Type / Thesis

A Traumatic Reading of Beowulf: The Entangled Narratives of the Fabulous Dragon and the Historical Geatish-Swedish Wars

Sophia Yashih Liu

Page / 103-27


The Old English poem Beowulf mainly narrates three fantastic stories: how Beowulf kills Grendel, fights against Grendel’s mother, and beats a firedrake after he rules the Geats for fifty years. Among all these three fabulous stories, many historical digressions appear. Sometimes they provide extra historical information; sometimes they allude to certain motives; and sometimes they even interrupt the progress of the fabulous narratives. This study, focusing on the final dragon-fight, explores how critics interpret the historical digressions of the narrative of the Geatish-Swedish feud, which keeps interrupting Beowulf’s dragon-fight. The poet’s narrative strategy here is peculiar: while he mainly narrates how Beowulf fights against the dragon, he reestablishes the historical feud between the Geats and the Swedes. Through this process, the poem reveals a historical Beowulf, different from the heroic Beowulf in the fantastic narrative. This study argues that the part of the fabulous dragon-fight and the part of historical Geatish-Swedish feud are closely related, both in the sense of narrative structure and its poetic meaning. Because of the poet’s Christian background, the brutal elements of revenge in the Geatish-Swedish feud are suppressed: the poet mentions the battles between these two peoples implicitly, while the details of these wars are narrated by the mouths of the characters in the poem. These suppressed dark elements appear in the text, as the return of the repressed, with its fantastic form of the firedrake. Finally, Beowulf has no choice but to fight the dragon and encounter his own death, leaving the Geats to face the danger of being eliminated.

Keywords : Beowulf, fabulous dragon-fight, historical digressions, the Geatish-Swedish feud, the return of the repressed
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