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Ring Composition and the Structure of Beowulf

John D. Niles
PMLA
Vol. 94, No. 5 (Oct., 1979), pp. 924-935
DOI: 10.2307/461974
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/461974
Page Count: 12
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Ring Composition and the Structure of Beowulf
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Abstract

One type of organization favored by the Beowulf poet is an ABC... X... CBA design capable of indefinite expansion. Ring composition of this type serves as a way of building up short verse paragraphs, as in Homer. It also underlies the composition of whole episodes. In addition, the entire narrative of Beowulf is knit together by an elaborate set of thematic parallels and verbal echoes ranged in pairs about a midpoint of mythic intensity, the fight with Grendel's dam on the floor of the monsters' pool. The consistency with which thesis is answered by antithesis in the design of Beowulf seems to be a special characteristic of the poet's style and way of viewing the world. Seldom are events seen as isolated, without antecedents or consequences. Often joy is answered by sorrow in a network of reversals that undercuts any confidence in the permanence of earthly success.

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