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The Epic Poem, Beowulf – An Analysis of Structure

Beowulf – its Structure

There is a considerable diversity of opinion regarding the structure of the poem Beowulf. This essay hopes to enlighten the reader on some of the opinions expressed by literary scholars on this issue.

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature states:

It is generally thought that several originally separate lays have been combined in the poem, and, though no proof is obtainable, the theory in itself is not unlikely. These lays are usually supposed to have been four in number and to have dealt with the following subjects: (1) Beowulf’s fight with Grendel, (2) the fight with Grendel’s mother, (3) Beowulf’s return, (4) the fight with the dragon (v1,ch3,s3,n16).

Alvin A. Lee in his essay, “Symbolic Metaphor and the Design of Beowulf,” basically agrees that there are four divisions in the poem’s structure:

Moving a little closer to the text but still thinking of it in terms of its overall design, one can recognize four [my italics] major myths or symbolic episodes, each of which is concentrated at appropriate points in the narrative but also extends its effect, with varying emphases, throughout the whole poem (148).

But Lee’s four divisions are not the same as the first-mentioned. Lee’s first part is climaxed with the construction of Heorot; the second part, as Grendel lays waste to Heorot; the third, Beowulf’s advent and victories over Grendel and mother; and fourth, the hero’s death and the return to chaos (148).

The three-part, or tripartite division, of Beowulf is more popular than the four-part division. F.P. Magoun, Jr. divided the poem into three separate stories designated as A, A-prime, and B. Magoun’s A corresponds to the events up to Beowulf’s return to the Geats; B, the dragon fight and ending. But A prime includes a variant or alternative version of the Grendel story that an Anglo-Saxon editor of the poem wished to preserve and fitted into his anthology of Beowulf poems(Clark 22). So Magoun would have three divisions to the structure of the poem rather than four. Agreeing with him are Brian Wilkie and James Hurt, editors of Literature of the Western World, state:

It is clear that the sequence of monster-fights provides the structure of the poem. . . .In this poem of a little over 3000 lines, roughly a thousand lines are devoted to each of the three monsters, and it has been suggested that Beowulf ws intended to be performed over three evenings, each devoted to a new monster (1273).

The Seven Deadly Sins: Seen, Heard, and Felt

The Seven Deadly Sins: Seen, Heard, and Felt

The play of Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe concentrates very highly on ideas of evil. Marlowe uses many aspects of evil to show the downfall of the somewhat odd man, Faustus. Devices including irony, foreshadowing, and symbolism are used very effectively in the play to convey feelings of sympathy and remorse for Faustus. Actually seeing a production of this play would further assist in an understanding of exactly what Faustus was faced with in his moments of severe weakness. By actually seeing a rendition of what Faustus was faced with, members of the audience can question themselves about what they would have done if they were Faustus. Act 2, Scene 2, lines 115-117 is a very good place to help an audience feel what Faustus was feeling and seeing.


Doctor Faustus appears as a tall lanky man, with dark brown hair, which lies close to his head, and curls up at the ends. His moustache is trimmed close to his upper lip. Faustus plays with the moustache frequently during this scene. He wears a plain black suit, a white dress shirt with a plain black necktie and polished shoes. He is adorned only with one piece of jewelry, a wristwatch. Faustus needs to be a man who looks simple enough to fall prey to the Devils’ plans. He can not look too strong or stupid either, because a man of either of those qualities would not fall into the Devil’s trap. He must look like an everyday sort of man in order for the audience to be able to relate to him, and to place themselves in his experience, and learn from the experience.

Belzebub and Lucifer are tall, dark, lavish looking men. They have very strong shoulders and use them to make their appearances very solid and unwav…

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… Sins.


This version of the scene is set in the nineteen-eighties. This is done so a modern audience should be able to relate the sins more directly to themselves. If this was not done, then some members of the audience might not be able to relate at all to the play’s messages. Many of the costumes used could not be relevant to members of other societies either. People living in Europe would not necessarily understand the significance of a man dressed in sloppy jeans and a t-shirt as a normal everyday sight in many American homes. Hopefully some of the images used in this version of the play will serve as a wake-up call to those people who may be falling towards “the Devil” and can avoid the bitter end that Doctor Faustus reached.

Works Cited

Marlowe, Christopher. “Doctor Faustus.” New York: Penguin Group, 1969.

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