Digressions in Beowulf

Transcript

00:14

And during the feast, a poet tells the story

00:16

of Hildeburh, a woman caught

00:18

in between the war of Danes and Frisians.

00:21

And I hope I'm pronouncing that

00:23

in my fine Old English style here.

00:25

So, the poem takes quite a while to tell.

00:27

And what's the idea behind giving all of this information

00:31

about all these people in the middle of Beowulf?

00:33

Like, what does that do for us

00:34

other than make us yawn every now and then?

00:36

Yeah, it will make us yawn.

00:37

Epic poems are long.

00:39

This is part of the reason they're long,

00:40

is that there's these digressons.

00:41

But they're not necessarily digressions

00:44

in the way that we might think of it.

00:46

There's a point.

00:46

First of all, again, we're shown the cultural value

00:50

of celebrating and feasting and gift-giving.

00:53

After Beowulf does his heroic deed,

00:56

they have a huge party.

00:57

And that tells us something about society.

00:58

It's like violence and revenge are valued

01:02

enough to celebrate.

01:04

He gives -- Hrothgar gives Beowulf tons of gifts

01:07

and they eat lots of food

01:08

and there's goblets everywhere.

01:10

But, on top of just kind of showing us a little bit more about society,

01:14

these stories that might seem like digressions,

01:17

almost always comment on the main storyline itself.

01:21

So the story we hear,

01:22

the story that's told by a poet at the party

01:26

is basically about this woman

01:27

who is caught between, as you said,

01:30

the Danes and the Frisians.

01:32

She has loyalties to both sides.

01:35

And then some of her relatives are killed during --

01:38

when there's a war.

01:40

And she's kind of torn between the two sides.

01:42

And what happens is that Hrothgar's wife,

01:44

whose name I definitely can not pronounce,

01:46

comes out and really relates herself to this story

01:52

because she sees Hrothgar

01:54

giving Beowulf all these gifts

01:57

and all this, you know, amazing stuff.

01:59

And meanwhile, Hrothgar has sons. He has two sons and

02:02

he stands there and he says,

02:02

"Beowulf, you're like a son to me."

02:04

So Hrothgar's wife is like,

02:06

"Well, you know, you have sons.

02:08

Beowulf is an outsider."

02:11

And so she kind of is a little bit worried

02:13

and sees Beowulf as coming in from the outside

02:15

and maybe causing trouble

02:17

and she wants to protect her sons' rights to the throne.

02:20

So, these little stories that come in between

02:23

sometimes are the most morally complex parts

02:27

of an epic poem.

02:28

They're the parts that we kind of tend to forget

02:30

'cause we're reading along and we're like,

02:31

"Aw, shoot, I gotta get a hundred on the quiz.

02:33

I don't need to know what happens in this offshoot

02:35

of the story. I just need to know if Beowulf dies."

02:37

But if we really pay attention, we can get a lot more

02:41

out of these kind of side stories

02:44

that seem like they might not fit in,

02:45

but in reality, they're commenting on the cultural values

02:48

and on the plot of the story itself.

02:51

Why is the story of Hildeburh

02:53

told in the middle of Beowulf?

02:55

What can the party tell us about Hrothgar's society?

03:00

How does Hrothgar's wife relate to Hildeburh?

03:04

What role do digressions play in an epic poem?

03:11

Yeah, it will make us yawn.