What are examples of setting, plot, dialogue, theme, and style in Beowulf?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Like many complicated narrative works, the Old English poem Beowulf consists of such elements as plot, setting, theme, style, and dialogue. Examples of these elements occur throughout the poem, but below are some specific examples (from the Seamus Heaney translation):

  • The themes of bravery and warfare are emphasized in the poem’s very first lines, which declare that the Danish people

and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness.

We have heard of those princes’ heroic campaigns. (2-3)

  • The stylistic technique of alliteration, which is by far the most common stylistic trait of Old English poetry, appears in such lines as the following: “as his powers waxed and his worth was proved” (8). As this example illustrates, alliteration involves the repetition of consonant sounds.
  • The main plot (or story-line) of two thirds of the poem begins when the poem starts to focus on Hrothgar: “The fortunes of war favored Hrothgar” (64).
  • An important element of the setting of the poem involves the gloomy landscape in which the monster Grendel spends much of his time. The poet describes him

haunting the marches, marauding round the heath

and the desolate fens . . . . (103-04)

  • Dialogue appears when a thane guarding the coast of Denmark challenges Beowulf and his men to identify themselves soon after they have landed:

“What kind of men are you who arrive

rigged out for combat in your coats of mail,

sailing here over the sea lanes

in your steep-hauled boat? (237-40)

When Beowulf answers him, true dialogue has begun.

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