Document Type


Date of Award



Beowulf, Language, Style, Speeches, addresses, etc.

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


English, General Literature, and Rhetoric

First Advisor

Bernard F. Huppé

Second Advisor

Richard McLain

Third Advisor

Wilhelm Nicolaisen


During the long course of Beowulf criticism many special studies of the epic have been made: for example, the ‘digressions,’ the meter and rhythm, the historical background, and more recently the alleged oral-formulaic origins of the poem. But one subject of some significance appears to have escaped the focus of special attention, that is, the words of the main character himself. The present paper is devoted to such a study of the first person speeches of Beowulf.

In this study many interesting and important questions that could be asked about these speeches will not be treated. Such matters, for example, as their allegorical and symbolic import do not receive emphasis here. What the paper does concentrate on is the language and style of these first person discourses, and especially on their structural make-up, both internally and in the context of the poem.

Of the possible approaches to the study of these discourses I have chosen to make use of ‘text grammar’ and speech act theory as recently developed in linguistics and philosophy: text grammar because it attempts to view discourses as whole linguistic units, and therefore may be a more or less objective way of studying the structure of the speeches; and speech acts because they attempt to examine what people “do” when they speak. Each time Beowulf says something in the poem, we are prompted to ask what he is doing and what his intentions are. Speech act theory is a systematic attempt to answer such questions. Also, one of the more important traditional linguistic approaches to the study of the structure of Old English poetry, set forth in Bernard Huppé’s Web of Words, will be included in the analysis. The discussion in Web of Words stimulated my interest in the structure of Beowulf’s speeches, and the methods used there can be fruitfully applied at various points as a check, as a parallel, and often overlapping, system of analysis.