``Beowulf'': A formulaic translation with a critical introduction

Date of Completion

January 1992


Literature, Medieval|Literature, English




The dissertation consists of a formulaic translation of Beowulf into modern English verse, designed for recitation, with a critical introduction explaining the novel approach to the poem taken in the translation. The introduction is divided into three parts: (1) A chapter on the Tone and Style of the poem, which deals particularly with the use of humor of various sorts in the poem; (2) A chapter on Formulaic Language in the poem, which attempts to show how the translation imitates the formulaic nature of the original poem; and (3) A chapter on Meter, which proposes a new theory of Old English based upon a study of formulaic language in Beowulf. My thesis in the chapter on tone and style is that scholars and translators have often ignored or suppressed humor in Beowulf because it does not fit in with their preconceptions about the nature of the poem, thereby perpetuating an erroneous idea of the poem. In the chapter on formulaic language, I show how translation usually obscures the formulaic nature of the poem because translators adopt a literary aesthetic which eschews repetition. I then demonstrate how imitating the formulaic language of the original creates a more accurate impression of it. The chapter on meter demonstrates that formulaic language in the poem can act as an objective check upon metrical theories, and that a study of formulaic language shows that about forty percent of the half-lines in the poem are made up of two parts, one which satisfies the metrical and alliterative requirements of the half-line, and which usually consists of formulaic language, and another which consists mainly of function words which is used to combine formulas into larger syntactic units, and which may be considered extrametrical. This extrametrical material produces syncopation, which prevents the rhythm of the poem from becoming monotonous. My translation uses a meter which imitates this property of the Old English meter and which demonstrates its practicality in modern English. ^