What is the effect of withholding Beowulf's name until chapter five?

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literaturenerd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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The name of the epic hero, in the anonymous epic poem Beowulf, remains unstated until the end of chapter five. While the title gives the name of the hero blatantly, Beowulf is not introduced by name until far into the text.

Epic poems, and especially heroic epic poems, all begin in media res. (In media res is Latin for in the middle of things.) Given that the poem needs to establish certain things prior to moving into the main conflicts, the first few chapters are used to establish nobility and history.

Prior to learning the name of the epic hero Beowulf, the reader must come to understand the need for a hero. Therefore, the background of the monster Grendel and his murderous acts on Heorot are of the utmost importance. Setting this scene is more important, at first, than the naming of the hero involved.


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