James B. Kelly, the author of The Hero’s Quest in Beowulf, makes the case that Beowulf can be difficult to understand without knowing about certain literary terms and some background terms. Kelly starts of stating that, “Part of the challenge for the modern reader comes from the work’s having been written over a thousand years ago in an early, very different form of english” (132). By initiating the idea that Beowulf was written over millennium ago Kelly opens the idea that there are numerous literary devices that need to be understood to comprehend Beowolf. For instance Kelly discloses that Beowolf, “is written in alliterative verse. Each line of the poem has four stressed syllables, two in the first half of the line (the a-verse) and two in the second half (the b-verse), and a twice-used consonant in the a-verse usually repeats once in the b-verse
of the same line” (132). Kelly also mentions that the author of Beowulf constantly uses compound nouns ...view middle of the document...
Specifically, Kelly cites Beowulf: The monster and the Critics by J. R. R. Tolkien that makes the intense argument that Beowulf is an elegy (134). Kelly continues with a counterargument by citing that, “More recently, Stanley B. Greenfield reads Beowulf as epic tragedy in his book Hero and Exile, and Natalia Breizmann argues that it can be read as a quest romance” (134). Kelly concludes that the reader can interpret Beowolf multiple ways and that “reading it as a retelling of the hero’s quest can help make the story more understandable to the modern reader” (134).
Overall, Kelly’s article The Hero’s Quest in Beowulf helps readers of Beowulf understand the logistical elements of reading Beowulf. With the obtained knowledge that the reader will encounter numerous style differences in reading Beowulf, the reader can breach the walls surrounding nearly a millennium of changes to the english language. For example, take a brief inspection of lines 2201 through 2203 in Beowulf, “Hygelac fell / and the shelter proved useless / against the fierce aggression of the Shylfings” (88). Most readers will be distraught or confused with the term “Shylfings” as a direct result of not having enough background knowledge of what is being referenced to. With the idea from Kelly that there may be historical terms that are not popularly known today (most likely a result of the lack of documentation from that time period) the reader can identify that “Shylfings” is a historical reference to the wars between the Geats and the Sweds. Our book, The Norton Anthology English Literatue, states in the footnotes that, “There are several references, some of them lengthy” (88). Knowing this information allows the reader to understand references to “Shylfings” in any future instances in Beowulf. A conclusion could be made that reading Kelly’s article The Hero’s Quest in Beowulf the reader could now interpret and understand other terms in Beowulf that would not normally be grasped creating a more pure understanding of Beowulf.
Kelley, James B. "The Hero's Quest In Beowulf." Critical Insights: Hero's Quest (2012): 132-147. Literary Reference Center Plus. Web. 4 Mar. 2014.
The Norton Anthology of English Literature. New York: W.W. Norton, 2012. Print