Beowulf, the Microscope game

I’m reading David Wright’s translation of Beowulf. I’ve read Beowulf before but one of the points Wright makes in his analysis is that it’s not just the events that happen in Beowulf but that the audience of dudes in horned helmets knew who the historical figures in the tale were and knew both their histories and what happens to them after the story of Beowulf is over.

The text is full of allusions to the future beyond the epic, things that have nothing to do with the current story. Warriors who are good friends now but who will one day murder each other. The peerless hall of Hrothgar which Beowulf saves from Grendel’s depredations but will itself be consumed in fire.

Tall and wide-gabled, the hall towered overhead; yet it was to endure terrible and leaping flames, when in the course of time a deadly feud between Hrothgar and his son-in-law should be kindled by an act of violence.

So the old skald telling the epic of Beowulf knows the audience knows all those things that are going to happen after the story. He’s counting on them knowing because that knowledge changes the entire meaning of the story.

Without that knowledge, Beowulf is a tale of heroism and monster-slaying. With it, it’s a reflection on the impermanence (and perhaps even futility) of man’s deeds and the material world.

Knowledge of the future changing your perception of the present? Yeah, it’s viking Microscope.

    Ben Robbins | April 2nd, 2013 | | show 2 comments