The Cultural World in Beowulf. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995. Mitchell, Bruce, and Fred C. Robinson, eds. "Beowulf": An Edition with Relevant Shorter Texts. Rev. ed. Oxford: Blackwell, 2006.

Niles, John D. Beowulf: The Poem and its Tradition. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1983. Overing, Gillian R. Language, Sign, and Gender in Beowulf. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1990.

Shippey, T. A., and Andreas Haarder, eds. Beowulf: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge, 1998.

Shaun F. D. Hughes

BEOWULF-POET The Beowulf-poet is the anonymous author of the English epic Beowulf. The question of authorship of the poem Beowulf is to a significant degree also connected with the vexed questions of date, audience, and provenance. However, a few issues may be outlined.

The first set of issues involves asking whether the poet is a single writer or whether the poem is the result of multiple composers. Criticism of the poem has vacillated to a great degree between these two views. At the beginning of modern Beowulf criticism, many attempted to locate a specific poet or at least a tradition in which that poet worked. Such attempts were based on the belief that the poem was written not long after the death of Hygelac (ca. 521) and that it was written during a time of high learning in Anglo-Saxon England. Thus, an author who lived sometime in the second half of the seventh century was suggested, whether Caedmon or one of his companions north of the Hum-ber; someone in Theodore's Canterbury; or Aldhelm of Malmesbury, south of the river. In reaction against this view, there is what has come to be called the ballad theory—that is, the poem was not composed by a single person but rather, like a ballad or oral epic, was composed, retold, added to, and subtracted from in every performance until someone wrote down a performance, perhaps at the instigation of a king, lord, or other nobleman.

The result of these two competing theories was a synthesis of them. There was an "author," but at the end of a long process of oral composition. This author gave the poem its current shape and Christian overlay. Other theorists suggested a reviser of a Danish original, and there are similar attempts to mediate between the two poles of interpretation.

Since 1900, some form of a single-author theory has held the majority of the field. The question then turns on whether the poet was a Christian skaldic (Scandinavian) singer of tales, and so probably a layperson, or, rather, a learned cleric steeped in both Christian and pre-Christian traditions. However, the Christian elements in the poem, as well as the fact that throughout the Anglo-Saxon period the best opportunities for writing occurred in the context of the cloister, strongly suggest a clerical environment. Further, many have pointed out the familiarity the poet seems to have with Christian Latin sources, further indicating a clerical author.

See also Anglo-Saxon poetry, Cotton Vitellius A.xv.

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