The Old English poem Beowulf is an amazingly complex and intriguing work of literature. The poem requires scholars to navigate at least three chronological contexts: the time period in which the action of the poem takes place (5th/6th century), the time period in which the poem was composed (8th century) and the time period in which the poem’s sole extant manuscript was copied (around the year 1000). With my research into Beowulf, I hope to gain an understanding of the literary-linguistic technicalities of the poem, as well as find out how the poet’s work may be better understood within its historical context. In addition, I have offered solutions to some potential errors in the manuscript version of the poem. Below are my publications in this area which are freely available in Open Access:
Onomasiological Profiles of Old English Texts: Analysing the Vocabulary of Beowulf, Andreas and the Old English Martyrology through Linguistic Linked Data
in: Exploring Early Medieval English Eloquence: A Digital Humanities Approach with A Thesaurus of Old English and Evoke, ed. Thijs Porck & Sander Stolk, special issue of Amsterdamer Beiträge zur älteren Germanistik 81:3-4 (2021, Brill), 359-383
This article discusses proof-of-concept research into the structure of the vocabularies of three Old English texts, Beowulf, Andreas and the Old English Martyrology. With the help of the Web application Evoke, which makes A Thesaurus of Old English (TOE) available in Linguistic Linked Data form, the words that occur in these three texts have been tagged within the existing onomasiological structure of TOE. This tagging process has resulted in prototypes of ‘textual thesauri’ for each of the three texts; such thesauri allow researchers to analyse the ‘onomasiological profile’ of a text, using the statistical tools that are built into Evoke. Since the same overarching structure has been used for all three texts, these texts can now be compared on an onomasiological level. As the article demonstrates, this comparative approach gives rise to novel research questions, as new and distinctive patterns of vocabulary use come to the surface. The semantic fields discussed include “War” and “Animals”.
Related to this article is my digital Beowulf thesaurus.
Open Access link: https://doi.org/10.1163/18756719-12340236
Undoomed Men Do not Need Saving. A Note on Beowulf, II. 572b-3 and 2291-3a
Notes and Queries n.s. 67 (2020), 157-159
This note discusses the illogical maxim: ‘Wyrd oft nereð / unfægne eorl, þonne his ellen deah’ [Fate often saves an undoomed man, if his courage is strong] in Beowulf, ll. 572 b-3. While the maxim is usually unproblematically associated with the proverb ‘Fortune favours the brave’, some scholars have been struck by the tautological idea of Fate saving a man not fated to die in the first place. In order to solve this crux, scholars have attempted to interpret unfæge as referring to bravery and to regard ‘þonne his ellen deah’ as an adverbial clause of time rather than a conditional clause. This note gives a brief overview of the solutions offered in the past, before offering a new solution that regards un- in unfæge as a reflex of an intensive prefix rather than a negative prefix. This leads to the logical solution of ‘Wyrd oft nereð / [a]nfægne eorl, þonne his ellen deah’ [Fate often saves an absolutely doomed man, if his courage is strong.]
Open Access link: https://doi.org/10.1093/notesj/gjaa008
A Hart with Its Head Held High: A New Emendation for Beowulf, Line 1372a (with Berber Bossenbroek)
ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes, and Reviews 33 (2020), 4-8
In the description of Grendel’s mere (Beowulf, ll. 1366b-72), Scribe A of the Beowulf manuscript accidentally left out a word. This omission has prompted no fewer than four emendations in Beowulf scholarship. This note discusses the probability of each of these four suggestions. As we demonstrate, the emendations offered thus far are not wholly unproblematic: they either make little contextual sense or violate metrical rules. Moreover, they all incorrectly assume that the auxiliary “wille” in line 1371b requires an infinitive to be added at the end of line 1372a. At the end of this note, we argue for a new emendation.
Open Access link: https://doi.org/10.1080/0895769X.2019.1579082
Marking Boundaries in Beowulf: Æschere’s Head, Grendel’s Arm and the Dragon’s Corpse (with Sander Stolk)
in: The Familiar and the Foreign in Old Germanic Studies, ed. Thijs Porck , special issue of Amsterdamer Beiträge zur älteren Germanistik 77:3-4 (2017, Brill), 521-540
In the Old English poem Beowulf, several body parts are put on display, including Grendel’s arm at Heorot and Æschere’s head on top of a cliff. The first instance has been widely discussed by various scholars, who have tried to find out why and where the arm was hung. By contrast, scholarly treatments of the second instance are relatively scarce. This article places the exhibition of Æschere’s head by Grendel’s mother in the context of similar practices of decapitation and display in Anglo-Saxon England. It will be argued that the placement of the head of Æschere on top of the cliff towering over Grendel’s mere resembles the Anglo-Saxon heafod stoccan, ‘head stakes’, which acted as boundary markers. The monster’s act, therefore, would not strike as foreign to the Anglo-Saxon audience, but would be familiar. As we will show, the identification of Æschere’s head as a boundary marker, placed at the edge of the monsters’ domain, also has some bearing on the interpretation of other potential boundary markers in the poem, including Grendel’s arm and the dragon’s corpse. Lastly, we will argue for a new reading of two textual cruces in Beowulf’s speech prior to his fight with Grendel.
Open Access link: https://doi.org/10.1163/18756719-12340090
Vergrijzing in een Oudengels heldendicht. De rol van oude koningen in de Beowulf
Madoc. Tijdschrift over de Middeleeuwen 26 (2012), 66–76
In this Dutch journal article, I argue that the poem Beowulf is best read as a mirror of princes for elderly kings. An expanded, English version of this article constitutes chapter 6 of my book Old Age in Early Medieval England: A Cultural History (Boydell Press, 2019)
Open Access link: http://dx.doi.org/10.17613/M6BR8MG2J