Spatial Effects: Juxtapositions of Nature and Artifice in Beowulf

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Yeargin, Kevin
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Middle Tennessee State University
Critics have extensively explored the tensions in Beowulf between Christianity and Paganism, literacy and orality, and heroism and kingship, yet little work has been done toward understanding another prominent binary: nature and artifice. This thesis examines instances when the Beowulf-poet brings images of artifice and images of nature into close proximity. Along with the introduction of literacy, new technologies and ideas were suddenly thrust into Anglo-Saxon culture, and one of the ways in which the people explored these social matters was through poetry such as Beowulf. The thesis first attempts to delineate the concepts of artifice and nature as they might have been viewed from an Anglo-Saxon perspective. This enables us to see how the poet utilizes these concepts to build vibrant aesthetic effects, to construct dynamic characters, and finally to bridge the conceptual divide between his current Christian audience and their Pagan ancestors. These "spatial effects" recur with enough frequency and sophistication to suggest that they stem from intentional creative decisions. Still, many Modern English translations of Beowulf obscure their significance or ignore them altogether. If, for instance, an image appears to waver between artifice and nature, the critical inclination has been to resolve instead of embrace the tension. Contemporary scholars and translators tend to simplify what the Beowulf-poet apparently wanted to complicate. The findings of this study reveal that new methodologies are needed to represent more accurately the complexity of Beowulf both in translation and in scholarly inquiry.
Artifice, Beowulf, Movement, Nature, Space, Speech