Beowulf and Repetition

What did the writer of Beowulf have in common with small children? They both loved applesauce, interestingly. But that's not what this video is about. They also both loved repetition. Let's learn about that as a literary device..

Transcript

00:15

And part of the reason it's such a beast is that

00:17

we hear the same stories over and over and over again.

00:20

So, think about Beowulf killing Grendel.

00:23

First, we get the narrator's account of the action.

00:26

Then, Beowulf explains to Hrothgar what happened.

00:28

So it's a little bit of a different perspective.

00:30

And finally, he tells the story again

00:32

when he gets home to his own Lord Higelac.

00:35

What's the purpose of the repetition?

00:37

You know, you're telling the same story from

00:39

many different perspectives.

00:40

You have great examples in modern literature where

00:44

doing kind of the same things.

00:46

- Yeah. - Really not exciting.

00:47

- So, tell us - what's the purpose? - It is not exciting,

00:50

but it's meaningful.

00:52

It's all about perspective.

00:54

Depending on who is telling a story

00:56

and who they're telling it to -

00:58

whom they're telling it to -

00:59

we'll get a different version of the story.

01:02

So we get the narrator telling about

01:06

Beowulf killing Grendel. Then we have

01:08

Beowulf telling the story. So, it's two different tellers.

01:10

And then the third version

01:12

is Beowulf again telling it.

01:14

But now he's telling it to someone else; he's telling it to his Lord.

01:16

So depending on who's telling the story

01:18

and who it's getting told to,

01:20

we're gonna get a different version.

01:21

And it's not necessarily that, you know,

01:23

Beowulf's lying when he's telling it to his Lord of the Geats

01:27

versus when he's telling it to Hrothgar,

01:29

but it's just that he has a different audience.

01:32

So, for example, when he goes back home

01:34

and he's telling it to his own Lord,

01:37

he's trying to gain respect.

01:39

He was -- Beowulf was not respected

01:41

or not, you know, honored in his society.

01:43

And what he did is he went out

01:45

and he helped the Danes and he said, you know,

01:47

"I'm gonna fight for these people and prove myself

01:49

in order to gain respect."

01:50

So when he's then telling the story to his people,

01:53

he emphasizes how intense Grendel was

01:56

and what a terrible monster he is.

01:58

When he tells the story to Hrothgar,

02:00

Hrothgar knows that.

02:02

I mean like, hello.

02:04

Like, Grendel destroyed his mead hall a thousand times.

02:06

So he knows that

02:08

and Beowulf doesn't have to talk about those details.

02:11

But then when he goes home,

02:12

he's trying to make himself look as heroic as possible.

02:15

So he is making the bad guy

02:17

look as bad as possible.

02:19

So, again, it's really just

02:21

the emphasis that the storyteller places

02:24

on one aspect or another

02:26

just gives us a different perspective of the story.

02:29

This is super common in epic poems.

02:31

Again, part of the reason why they're super long,

02:33

in addition to the digressions,

02:35

is this repetition.

02:37

But every time you see a story repeated,

02:39

don't think,

02:41

"Oh, I already heard this,

02:43

so I know what happens. I can just skim over."

02:45

Because you're gonna probably get a different version

02:47

than what you already read.

02:50

What specific event gets recounted over and over and over again - and by whom?

02:56

What's the purpose of telling the same story several times in Beowulf?

03:01

Are the tellings of the story the same each time?

03:04

And if not, how are they different?

03:06

Why would they be different?

03:11

Hello, like, Grendel destroyed his mead hall a thousand times.