The <i>Beowulf</i> manuscript reconsidered: Reading <i>Beowulf</i> in late Anglo-Saxon England
History And Criticism
Literature And Society
African languages and literature
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AbstractThis article defines a hypothetical late Anglo-Saxon audience: a multi-layered Christian community with competing ideologies, dialects and mythologies. It discusses how that audience might have received the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf.<br /><br /> The immediate textual context of the poem constitutes an intertextual microcosm for Beowulf. The five texts in the codex provide interesting clues to the common concerns, conflicts and interests of its audience. The organizing principle for the grouping of this disparate mixture of Christian and secular texts with Beowulf was not a sense of canonicity or the collating of monuments with an aesthetic autonomy from cultural conditions or social production. They were part of the so-called “popular culture” and provide one key to the “meanings” that interested the late Anglo-Saxon audience, who would delight in the poet=s alliteration, rhythms, word-play, irony and understatement, descriptions, aphorisms and evocation of loss and transience. The poem provided cultural, historical and spiritual data and evoked a debate about pertinent moral issues. The monsters, for instance, are symbolic of problems of identity construction and establish a polarity between “us” and the “Other”, but at the same time question such binary thinking. Finally, the poem works towards an audience identity whose values emerge from the struggle within the poem and therefore also encompass the monstrous, the potentially disruptive, the darkness within B that which the poem attempts to repress.