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Epic of Beowulf – Themes of Beowulf

The Themes of Beowulf

George Clark in “The Hero and the Theme” comments on his insights into the theme of the Old English poem Beowulf:

The poem opens with an illustration and assertion that success is achieved only by praiseworthy deeds and closes commending the hero’s pursuit of fame. . . .The poem’s creation of Beowulf gives its theme ethical force. . . .The poem’s three great stories lead the audience from an assured vision of a benevolently ordered world to the existential world of its minor stories where only the heroic will can achieve a lasting value, the memory and fame of praiseworthy deeds (271).

This essay will treat some of the many interpretations concerning the themes of the poem.

Interpretations of Beowulf ‘s theme vary widely. Ian Duncan in “Epitaphs for Aeglaecan: Narrative Strife in Beowulf” states his interpretation for the main theme in the poem:

Arguments for any interpretation of Beowulf have therefore described discursive configurations within the poem which have then been projected outside it to map, explicitly or otherwise, such a context of tradition, genre, ethos, Weltanschauung. The trouble is that the less aware the critic that this is his procedure, the more likely is he to be not “finding” but forming those very intratextual orders by projecting into the poem his own historical assumptions or the contemporary ideological and generic habits of his own reading. . . .Perhaps the central interpretive claim for B is that the monsters are “evil” and the hero “good,” and that the poem is articulated by a thematic conflict between good and evil. . . . (111-112).

H. L. Rogers in “Beowulf’s Three Great Fights” expresses his opinion as a literar…

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…rle, John. “The Conflicting Demands of Heroic Strength and Kingly Wisdom.” In Readings on Beowulf, edited by Stephen P. Thompson. San Diego: Greenhaven Press,1998.

McNamee, M. B. “Beowulf – an Allegory of Salvation.” In An Anthology of Beowulf Criticism, edited by Lewis E. Nicholson. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1963.

Rogers, H. L. “Beowulf’s Three Great Fights.” In An Anthology of Beowulf Criticism, edited by Lewis E. Nicholson. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1963.

Shippey, T.A.. “The World of the Poem.” In Beowulf – Modern Critical Interpretations, edited by Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.

Tolkien, J.R.R.. “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics.” In Beowulf – Modern Critical Interpretations, edited by Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.

Dr. Faustus Essay: Faustus’ Changing Relationship with the Audience

Doctor Faustus’ Changing Relationship with the Audience

Any good drama will have interesting and multi-faceted characters; some go a step further by developing some of those characters throughout the story, using the events of the plot to change them in various ways. The audience (in the case of a play) follows the characters throughout, watching as they move away from their originally crafted personalities and become something different. Naturally, during this period, the audience’s opinion of the characters will change, as will their sympathies. In the case of Doctor Faustus, it is only Faustus’ character that has a large enough part in the play to change perceptibly; the other characters are either incidental characters, existing purely for the sake of the plot and ongoing story (in particular, most of the characters from the middle section of the play, from the scenes that take place in the courts of Rome and Germany), or mythological characters, such as Mephostophilis, who are traditional ‘morality play’ characters and, consequently, are constrained by their accepted dramatic roles.

The character of Faustus, however, changes greatly throughout the play, mainly with regard to his opinions of hell and repentance. Perhaps more important than the changes his character undergoes are the situations in which he finds himself: the audience’s shifting sympathy is due as much to his personal developments as well as his changing circumstances.

At he very beginning of the play, we are introduced to Faustus in a very clinical, objective fashion. In the Prologue, the Chorus briefly describes his past and then hints about the events to come (“His waxen wings did mount above his reach, / And, melting, heavens conspir’d his o…

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…hip between Faustus and the audience, as he fully accepts his own mistake and does not blame it solely on Lucifer or his parents or any other person. Scene XX serves to remind us that Faustus was once a normal human being and that he will end his life, after a fashion, as a human being, as the scholars vow to “give his mangled limbs due burial”.

At various times during the play we are exasperated by Faustus, endeared to him, laugh with him and, at the end, we feel great pity for him. It is to Marlowe’s great credit that he manages to take us on such a long journey with the character and gain our sympathy at the end, despite Faustus effectively being an agent of evil.

Works Cited:

Marlowe, Christopher. “The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 6th ed. Eds. M.H. Abrams et. al. New York: W.W. Norton and Co, 1993.

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