Beowulf is a famous poem of the Old-English literature that was written between the seventh and the tenth centuries. It was translated and adapted by Seamus Heaney in order to make it understandable to the modern audience. It is an example of the old Anglo-Saxon piece of literature that tells a story of a brave and strong warrior, who killed a dragon and two evil enemies. As a rule, the heroic poem focuses on one crucial event, namely, a struggle of Beowulf for protecting the kingdom of King Hrothgar. The contemporary cinematography filmed the events of the epic poem in the movie with a similar title – Beowulf & Grendel. However, there are many differences between these two pieces. The main aspect considers the content. The story is developed in an oral manner; it is told over some nights of feasting. The anonymous author created an oral piece of literature, which was of unique historical significance. However, it is possible to notice an important shift from the oral to the written tradition. Although the film and the epic poem tell the same story, they are considerably different because the style of narration and key ideas were changed in the movie in order to fit the modern social reality.
Poem and Movie
In fact, the old epic poem and the film have more differences than common features. The movie describes how Grendel attacks the mansion where Danish people leave. He smashes the doors and kills them in the middle of the celebration. However, the old text has another version of the events; the enemy kills sleeping people after feasting. The movie not only shows how Beowulf kills Grendel but also describes his arrival to home and meeting with Grendel’s mother. A woman lives in a cave in the water. She comes to Beowulf and promises to make him a great ruler if he loves her and stays with her. When a warrior comes to the village, he gets to know that the king killed himself because he had no children. The film ends when Beowulf becomes a new king. The poem is rather different from the movie, and its end is not so happy; however, it reflects the morale and virtues of people in the Old English period. In the poem, a warrior becomes a king only after fifty winters. The film looks simpler in comparison to the epic nature of the poem.
It is possible to conclude that this piece of the Anglo-Saxon literature is an epic poem, which adopted some features of the old Greek art. It is a long narration, which is composed in a majestic manner. The poem tells about adventures and successes of the main character. Beowulf praises grand virtues, as well as proclaims the significance of military, religious, and many other traits. It is similar to a song; however, this resemblance is rather limited. The poem emphasizes some moral issues, which were universally praised and admired at the time. In fact, it offers an untraditional explanation of the contemporary morality that causes a personal dilemma in the main character. The film neither pays much attention nor allocates time to going deeper into these issues since it is an embodiment of the written art, which is more acceptable for the contemporary audience. The most remarkable traits of the main character are his generosity, courage, devotedness, loyalty, and reputation. In fact, all these virtues are rather simplified in the movie, which significantly withdraws from the epic poem. Obvious peculiarities of this piece of literature confirm that it is a form of the oral tradition of the epos. Beowulf takes roots in the old English legends and folk tales of the ancient people. It develops gradually into the oral tradition, a folk epic, which is characterized by significant mythological associations. It utilizes long speeches and deviations, as well as the description of trials and journey of the main character. Moreover, the ancient author introduces divine creatures; this feature is characteristic of traditional epic poems. For instance, it is similar to pieces of the ancient Greek literature, for example, Odyssey and Iliad. Furthermore, the poem possesses many other peculiarities, which confirm its relation to the traditional oral literature. For instance, it uses a digression. Nevertheless, the filmmakers omitted this aspect of the oral tradition as it can be rather boring and tedious for the contemporary viewer. However, the reader of the ancient time would appreciate a long and detailed description of military achievements, heroes, and battles as the military success was praised and served as the entertainment for the wide public. However, such oral tradition is not common to the modern viewers as it is a unique form of storytelling. Therefore, the film drops out many issues and makes a graduate shift from the oral to written form.
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It is difficult to compare the poem with the movie as it contains more differences than similarities, for example, in the manner of speech. The piece of literature extensively uses alliteration when a certain sound is repeated for several times in the same sentence. Alliteration was a kind of a primitive rhyme at the old times. In addition, the author of the epic poem describes the main character with specific epithets: ring-whorled, ice-clad, outbound, ring-giver, far-fetcher (Heaney). These and many other elements are not considered in the film. The reason for such drastic changes is explained by sociological and aesthetical issues. For instance, in the poem, the main character is a person with super powers, who can resist the enemy on his own. However, the filmmakers adapt and change this aspect to make it more relevant to the contemporaneity. Thus, in the movie, Beowulf is a human. Moreover, he has no super powers though he is rather strong and famous in the kingdom. However, the man cannot be alone because of his human nature; thus, he experiences fear and helplessness. These feelings are understandable and clear to the contemporary society. Thus, this change fits the modern times. Battles in the film are rather bloody, while the ancient narrator focuses on the courage and military achievements. A traditional epic story cannot be used in the cinematography because it is not appropriate for the contemporary life; thus, it will be boring without proper adaptation. Even the aspect of morality is different in the contemporaneity. The murder cannot is neither normal nor morally right. However, the author of the original epic poem admits high moral traits of Beowulf. Therefore, all changes in the narration are caused by the social and aesthetical norms of the modern culture and traditions.
All the necessary elements of the epic poem as an example of the traditional oral culture are included in the direct explanations of the author. It is possible to admit that the absence of dialogues is one of the main peculiarities of the oral culture. Moreover, monologs are more natural in this case. In addition, the author of the storytelling acts as an interrupter that steps in with some clarifications in order to remind that the man is mortal. The aim is achieved with the application of rich metaphors, epithets, and long descriptions. Therefore, the film has no significant features of the art of the oral literature; instead, it takes the story into the traditional written culture. Moreover, the filmmakers of Beowulf and Grendel withdraw from the original context and style of the poem. They depicted Grendel more like a human; thus, they strived to help the viewer understand the essence of heroism in the light of humanism. Another change in the narration is made in accordance with the contemporary aesthetic and social conceptions. The poem follows a strict paradigm of the evil and good; the evil should be disgusting. This conception is not appropriate for the modern social ideals, according to which the evil can exist even in the form of a human being. Thus, the purpose is not simply destroying the evil but, first of all, identifying it; this task is even more difficult. The cinematography should arrange the plot of the movie in a manner to communicate some crucial message, which is appropriate for the modern authority. Thus, the changes are necessary. In such a manner, in the case of terrorism, terrorists are both victims and enemies at the same time. Although Beowulf is the main character and he resists Grendel, he is not purely good; he kills people, as well. In the poem, the man personifies an ideal hero and is the main protagonist. The story is a description of his life and adventures from the perspective of the formation of his character in the battles with Grendel, his mother, and a dragon. The conflicts have an increasing nature; they prove that the main character becomes stronger with each adventure. The deep investigation of the structure and symbolical content of the poem can show that it is rather a story about moral changes in terms of different virtues. It is a transformation of the personality from a warrior to the king. When he is young, the author applies epithets that emphasize his courage and strength. The king Hrothgar becomes Beowulf’s mentor as he is clever and respects the young man. In opposition to the poem, the movie shows the king as a weak personality; thus, the creators withdraw from the main conceptions of the oral art. The finale episodes describe the virtuous and glory of king Beowulf, who has many positive traits. There is nothing to blame him for. However, this idea was not used in the film; Beowulf is a killer; thus, the key idea of the movie is that all people are murderers (Gunnarsson).
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The movie is a commercial attempt to film a famous epic story. However, it is necessary to conclude that the adaptation has lost some key ideas, symbols, and even characters in the process of transformation from the oral art into the written one. Changes in the narration erase the traditional epic culture. In such a manner, the film is a socialization of an epos according to modern sociopolitical issues while rejecting ancient virtues, symbols, moral ideals, and trends. The changes made the movie a distant and weak reflection of one of the most famous epic stories in the world. It is rather an amusing narration about the Anglo-Saxon period than a valuable piece or art.
Beowulf is a famous character of the Old-English literature; his life was described in an epic form. The author of the poem illustrated a noble man with superpower and virtuous. He is perfect without any negative traits. However, filmmakers depicted Beowulf as a normal human being while withdrawing from the key idea of the oral tradition. The poem is an example of the oral literature, which describes a journey and victory of the main character over the evil. Beowulf has a clear structure of an epic; it utilizes epithets, clusters, alliteration, interruption, digressions, and other tools. In order to adapt the context to the modern audience, the film director introduced many changes, which transformed the piece of oral literature into a traditional written one. The differences considered not only the structure, ideas, and symbols but also the context as a whole. The filmmakers took into consideration the aspect of humanization as opposed to the epic form, in which the main character has many negative features, while the main enemy looks more like a victim than an embodiment of the evil. Thus, the film and the poem tell the same story; however, modern social issues made the filmmakers withdraw from the traditional oral culture and change the poem.