Oral Poetry and the World of Beowulf
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Anyone who sets out to discuss Beowulf as an oral poem immediately places him- or herself on some rather shaky ground; for this is a hotly contested area where opinions are very definitely, even emotionally stated. I remember as a graduate student in the mid-1970s being told by a very distinguished scholar that Beowulf could not be an oral poem, since it was simply too good. But since that time oral studies have burgeoned in all directions, and those of us who try to keep up with the field are gaining an increasing admiration for the sophistication and complexity achieved by poets working in preliterate cultures, or societies where the impact of literacy is marginal or restricted. Indeed, the appearance in recent years of two major books that give full weight to the oral affiliations of Beowulf, not to mention a host of lesser productions, signals the emergence of a new consensus in Old English studies.
Oral Tradition, 7/1 (1992): 28-65.
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