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Dragi studenți,

Am corectat în săptămâna aceasta cele 411 lucrări redactate de voi. Din păcate, 318 dintre voi
nu au promovat examenul, sau nu s-au prezentat. În caz că nu ați promovat examenul, deși ați
redactat un eseu, acest lucru se datorează uneia sau mai multora dintre următoarele cauze:

1. nu aveți un nivel lingvistic suficient pentru a exprima clar și corect o idee;

2. nu aveți un nivel cultural și literar suficient pentru a analiza clar și corect o temă;
3. nu ați citit textele, sau nu ați înțeles materia;
4. pur și simplu, nu ați discutat tema dată, ci altceva (adesea, mi-ați oferit o înșiruire de
generalități sau rezumate ale unora dintre texte).

Pentru a vă ajuta să înțelegeți care este nivelul așteptat, i-am rugat pe unii dintre colegii voștri,
care au redactat eseuri notate între 8-10, să își transcrie textele, păstrând toate greșelile din

Vă rog să citiți atent lucrările acestor colegi, pe care le-am anonimizat din discreție. Veți vedea
că nu sunt perfecte: toate conțin greșeli ortografice, sintactice sau lexicale. Toate fac și mici
confuzii. De asemenea, multe conțin exprimări nefericite sau generalizări hazardate. În fine,
niciuna nu este scutită de naivități inerente vârstei voastre (atât de fericite, totuși).

Ce trebuie să faceți pentru a promova?

1. Citiți și conspectați textele, învățați pe de rost versurile cele mai relevante.

2. Conspectați o istorie a literaturii engleze pentru a avea o cronologie clară.
3. Faceți o listă cu principalele concepte și definițiile lor (de ex.: oximoron, sonet, formulă,
kenning), pentru a avea ideile (și ortografia) clare.
4. Scrieți zilnic câte un mic eseu de o pagină despre aspectele sau conceptele pe care le
considerați importante.

Ne întâlnim luni la examenul de restanță. Acesta va dura 30 de minute și va consta din câteva
zeci de întrebări de tip 'multiple choice'. Nu îmi mai propun să verific cum scrieți, ci pur și
simplu să văd dacă ați citit textele și ați înțeles liniile mari ale materiei.

Succes tuturor!

Adrian Papahagi
Manna mildust… ond lofgeornost
These words are taken from the quasi-epilogue of Beowulf +, when the deceased hero is
being praised by his kinsmen at his burial. The ideas that we might subtract from these lines
coincide very well with the opening lines of the poem, namely where Sċield (Sċyld) Sċéfing,
father of the Danes, is presented. His name represents such qualities, that are characteristic
to Beowulf too. The similarity may be caused by the fact that these two personas are loosely
related, or by the sheer idea of “gód” and “fród cyning”.
First of all, the most important characteristics of Sċield Sċéfing are presented with the
help of his name, Sċield meaning ‘shield’ or ‘protection for the people’ (the second meaning
being used many times throughout the poem), and Sċéfing meaning ‘shafe-er’, ‘collector of
wheat’, ‘feeder of the people’. + Thus this forefather of the Danes grants his people protection
and nutrition. This double role will be highly important in the course of the poem. +
Beowulf will also follow the idea of the good king shaped by Sċield Sċéfing. He will be
human and warrior, mild and brave, caring and heroic at the same time. + As being presented
in the epilogue, Beowulf’s memory cannot be described by one simple term, but only with an
enumeration of complex adjectives, first of which is “manna mildust” + (= for men the mildest,
i.e. most caring for his people). This quality he also shares with Hróðgar, king of the Danes,
who has the titles “gód cyning”, “fród cyning” + and many times “miċes þéoden”, great leader
of the people. On the other hand, Beowulf is also (the most) eager for glory, “lofgeornost”. +
This term might indicate some kind of heroism, but if so, mainly pagan heroism: we might see
here the image of an excentric man, fighting alone for glory, for “þrym”. +
But is Beowulf, by being “lofgeornost”, a purely pagan hero? What is this character is
placed somewhere between the pagan “rex perditus” of Alcuin and the image of “imitation
Christi”? + As the poem takes place in Denmark, part of “Germania prima” in pre-christian,
historic times (“Hwæt! Wé Gardena, in geardagum…”) +, Beowulf can not (cannot) be a true
“miles Christianus”, but he might be part of the just as presented in the Old Testament. + He
has qualities correlating with Christian ideas: obviously he is good and caring with his people
as a king should be (see “manna mindust”), but he also tries to be an example to follow as a
hero (or even a saint) should be (see “lofgeornost”)! +
So we might assume that Beowulf is a king as well as a hero, a fighter as well as a proto-
pagan saint, a killer of external beasts as well as a defeater of inner monsters. Thus he can
truly be “lofgeornost”, eager for fame and glory, wanting to be a figure to follow. +

The word and the idea of “nothing” appears many times in the theatrical works of
Shakespeare. It is presented, for example, in the tragedies of Romeo and Juliet, King Lear and
Hamlet as well.
We should notice here that in the Elizabethan slang the word “nothing” had been
pronounced more like “noting” +, thus being able to become a homonym: it might have meant
“not anything”, “noting as observing, seeing, percieving” or “noting as taking down musical
notes”. + It might have referred to sexuality as well, “thing” and “nothing” being male and
female sexual organs. +
It is interesting how Shakespeare uses different connotations of his word in different
plays. In Romeo and Juliet, one of Shakespeare’s earliest works, it has musical connotations,
associating the text with music, which was and is an inseparable element of traditional poetry.
+ Shakespeare, as being a well-trained, skilled sonneteer, immediately saw the connection

between the genre of the sonnet and the love story of Romeo and Juliet. +
The archetypal medieval court-love and the Elizabethan sonnet form play a huge role in
the play of the two young lovers: they speak 14 lines before having the first kiss, Romeo speaks
many times in form of a sonnet + and Juliet also dies having said 13 line – an incomplete sonnet,
or a sonnet completed by death itself. +
While in Romeo and Juliet “nothing” has a romantic resemblance, in King Lear it is closely
bounded to the procedure of kenosis. As Lear says to his daughter Cordelia: “Nothing can be
made out (will come) of nothing”, meaning that if she says nothing in order to express her love
for his (her) father, she will not get her part of the kingdom. It happens so, but in the end it is
not Cordelia who is left with nothing (she gets married and becomes the queen of France) but
Lear himself. + But the nothingness, the loss of his title and his wealth, is the only thing that
can make him find his true self, observe his mistakes, get through his past hamartia + and get
back to Cordelia. Despite all the before-mentioned things, Lear dies not a king (as Macbeth),
not even a noble heart, a prince (like Hamlet) but nothing. He is left with emptyness
(emptiness) and sorrow. (Yet, he has made use of nothing)
Hamlet is the play of Shakespeare which really goes deep on the theme of “nothing”. In
his famous soliloquy starting with “To be or not to be…”, the protagonist reveals the true
nature of humanness (humanity) – which is not (nothing) else than sheer nothingness. We
fear death because we fear nothingness, we fear of acting because we don’t see order and
aim in our actions. + This is the cause of the (Hamlet’s) suffering of Hamlet: the fear of
becoming nothing, the fear of acts meaning nothing, the fear of power leading to nothing. This
results in not-acting and not-deciding. The only agressive (aggressive) and powerful action
that Hamlet takes is also an act of hamartia + – stabbing Polonius, whose only guilt was that
he has been weak in character, enslaving himself to Claudius. The true action, the one that
Hamlet really wants to take is stabbing Claudius, murdering the killer of his father. But this
takes place only at the very end of the play – when there is nothing left but nothingness:
Ophelia, Polonius, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, Laertes, Hamlet all dead. Nothing left, only the
story of nothingness,, carried by Horatio, who is left alive only because the story needs to be
+ Macbeth

Snottor on mode
An accurate rendition of the oral character of the Old English literature is revealed in the
formulaic occurances that entangle this phase of the English culture.
One of the most representative anthologies of Medieval texts is The Exeter Book, where
one can find numerous poetic writings, from which the most striking are the elegies: The
Wanderer, The Ruin, The Seafarer. They all approach the themes of loss, misery and death.
Moreover, they resemble in that they have similar views. Regarding The Wanderer, this tackles
the solitude of man, focusing on the 'anhaga' and dispalying the weight he carries, by choosing
words such as 'burgstede burston'.
In this poem, as well as in the two already mentioned, 'mod' is one the primordial items,
offering the reader an insight into the holy and spiritual life, as the kenning for soul carries
such a meaning that is supposed to have a moralising effect upon the public. 'Mod' is seen as
the part of the being responsible for volition and intellect. Both components are closely
connected with the idea of God. Men should grow 'snotter' and 'cunnende' and to desert the
flesh pleasures, the worldly joys ('dream') in order to purify. In all cases, the poet assists to a
destructive apocalyptical scene, which arises the longing for eternity or for 'ece Drihten'. This
latter ideal is confronted by the transient dimension of life, the 'laene' phase, as Alfred puts it.
The earthly 'laene' is represented by the bliss and the happiness of the moment, given by the
company of 'freonde' and 'feond', but the poet in The Wanderer realises that even his soul,
'mon', or the self is limited by the transitoriness of the mortal existance. The Seafarer finds
himself in the same situation, oscillating between the call of the pleasures of his home, but he
longs for sailing and participating in this journey that has a cathartic role in his becoming. In
The Ruin we assist to a desolate landscape of the ruins of (probably) the roman city of Bath,
where the solitary poet finds solace in his own experience.
All the three elegies encompass the deep sadness of the soul caused by the ephemeral
hardships, but they eventually realise that this grim life is only a transformative device that
prepares their 'mod' for eternity by attaining this distance- named wisdom.

Nature and nurture

One of the most remarkable oppositions in Shakespeare's plays is the one between
nature and nurture, the instincts, the raw part of the existence and the education. Shakespeare
approaches this dupplicity of the being in several plays, i.e. As you like it, A Midsummer Night's
Dream and The Tempest.
The plots and the universes created in the aforementioned works overlap, in that we
have similar ingredients that enable the reader to understand the meaning of a comedy and
of a tragedy in these terms.
They, first of all, share the royal characters that live in the city, a conflict that sends them
im wilderness, and the solving of the problem, that coincides with the returning in the initial
'As you like it' defines perfectly this scheme, in that it covers this pattern.
When Duke Senior is usurped by his little brother, the daughter who threatens the peace
of the former is obliged to follow her father in exile and find her rest there. She is accompanied
by her cousin Olivia and they embark on this journey as a brother and a sister. Rosalind
eventually meets in the forest of Arden her lover Orlando, that she met at the court, and they
will get together as planned. What Shakespeare does is offer us a cunning solving of the
problematic situation, by combining the perfect pairs, and offering Duke Senior his throne
back, all by the illusory transformation that occurs in nature, or Arcadia. We are made to
believe that the malicious and the evil dimensions of the civilisation can be eliminated when
returning to nature. A similar plot can be noticed in A Midsummer Night's Dream, when the
four young lovers that form a vicious love situation find themselves in the forest, Demetrius
following the eloped pair at Helena's message. The evil Puck, Theseus's servant bewitches the
lovers, by wanting to pair them, but he actually does more harm. This lacherous events suggest
again the wrong perception of the solving of the problems when returning to nature, which is
supposed to awaken the sensible and reasonable feature of the human being. The chaos that
Puck's position represents is rather a realistic observance. As Plato in his Etica Nicomahica
observes, young people are often led by their instinctual desires, or 'pleasure', as he calls it
and they are naturally shifting and changing, their love altering imprevisiblly.
Shakespeare subtly suggests the same idea. The romanticised view, which sets the
estimation of nature's effects on the human far too high is mocked here.
The ultimate representation following these schemes is the last play written by
Shakespeare, his farewell from the scene. The anti-Faustian character, Prospero, being exiled
and usurped from his throne, occupies himself an island, and when the time comes reunites
all those who are his traitors and teaches them a lesson. On that savage island, Prospero meets
a beast, Caliban, whom he adopts and tries to tame. His plans are not successful, for Caliban
has evil instincts, he thinks always about material things first, he is obstinate by trying to rape
Prospero's daughter Miranda. He is in fact a creature 'on whose nature nurture can never
stick'. He is an offspring of his mother Syracuse's black magic, thus a danger to Prospero's
wisdom inherited from his precious books, Caliban, a hybrid creature: 'thou art fish' is often
depicted or opposed to Ariel, 'the airy spirit' who is one of Prospero's successful results. Ariel
will be given freedom in the end, whereas the ugly Canibal will be probably be going to be
displayed as a mere curiosity.
What Shakespeare wants to prove by building such a pattern in his writings is a pastiche
to the much idealised force of nature and its healing effect on the human being. One is simply
perverted from nature, and neither the individual itself, nor the society can sustain such an
ideology, as it simply ceases to bring the wanted result to the surface.

The number fourteen has a great importance in the sonneteering tradition, because a
sonnet always has a fixed form, with fourteen verses, and the rhyme following a certain
pattern. It is interesting that although all sonnetshave exactly fourteen verses, the rhyme
differs from one culture to another. For example, an English sonnet has a different type of
rhyme from an Italian one. Sonnets were greatly appreciated for their beauty and for the
mastery of the writers in expressing their feelings, and most sonnets were addressed to a lover.
William Shakespeare wrote over one hundred and forty sonnets, many of them being
about love, and some of them seem to be written for a man, while others, for a woman. The
„Shall I compare you to a day of summer” sonnet proves that Shakespeare considered nature
to be an important factor in a love story. In many of his plays, nature acts as a sanctuary for
the couples of lovers, and as a place where the characters find a solution to their problems,
for example: „Romeo and Juliet”, „A midsummer night's dream”, „As you like it” and „The
William Shakespeare is also known for the „bawdy sonnets” whose principal subjects are
sex and lust. Similar to the fabliaux, the bawdy sonnets present an initeresting vocabulary, that
does not appear to be obscene. One of the most famous bawdy sonnets is the „Will” sonnet,
in which Shakespeare uses derived forms of the word „will” that could mean either the male
„private parts”, someone's intention to do something and even Shakespeare's name. For the
female parts, the term „nothing” was used. A famous „bawdy” scene containing this word is
found in Hamlet; before the „play in the play” begins, Hamlet makes several sexual-themed
jokes during his dialogue with Ophelia.
Another important meaning of the word „fourteen” is found in one of Shakespeare's
most famous plays: Romeo and Juliet. When Romeo and Juliet first meet, they „communicate
through a sonnet”, which may be interpreted as the perfection of love. Also, during the play,
we learn that Juliet is thirteen years old, and that shewill turn fourteen in a „fortnite”, which
is fourteen days. Juliet's age is very important because, when she dies, she is almost fourteen
years old; she is an incomplete sonnet that lacks maturity and patience, which is also the cause
of her death.

Caines cynn
The Anglo-Saxon society evolved around the idea of a king that protects and provides for
his people. Such a king was deemed worthy by his people, and in Beowulf, we learn that Scyld
Scefing was a good king („Þæt wæs god cyning”), because he defeated in battle the
neighbouring peoples(„conquered their meadhalls”) and forced the defeated to pay him
tribute. It can be said that Beowulf was even a better king than Scyld, because of the four
superlatives at the end of the poem, shortly after Beowulf's funeral(both the burning of the
corpse and the barrow erected in his honour stand as proof that Christian and pagan influences
are present in the poem): „the kindest of men, the most eager for praise”, etc.
Beowulf was admired for his glorious and honorable deeds: he defeated Grendel, the
marsh-dwelling kin of Cain(there needs to be noted the fact that Grendel killed thirty thanes
at once, and Beowulf has the strength of thirty men which means that the two are at least
equal in physical strength), the abominable mother of Grendel(he defeated her with an ancient
sword, symbolizing enta geweorc), and a Dragon(he slew the Dragon with Wiglaf's aid, Wiglaf
being the one who stood loyal to Beowulf until the very end), but lost his life after he was
poisoned with the Dragon's blood. Beowulf, as a „god cyning” told Wiglaf to share the treasure
with his people, and to protect the kingdom. Unfortunately, the Geats are utterly destroyed,
without the wisdom and power of Beowulf(and without a leader that is worthy of the four
superlatives). After the Geat kingdom is conquered, a solitary man tries to hide and guard the
Not only does the „last survivor” in Beowulf try to do the will of his king, so does Deor,
who actually suffers as his king's decision was to give his lands and social status to a better
person. He laments his suffering, and compares it to other tragedies, ending each comparison
with the refrain „þæs ofereode þisses swa mæg”-”that went over, so may this”. An interesting
quote in Deor is „Þæt wæs grim cyning” - „that was a grim/bad king”. The grim king is
Eormanaric, king of the goths, known for his „wolfish ways”. In reality, Eormanaric ordered that
his wife should be trampled by horses, because he suspected her of adultery. Eormanaric
ultimately took his own life, because he feared an invasion of the Huns.
In „The Wanderer” the earth-stepper is alone, exiled, on the „hrim cealde saee”, stirring
the waves with his bare hands. He considers the loss of his lord/king as his greatest curse. His
lord was kind to the people, and offered the earth-stepper rewards. He dreams of his kinsmen
and the meadhall, but when he wakes up, he only sees seabirds, they and loneliness being his
only companions. In the end, the earthstepper sits, wandering no more, because he realised
that God isthe only stable point in a stable universe(the poem has a homiletic conclusion).
In „The dream of the rood”, Christ is mentioned as a warrior, fearlessly climbing his own
cross, his actions worthy of those of a germanic king. Strong both phisically and mentally, the
creator and guardian of mankind dies for „the sins of his kinsmen”. This poem also represents
the transition from a pagan religion to Christianity, in which Jesus Christ(„heofonrices
Weard”,”Frea aelmihtig” - Caedmon's Hym) resembles an ideal king.

God Cyning
Old English literature was written form 7th century to 10th century. The first old English
poem is considered to be ‘Caedmon’s Hymn’ whereas the latest is ‘The Grave’. Old English
writings are anonymous and the most important is one is considered to be ‘Beowulf’. Old
English literature is divided in two parts first one containing Heroic Germanic stories and the
second part containing Christian values.
Beowulf is the most representative old English poem, containing the idea of ‘god
cyning’. Beowulf is considered by some critics to be separated in three parts, centered around
the battle with each of the three monsters. The battle with Grendel introduces the idea of
reputation, the battle with Grendel’s mother symbolises the idea of revenge wherease the
fight against the dragon represents the chivalry code. There is another interpretation which
suggests that the poem is divided in two parts, centered around the phases of life: youth
versus death.
The most important themes in Beowulf are represented by loyality, reputation, envy
and revenge. The idea of loyality is introduced first from the very beginning. Beowulf is loyal
to Hrothgart because he helped his father and is also loyal to his uncle Hygelac. On the
contrary Beowul isn’t rewarded with the same value. When he chose eleven men to serve him
in the battle against the dragon only one remained loyal, Wiglaf. Reputation is really important
for Beowulf, always being concerned of how other people see him. An act of bravery is
underlined when Beowulf decides to fight the dragon alone. He is a wise man with little time
left, so he decides to die as a warrior.
The embodiment of envy is Grendel, he is envious because he can never share hope to
mankind as Danes do. He is a descendant of Cain, the son of Adam and Eve and he kills his
brother, Abel because of jealousy. Revenge seems to be a way of life for Germanic tribes.
Grendel’s mother revenge is presented in the poem. The most importants symbols in the
poem are represented by Heoreot which is not only a place to drink, but also a place of joy
and light, the place where are celebrated victories. In comparison with Heorot there is the
fenland, which represents the inheritance of Grendel and Grendel’s mother. They are
descendants of Cain and that is why their place can be associated with hell, a place where
sinners go.
Dragon’s treasure represents human’s defects and the dragon spends his entire life
guarding the treasure but it is useless for him. Another important symbol of the poem is
represented by the Banquet. Here they celebrate not only victories, but also the restauration
of harmony by building the destroyed place.
The identity of Beowulf- he is a pagan warrior who doesn’t believe in afterlife dimension
so he guides himself after concepts of loyalty, reputation and revenge. This concepts may
bring him imortality through the continuity of his individual memory. Women, according to
some critics have no role in the world of men. Contrary, beside the fact that they are queens,
they are also hostesses having the mission to ensure people at the mead-hall are having a
good time. Queen Wealtheow at her first appearance is shown sharing cups to king Hrothgart
which denotes the fact that he is the most powerful man at the table.
In the poem are underlined not only Christian values but also pagan ones. Christian
gestures are reflected in the fact that Beowulf always thanked to God after his battles, Grendel
is a descendant of Cain, the words addressed to Beowulf after he succeds in killing Grendel’s
mother seem to be like Jesus’ sermon on the Mountain or in the ending where Beowulf
decides to give his life for people, like Christ did once. The pagan elements are underlined by
the ‘wyrd’ which means fate. In Christianity there is no fate everything happens according to
Gods will. Beowulf’s sword was named Hrunting and was carved with strange symbols.
Thane’s swords were carved with incantations and prayers. In the poem is also emphasized
the practice of cremation which in Christian culture is not accepted at all.

The green world

Modern English Literature succeds Renaissance, is marked by Baroque and ended by
Enlightement, written from 16th century to 18th century. One of the most important features
is spelling standardisation, language is non-phonetic due to the Great Vowal shift when ‘e’
becomes silent at the end of the word Shakespear’s writing contributed to the spelling
The idea of ‘green world’ is emphasized in Shakesperian’s writings ‘ A Midsummer
Night’s Dream’ and also in ’King Lear’. In the forest all conflicts are solved and contributes to
the resturation of the entire poem.
’A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ is the 5th Shakesperian comedy. It represents the comedy
of love, where ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is seen at the opposite side, representing the tragedy of
love. The most important themes are represented by love, magic, and dream. The feeling of
love distances from the pure sentiment and gets the side of a childish game. It is an out-of-
balance state and it cannot be seen as a romantic feeling which fills human beings with
harmony, but rather as a generator of disorder. Magic is another theme which represents
another element which introduces the idea of anarchy. Puck applies the potion to the wrong
person, but the balance of love is restored at the end of the poem. Consequently, another
essencial theme is represented by dream. Many characters use the dream to explain irrational
aspects of reality. It can be seen under the shape of a bridge which creates the opposition
between reality and a parallel universe dominated by fancies. The term is extended in the end
of the play when Puck urges the audience to remember everything as a dream if they didn’t
understand the message behind:’ Good night to you all’.
Important motifs contribute to improve the quality of the play such as contrast and
oppositions. The entire play is based on contrastive proportions. The contrast is conveyed by
using mimethic desire which leads into oppositions. Helena is tall, Hermia is short, Titania is
beautiful wherease Bottom is grotesque. Another opposition is made on the gracefullness of
the forest in contrast to the earthy aspect of civilized world. Another aspects that should be
taken into consideration are those referring to symbols. Theseus and Hippolyta are in control
of their world, of their universe, while everybody is unsure , uncertain. Love potion creates
the idea of love as an almighty force which creates unexplicable phenomena: the love of
Lysander moves on from Hermia to Helena. It is also used the process mise-en-abîme which
suggests the insertion of a play within a play: the disapproval of Hermia’s parents concerning
her relationship.
Another play where we encounter the idea of ‘ green world’ is ‘King Lear’. King Lear is a
play which englobes real historical facts. It is a five-act tragedy and has eleven soliloquies. In
the play are used literary devices such as soliloquies which represent a kind of monolog but
there thoughts are told aloud and in presence of other characters. It is also used the double
plot device which creates the distinction between the negative effect of the natural law in
contrast to men’s law. The absence of the natural law is destructive and creates oppositions:
Kent is loyal to his king, Oswald isn’t to Goneril. Cornwall, Regan’s husband wants to gain the
kingdom even if this means to sacrifice his wife’s father. Albany has no intention to gain
personal glory.
We encounter another opposition in the behaviour of the king of France and Duke of
Burgundy. The king of France loves Cordelia in spite of her lack of money and he is willing to
support her in rescuing her father. In opposition there is the Duke of Burgundy for whom
Cordelia is useless, from the moment when he understands that she will bring him no money,
he rejects her.
The major theme emphasized in the play is blindness, King Lear is unable to see the real
intentions of his daughter. Another theme is centered around king’s crown. Here is
emphasized the loss of power from the moment when he decides to divide the kingdom into
two wrong parts. Then he is presented as showing a wildcrown at top of his head denoting his
mental instability and mindset degradation. The storm is also a metaphor for king’s state of
mind. Moreover in the play is emphasized the theme named nothingness. Is used many times
in the context and creates many interpretations. A general one refers to the idea of Genesis,
the creation of the world where ‘ God created everything from noting’ this is reflected when
King Lear asks his daughter about how much she loves him.
Another interpretation may refer to the fact that the king means nothing without his

Caines cynn
In one of the most representative poems of Old English literature, the opposition
between Christianism and paganism determines Beowulf. The hero has to fight the three
monsters, Grendel, his mother and the dragon, in order to restore peace within his kin.
Grendel is beign introduced as the descendant of Cain, a refference to the Old Testament story
of Cain and Abel, God banishing Cain for murdering his brother. Therefore, a Christian
refference within a pagan character, a monster, is one of the main features that are depicting
the duality and opposition of values found in the poem. Such matter can be noticed in the
hero himself, Beowulf, that although posses the qualities of a Christian king (strong enough to
protect his kin, patient, generous) is torn between these and the gain of fame and glory after
a battle that he thinks about, not just defending his people. Therefore, the “grim ond grædig”
(grim and greedy) monster that Grendel is, the one that lurks behind the moors and snatches
people away, is being killed by the God-sent Beowulf, God being ultimately pleased by the
perish of a monster that belongs to a line of a man that he once banished. Another character
who is descending from Cain is Grendel’s mother, that is driven only by the desire to avenge
her son. Revenge is also, if not a pagan, at least a non-Christian value ( at some point Beowulf
advises the king that it is better to seek revenge than to mourn a person) it is a moral justified
deed. Grendel’s mother is morally justified to attack Heorot, just like the dragon is morally
justified to protect the treasure, thus being a main feature in the germanic culture.
“Caines cynn” is the obvious reference to a Christian reading of the poem that
determines a pagan character reinforcing the villainous concept of the outcast. Such pagan-
Christian opposition can not only be found in literature but also in crafting. The Franks Casket,
a knife-carved box is the best example of such notion. On one of the panel that is divided in
two, we can observe the representation of the tale of Weland, wich after was casted by king
Nithad, he killed his sons and made cups out of their heads, jewels out of their eyes and
brooches out of their teeth. He offered such gifts to the king and queen, without them
knowing the provenience of them. On the right side is beign carved the Adoration of the Magi,
the Christian story of the gift-bringing Magi to the Christ Child. There is a strong opposition
between the gifts of revenge of Weyland and the gifts of love of the Magi, but also between
birth and death.

Snottor on mode
The Anglo-Saxon vision on human existence is one weighted down by sorrow, pessimism
and nihilism. This view is reflected in some admirable poems, such as "The Wanderer" and
"The Seafarer". The principal atmosphere is that of fatalism, a civilisation represented by one
individual's struggle against fate, "wyrd". In both poems the universal man is enbodied in a
singular persona, on the path of ilumination by suffering, a man caught in a wasteland, who
bitterly contemplates either the former glory of his world, either the hardships he has to
endure on sea, compared to the easy life on land. The striking similarity between the two is
represented by "the path of exile", the sorrows one has to face, the winterly wasteland.
However, the similarities end there.
Both the Wanderer ("eardstapa") and the Seafarer seek to become wise. However, the
ascetic way of enlightenment is through suffering, throught the passing of time and through
experiences (The Wanderer: "A man cannot be wise until he has lived a great deal of winters
in the kingdom of the world"). Suffering is needed in order to understand human's place in
the world: a post apocaliptic world, as it seems, in which the last survivor was left to
contemplate the death of his kin, the ruin of time (eald enta geweorc -the work of the giants
), the mutability of existence, the fatalism nature of existence. The poem is structured in two
parts, the first one dominated by the word "feel", and the second one by "think". The first 58
lines depict the exterior world, the path of exile in a frosted landscape, while the second part
focuses on the interior struggles of the man who finds comfort in the glory of God, the eternal
Lord (ece drihten). He is left to contemplate the former glory of men, followed by their death,
force that shallows everything: the massacre of men, the ruin of the meadhall, the absence of
his beloved Lord (ring giver). His companions appear as in a vision in the form of birds, symbol
for the departure of their souls. "Her bið mon læne, Her bið freond læne" everything and
everyone is "læne"- transitory, is about to disappear or has died already. The grief in his
"breast coffin" (a kenning for his chest, his soul), in his "mode" (both the mind and the soul) is
amplified by the harsh weather; the "way of the whale" (the sea) is covered by frost, the wind
bitrs furiously with cold. The Anglo-Saxon philosophy states, however, that "it is a kingly thing"
for men not to complain, to endure fate as it is ("a man should not complain unless he finds a
solution to his sorrows"), to endure the lonelyness. The poem concludes with a gnomic
formula: the only consolation a man has is in "the eternal lord", just as Deor concludes: "This
has passed, so may this". Even pain and solitude will pass, once the Wanderer reaches "Fæder
on heofonum" (the Father in heaven).
A similar vision is shared by "The Seafarer", whose travel is not on deserted land, but
on the sea. There is no apparent reason for his travel, his facing of hardship and sorrows, and
yet, the path to wisdom lies through suffering, a feeling even more amplified than in the
Wanderer. While in the first poem the anxiety comes from the transitory fate of man,the
former glory and the fallen present, the Seafarer has no melancholy for the glorious past. He
views his travel as a moral duty, he suffers from hunger, thirst, cold, the absence of his kin's
company (his only company is the seabirds song,the cuckoo's song which it seems to bring
death). The beggining of the poem is of major importance in both poems: in the Wanderer
"Oft him anhaga"- often the solitary man- and in the Seafarer "I will sing a song about the
sorrows.."I" denotes a confesion, including the reader in the seafarer's jpurney of toil. Once
again, the critics have understood in his attitude a form of ascetic understanding of life. In
such manner it is created an expressive parallel between the comfort of living on earth (the
people happy and flushed with wine) and the wretchedness of the sea. It has been argued that
the path of exile here is a metaphor for life itself: a way that must be endured alone in order
to understand it. "Mode" , both the soul and the mind, is characterised by sorrow and yet, the
seafarer does not complain, but accepts it. Unlike the case of the Wanderer, the Seafarer's
exile is the path that he chose, leaving behind the pleasant life of the hall, his companions and
For life is a journey that must be experienced alone, where all things are transitory,
earthly wealth will disappear, men will die, and death is the only certain thing. Death and the
mighty Lord, the Creator, whose powers are limitless.

Nature and Nurture

William Shakespeare's geniality consists in the first place in his "creation of the human".
Through his plays, Shakespeare depicts human nature at its purest form, be it foolish, cruel,
or admirable. His vision upon the world is best ilustrated in his final masterpiece, The Tempest,
consisting of all his ideas and themes used so far. Called by the critics "a plotless play", The
Tempest succeds in portraying the author's tragic, nihilist in a way, view on human condition.
The philosophic question arises: wht makes "the human"? Is it nature, or nurture? Is human
good by nature, as Gonzalo suggests, in a naive perspective, and society is the core of all evils?
Is this Shakespearian Jean Jaques Rousseau to be pitted for his naivity? What he, and the rest
of his companions suggest, a society in which everyone owns everything, and no one owns
anything, is a utopia. Shakespeare asks the obvious question: are all men equal, and yet, why
does one of them to rule the others? The answer is clear: human nature is not perfect, and
not even good nurture can eradicate the evil. The utopia resembling communism will remain
unachievable due to human's eagerness for money, or glory, or lust. The best example of the
antithesis between nature and nurture is Canial. He is, indeed, a grotesque character by
nature, he represents the water and the earth, he lives in a cave under the mountain and is
dominated by basic human desires. Whether is he educated by Prospero for 12 years or not,
it makes no difference, he remains the monstruous creature, the son of a witch, he has always
been. How else could it be explained that, in spite of growing up with Miranda for such a long
time, he still tries to rape her "to populate the island with little canibals".
Moreover, considering that people are corrupted by society, but are good by nature, it
would mean that the outsiders on the island should turn from usurpers to good people, and
yet, they leave the island just as evil as they arrived. The tragedy of human condition is further
revealed by the fact that, no matter what upbring one gets, his fate is doomed: for this is the
natural human, stripped of ideals and appearances; a creature characterised by lust, by desires
to be praised an aquire wealth, to usurp his father, his brother, his friend.
This is the bitter conclusion Shakespeare comes to after a lifetime of descovering and
inventing the human. Rotten to the core by nature, not even a promised island or a magical,
paradisiac forest (Arcadia) - the nurture- could change him.

Wyrd seo swiþe

Exactly the way Bede made clear while translating Caedmon’s Hymn, that “it is
impossible to translate poetry, however well written, from one language to another without
some loss of beauty and dignity”, it is very difficult to find a suitable word or definition
nowadays to completely explain the meaning of “Wyrd”, probably the most important Old
English concept. Possibly the most emblematic work for showing the actual beauty of Old
English literature is “The Ruin”. Wyrd appears from the very first line, more specifically after
the caesura: “wyrde gebraecon” and literally destroys the expectations the reader had
imagined when reading the very first half-line. Wyrd represents the anticlimax of the poem
and also summarizes the entire description that follows in the rest of the work. Wyrd is the
one force that ruined the wonderful wallstone and the people who used to enjoy the events
happening there. This concept goes hand in hand with time, both representing the enemies
of both masonry and the people. Wyrd is the one force of destruction in front of which
everybody and everything is powerless and hopeless too; the main belief was, that Wyrd
affects everything, no matter how wonderful it used to be in the past, as in the present it
ceased to be so. The only thing that remains, after Wyrd has put his power upon someone or
something, is the memory of the glorious, wonderful, happy and stunning past in contract to
the present terrible situation. Allthough the building was “enta geweorc”, Wyrd still couldn’t
be stopped from literally destroying it, and put an end to its beauty, as the idea of a pleasant
or beautiful decay would have been meaningless in that time, when Wyrd would not end lives
in a beautiful way. The idea of Wyrd is not only to be recognized in verbs: gebraecon, burston
or adjectives, but also in the way the poem sounds, namely the alliterations on each line and
the stress added to them make the reader feel as though he were there to see and hear how
this force of evil destroys, building an incredible synesthesia through mixing liquids with
voiced consonants and actually building the sound of the effects Wyrd had: “wr” “br”
“Wraetlic is pes waelstan, wyrde gebraecon; burgstede burgston, brosnap enta geweorc”.
The same concept of Wyrd is to be recognized also in other Old English poems, such as
“The Wanderer” or “The Seafarer”, but these two were meant to turn the Pagans to
Christianity and that is why the “Wyrd” concept does not stand alone, still there are some
elements pointing to the belief, that the people are powerless and hopeless in front of Wyrd.
Starting with “The Wanderer” who has lost everything that was dear to him: his family,
friends and lord and finds himself now alone, in the cold winter, because that is was Wyrd
caused to his life. “The Seafarer” too is left alone and powerless because of a force much more
powerful than he could be. What these two poems have in common with “The Ruin” is the
pessimistic view of the world, but what makes them different is the concept of God in the last
two ones mentioned, who is the only saver of the wonderer and the seafarer, who both have
endured terrible loss and pain.
This concept of turning from Wyrd to God, from Pagan to Christianity is also specifically
made clear in “Beowulf”. Both the main characters and the actions show the meaning of wyrd:
starting with Beowulf, which represents the myth of the eternal comeback, the wyrd force can
be recognized throughout the play when we are reminded, that his power and wins will end
someday, as that is, what wyrd does. Another element typical for Wyrd are the monsters and
dragons, which represent the bad and the evil; although Grendel could have killed more
people, he only killed how many Wyrd decided there should be killed.
People back in the Anglo-Saxon periode used to believe, life was given to them and,
sooner or later, Wyrd will take it from them, no matter how much they would try to resist or
fight it, as they are powerless and hopeless in front of decided fate by the evil force: Wyrd.

Snottor on mode
English language has in its wealth lots of works written and transmitted to us from
hundreds of years ago.In their composition are hidden ideas and images of a different
mentalities, different people, in a word a different shape of the world.
Old English works talk about life and death, light or darkness, happiness or sadness but
also about wisdom. Wisdom is the characteristic expressed in unique ways in poems like “The
Wanderer”,” The Seafarer” or even in “Beowulf”. +
The Wanderer is the most representative poem where the word “wisdom” is the best
defined.+ It talks about a man who and to be have lots of friends and a beautiful life but after
the battle all of them are gone. From the beginning it is highlighted the idea of exile saying
that “The solitary man may know grace, the mercy of God” but only after travelling on the
iced-cold sea and living a life full of suffering, a life of exile.+
This poem highlights from the beginning the words like “anhaga“,”wintercearing“ which
transmits to the reader the image of suffering. They are accompanied in the poem by the same
beginning of a few lines with the adverb “Oft” suggesting the interminable and frequent
After suffering a life full of loneliness and wretchedness moments a person should be
well prepared to understand and diserve a better lifestyle. This argument can be supported
by the verse from the poem “No man may know wisdom till many a winter has been his
Wisdom is also used as a motif in the Old English poem “Beowulf”.For instance,in the
story the hero is presented from two persepectives:one of them is when Beowulf it’s young
and belives in himself that he can handle anything fighting with his bare hands and the other
should be his last battle when he loses.Only then he gains wisdom and lets his destiny in fate
and in God.+
These poems brings along with the idea of wisom,the one of fate.”Wyrd” is the aspect
which can be included in the one of wisdom.Fate means believing in something superior and
using that idea to espress the rational thinking.For example,at the end of the poem when
Beowulf is closed to his death he says that only God can save him and lets his destiny in his
As literature is characterized by de word “mimesis” we should reflect on the idea and
try to find ourselves in those lines.+Wisdom is something which comes through time and not
seomthing that we are borg with and in a way it is important and usefull to know what to
expect from life even from this poem.
Gustav Jung composed a theory of the archetypal hero which says that life it is the work
between the light psyhe and the darkness.+
As a knight which fights through good and bad we should also try to go through life with
calm and courage.
To sum up, wisdom is an interesting characteristic found especially in the Old English
poems “Beowulf” and “The Wanderer” and should be regarded of us as some useful stories of

Nature and nurture

Nature and nurture are two elements which can be seen in lots of works in the English
Literature. They can represent physical places or symbols in writings.Such examples could be
in the plays of Shakespeare in Old English poems.
Nature is one of the symbols which are well represented in plays of Shakespeare as The
Tempest, A midsummer’s night dream or As you like it.+Nature is the place where a destiny
can change,where hope for a solution can be found there.+Nature could be represented by
the colour green, a colour which symbolize vitality,hope,life.
A midsummer’s night dream and As you like it presents through irony the stories of
missunderstanding and mixing-ups the destinies of two different groups.In A midsummer’s
night dream the characters of the play Hermina,Egeus,Demetrius,Lysander and Helena go
through a series of changes and try to get salvation in the forest of Arden.
In this play the nature represents a plan of mistery a plan where fairies leave and where
darkness and unknown covers everything.
These plays contains in its nature elements of darkness. For instance,when Bottom is
transformed into an Ass symbolyes the evil, the darkness sight of the man in general. Also he
symbolyses the force of man in general.
Another play where this syntagm can be found it is The Tempest.The Tempest is one of
the most important plays of Shakespeare because in it are summed up ideas from the whole
plays of Shakespeare.
The Tempest presents the story of a banished duke.He together with his daughter and
they are watching a shipwreck.Prospero was banished for a period of twelve years by his
We can find in this play the magic number of twelve.Twelve Is the number found in the
perfection of hours,years,life in general.Duke’s daughter has almost the same age as Juliet
from the wall known play of Romeo and Juliet.
The Tempest also has the element of evil. He is represented by the character
Caliban.+Caliban is one of the two men met by the duke’s daughter. He special because he’s
the only one who treats reality in a different way getting drunk and hoping for the duke’s
Prospero the good father who not only takes care and loves his daughter ardently but
he tries to teach those around him a bit of his wisdom.
This play also presents the element of nature.
The characters are isolated on an island. An island surrounded by water. Water is
another element important of the play because it can hide the mistery of unknown.
To sum up with, Shakespeare’s play contains an interesting way of presenting ideas.
He’s ideas are expressed different and as he says “I’m the time I lived I was the world’s

Wyrd seo swiþe

Recurrent in the 10th century Exeter Manuscript, the Anglo-Saxon term “wyrd” is an
ambiguous concept to form the basis of the three main beliefs found in the Old English
literature: Death, Fatalism and Wisdom. Globally understood as “fate”, “wyrd” is found to
trace even the Shakespearean 16th century plays, with a meaning that hasn’t lost its depth
throughout time.
Unfriendly to the Christian beliefs introduced to the Anglo-Saxons of the 6th century,
“wyrd” becomes a pagan concept opposite to God. It is understood as the power that wields
misfortune, wavering and beyond understanment, while God, through comparison, is the
stability and consolation brought to the man who is suffering under the pressure of Wyrd. The
10th century “Exeter Book” is a collection of texts where such victims of fate cry their woe and
seek soothing in the faith in God. In “The Wanderer”, the homiletic message brings a parallel
between the isolation, coldness and suffering of the present through comparison with the
glorious, rich and joyful past. The ending is similar to that of “The Seafarer”, a reflection upon
the misery of man in absence of God’s glory and upon the hope in eternity. The entwining of
the two opposing concepts shows the syncretism specific to the day’s texts; however, “The
Ruin” is an exception. “Wyrd” dominates the landscape in this strongly alliterative poem: the
narrator or the poet describes his vision of the beautiful city before its ruin and collapse:
“wraetclihe (…) etna geweork”. The transient theme is powerful, but there’s no note of hope
in the eternal, as dictated by Christian beliefs.
Understood both as death and fate, “wyrd” can be clearly distinguished in the 17 th
century Shakesperian plays as well. The Renaissance brings vitality and spring to a winter-
stricken England, and with the new Medieval Literature come new themes of love and
comedy. But the Modern English tragic plays of Shakespeare seem to remember “wyrd” and
introduce it between his characters as it is in reality, gambling with humanity as it always has.
The tragedy of “Macbeth” might, perhaps, be the most relevant play to define “wyrd”: the
three witches that dictate the events with their prophecies almost as if it were a game, are
thought to represent the Fates, three goddesses of the Greek mythology, who determine the
duration of one’s life. The decay on both interior and exterior levels, as much as “Macbeth” is
concerned, is similar to that of another masterpiece of Shakespeare’s: “Julius Caesar”. Driven
by events that are hardly stable, the characters gravitate around the decision of Julius Caesar’s
assasination. But their decisions are always wrong because the cannot read the omens, and
thinking that they can control this “wyrd” is the reason for Brutus’ and Casius’ death. The only
flexible character in the play, the politically skilled drunkard Anthony, who refuses to stand
against this overpowering force of fate and death, is the one who survives. “Hamlet”, on the
other hand, is, perhaps, the only play in which the character is conscious of “wyrd”; for this
reason, his overly precautious actions might be misinterpreted as hesitant and. But Hamlet,
whose anger towards the treatchery of both his mother and his uncle drives him to seek
revenge, ponders on the meaning of death. He inspects it both spiritually (he puts to doubt
the ghost’s testimony) and physically (he muses at the transcience of life while holding Yorick’s
skull), and decides that “wyrd” is a force too strong to act rashly against it, realizing that the
entire human body is under its devouring influence and barriage. The moment of his death is
brought by his momentarry abandon of self-awareness, preparing the terrain for yet another
display of the undefeatable “wyrd”.
In the English literature we can observe how “wyrd” is more than a recurrent element;
it is a force that controls everything, even beyond the reach of the stability which is brought
by the Christian beliefs. Moreover, when “wyrd” devours the world and humanity altogether,
even the consolation in the Christian salvation becomes questionable for the English

The Oxymoron
While emotion has always been an element of wonder for the artist and the writer, its
depth seems many times unreachable in terms of expression. In English Literature, poets and
prose writers resort to oxymoron to express the unexplainable, and Shakespeare becomes a
master of ambiguity for the Early Modern English.
In Old English Literature, the oxymorons that can be found mostly concern elements of
Fate, Death and Wysdom: the collapsed ruined of a city are wonderful, the coldness of
isolation is burning, and the apocalyptic picture creates a mixture of feelings painted in
complementary colours. However, in Middle English literature, the element of comparison is
switched to love, and in a culture of chivalry, courtly and uncourtly love, the French-inspired
troubadours introduce the “suffering of love”. This feeling of vitality becomes a war in which
the sentiment itself is less analysed in comparison to the process of transforming a moment
of passion into a refined work of art: the man’s life and happiness depends on the lady’s
refusal or acceptance to his love.
Shakespeare exploits this idea during Modern English literature days, as best seen in his
signature play, “Romeo and Juliet”, as well as in his sonnets. The play, argued to be a
dramatized sonnet itself, debutes with Romeo’s love-stricken monologue, filled with
oximorons of great intensity: “Oh, brawling love! Oh, loving hate! (…) Oh, misshapen chance
(…)!” However, the most prominent oximoron in the play is between the love of Romeo and
Juliet, characterised with violence and death. More than a war of happiness and woe, love
becomes a luxury that the more the two “starcrossed lovers” dive in, the closer they are to
death and misfortune. As a forbidden terrain, Romeo and Juliet have to defy all social
institutions to enter it, even though they try to please each of them: the church, the political
ruler of the country who banishes Romeo, the patriarchal power of Juliet’s father. Following
the Shakesperian pattern of the “green world”, as described by Frye at the end of the 16 th
century , they seek the outside of the city, of the social circle, to let their love flourish. But
even here, the place is met by death: it is a cemetery, and as if it is an unfinished comedy, the
tragedy ends before they can return to the city happily fulfilled by love. Instead, death
overwhelms their affection, just as it has been hinted throughout the play: after they get
married, the morning is a moment of dismay, they see each other as corpses, and the night,
darkness, is their escape and hope, opposite to the stereotypical Elizabethian metaphors and
C.S. Lewis talks in “The Allegory of Love”, chapter one, “Courtly Love”, of the four marks
of this romantic affection: , Courtely, Adultery and the Religion of Love (Love can be an
extension of, a redeem from, or a rival of love), but in the Shakesperian romantic sonnets and
tragedy, we see that love, instead, is, as an oximoron, marked essencially by death instead.

Snottor on mode
The collective subconsciousness of the anglo-saxons seems to be charactarised throught
the body of work they left behind by a sense of fatalistic, deterministic outlook on fate
(“wyrde”) which can only be healed through a kind of philosophical consolation (Boethius).
The kings (Þæt was god cyning), the wanderers (earcstapa), the artists, all seem to seek a
gnomic interpretation of their reality. What they sought the most was dignity (JRR Tolkien,
“The Monsters and the Critics”).
When Caedmon “sang his song”, it was after an angel-like image occurred in his dream;
it encouraged him to sing in public to embrace that which he was most afraid of. This is the
basis of the Old English language and it’s idea still echoes in the “Wanderer”, where comfort
is sought out in sorrow (sorg to frenen), in “The Seafarer”, where that which is melancholy
starts to appear attractive to the disillusioned mind. In “Beowulf”, the protagonist is
confronted by conflicts in which he is less and less justified to retaliate (Grendl, Grendl’s
mother, then the dragon). The material rewards he receives from the first king are the ones
condemned in “The Ruin.”
It helps to consider what exactly was seen as a “good king” by the anglo-saxons: a
courageous, powerful (such as the image of Jesus in “the Dream of the Rood”, a result of
christian and nordic theology at once), merciless, which resulted in a better economy (based
on agriculture). As we see toward the end of Beowulf, there is a transition from this said
conception to a more christian one: Beowulf was a “friend to men”, “full of love.” It resembles
the image of the master in “Deor”, the godlike entity to which the voice in “The Wanderer” is
so nostalgic.
Another element prevalent in the anglo-saxon conception of wisdom is the transitory
nature of all material, even mutable (as we much later see in “Everyman”) objects and ideas.
The formula “Þæs ofereode, Þisses swa mæg” in “Deor” is a prime example of this. In “Deor”,
we’re transported through a (typically medieval) interlace of mythological artists (Welan, the
rapist smith of Old Norse),geit rulers, men, women, who all faced struggles and perished along
the way. The poem raises this idea to the paradigm of cultural rivalry, as Deor becomes
obsolete under the success of a new poet. Thus, even art is transient in the end. The “hwær
cwom”, anglo-saxon “ubi-sunt” formula which appears in “The Wanderer” is another prime
example of how this type of meditation resulted from the actions of men and the sublime
forces of nature.
Possibly the most impersonal gnomic poem is “The Wanderer”, where nothing is related
in the first person and all we see is the material ascent and descent of human possibility,
starting with the anticlimactic first verse: “Wreatlic Þes wealstan, wyrde gebrecan.” The style
and structure of the poem gives the impression of human greatness even in the process of
meditation on fate.
Another important gnomic concept is that of taciturnity, the outcast (“wreaccan”) who
in his exile (“wreacclas”) keeps all his thoughts to himself. It is the type of wisdom later echoed
(unconsciously and hazardly) in the works of Shakespeare (“Speak less than you know”…).
These artists were probably not inspired by Boethius’ “Consolation of Philosophy”, but
it paints a vivid depiction of the general mindset in which they lived. The fatalistic dimension
was ameliorated somewhat by fate, but more importantly by an idea of “all things in their
right place”(again, echoed in Shakespeare).
It is also important to note the distinction between the influences which nordic,
christian, and roman traditions had on the anglo-saxon mindset (most concisely depicted in
the Franks Casket). For example, the characters in Beowulf are pagan, but Grendl is marked
by “Cain’s kin” (Caines cynne).

Nature and nurture

In “The Tempest”, Caliban is refered to by Prospero as “nature which nurture cannot
tame.” It is the essence of human kind, the retaliators who need a ruler, born beyond good
and evil only to be brought to a functional place in society.
The duality is also indicative of the relationship between civilization and nature, as
identified by Northrop Frye in Shakespeare’s problem comedies. The “green world” is the
space within which society is rejuvanted, the evil is expelled (“Midsummer Night’s Dream”;
“As You Like It”). Nonetheless, the ambiguity of this natural dimension is of imperative
importance: Caliban displays a childlike sensibility to the sounds of the forest, in conflict with
a childishly violent view on his reality (“this island would have been populated by Calibans”).
It is an ironic take on Montague’s essay regarding “the natural man.” The roots of “the green
world” lay in “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”’s depiction of man’s primordial, animalistic
nature, which must be faced and not ignored.
But even “good” nurture, “civilized” nurture leads man to actions and thoughts which
result in a disruption of the natural order, as we see in Shakespeare tragedies. It is in this
context, as is in the lack of self-knowledge mocked in the comedies, that man must brought
to see his own true essence: beyond the nothingness (all that is in excess of humanity) as seen
in King Lear, or the “objective correlatives” (TS Elliot) through which Hamlet tries to grasp the
In the case of the problem comedies, this involves an acknowledgement of the illusory
nature of reality (in tragedies, it stems either from the character’s intellectual laziness, as seen
in Polonius, or from the abnormality of the great mind (A.C. Bradley) as seen in Hamlet. The
“moon” is the element which marks and differentiates the fairy world from the “real” world
in “Midsummer Night’s Dream”, but as Northrop Frye observes, only Theseus’ wife realizes
that the “dreams” of the lovers may be as real as their “waking” life. The tricks put on by Puck
serves as a demonstration of how much folly there is in a world where plays like the one put
on at the end can take place. The audience and the artists are tricked by their confused desires
and perceptions on the female gender (fearing that the ladies would be scared of the lion.
Rosalind’s maneuvres serve the same purpose: in a play consisting mostly of semi-
philosophical conversations, she resorts to action and influence, because she knows how to
play each part (lover, brother, daughter). She has already internalized long ago the ideas
expressed by Jacques (all the world’s a stage), she knows how different nurturings result in
different personalities.
Therefore, if “art” (in its various manifestations) leads us back through nurture and
toward a vision of our true nature, Prospero knows that this is only temporary. In the end,
none of the characters in “The Tempest” are truly changed, and they are heading back to a
corrupt society, but the moment of reckoning, the impressions of catharsis are essential to at
least mend the disruption in an albeit fundamentally faulty moral universe. It is why King Lear’s
anagnorisis during the storm is followed by the death of Cordelia. In his fall, we see man’s
potential for greatness, which stems through nurture from his nature (“Is man any more than
All in all, Caliban represents humanity as a whole way more than he could symbolize
“the noble savage”, corrupted by civilization. We see ourselves in Caliban’s low elements
(water and earth) more than we do in Ariel’s high ones (air and fire), but the nurture must
never end even, when it seems to be in vain.

Wyrd seo swiþe

Before tackling the broader concept of ‘wyrd’ within Anglo-Saxon vernacular poetry, one
must delineate the context in which it was used and the variegated implications with regards
to the concept of transience as it was treated by the pre-Norman inhabitants of the British
The average undergraduate student will have a hard time fathoming the overbearing
sense of mutability that was ingrained in Anglo-Saxon culture. Whereas evidence suggests that
today’s lifespan averages seventy-eighty years, the prospects of living beyond one’s thirties
was slim in the 7th and 8th centuries. Thus, the Anglo-Saxon man’s primary spiritual concern
was that of eternity, sought initially in renown, glory, prestige and the long-lived praise of
men, and, with the advent of Christianisation, in everlasting tenure in heaven.
These two incongruous paradigms, the heroic and the sacrificial, the triumphant and the
meek, the pagan and the Christian, will have overarching syncretic consequences in works
such as The Dream of the Rood, The Seafarer, The Wanderer, Beowulf and many others,
providing a challenge for the poet to reconcilliate apparent paradoxes.
Among these paradoxes, we encounter the term ‘wyrd’, which roughly translates to
destiny, fate, the predetermined, star-crossed path being one of the ancestral beliefs that the
pagans inherited, which clashed with the conceptions of free will and (the) rejection of
fatalism that the early Christian scholars preached. Notwithstanding, even in poems of a highly
sophisticated doctrinal rationale such as The Seafarer, where the mandate of ‘pathei mathos’
conveyed by the wanderer echoes in the ever stranger ascetic journey that the seafarer
undertakes, we meet phrases such as ‘wyrd bið ful aræd’ (fate is fully inexorable). Therefore
we can see that the perplexities of a syncretic culture of pagan belief and Christian philosophy
put the poets in an apparent quandary, and not only with regards to ‘wyrd’, but as Christine
Fell notes in the Perceptions of transience chapter of The Cambridge Companion to Old English
Literature with regards to the conflicting attitudes towards the world of a secular and clerical
outlook, breeding “the anguished affection with which a Christian poet regards those lovely
things of the world that the preacher tells him to despise”.
Indeed, resenting and rejecting the secular pleasures and values of the world was all the
more difficult knowing the maudlin fate of the world, its ceaseless dissolution and decay of
civilization, the continuous process of shifting towards death, of which ‘wyrd’ is the harbinger.
The eschatological conception of the Anglo-Saxon viewed this world as a wasteland overcome
by hoary winter, fettering the limbs of men in frost, claiming buildings (‘hrim on lime’), winter
imperceptibly suffusing in the very fabric of human negative experience, even anxiety taking
the shape of the ‘wintercearig’ man. The lament of decay pervades in all English poetry: ‘wyrd
seo swiþe’, the ‘Ubi sunt’ passages inspired by Isidore of Seville “Hwær cwom meorg? Hwær
cwom mago? Hwær cwom maþþumgyfa?”, the acknowledgement that all is ‘læne’: “Her bið
feoh læne, Her bið freond læne / Her bið mon læne, Her bið mæg læne” and the very desolate
picture of the ‘ruined hall topos’: ‘Wrætlic is þæs wealstan wyrde gebræcan / Burgstede
burstan, brosnað enta geweorc / Hrofe sind gehrorene hreorge torres.’
When operating between the coordinates of a pagan and Christian set of values, the
poets had, in the end, to find clarity in what true permanence was and how it defied ‘wyrd’.
Thus, we have the restabilizing picture in The Wanderer, who finds solace in seeking “Frofre
to Fæder on heofonum”, the resolution of becoming one of the ‘peregrini pro amore deo’ in
The Seafarer and, on the other hand, the heroic imperatives of Beowulf, where nonetheless,
Christian undertones exist, as the hero saves the Danes from aposthasy and presents himself
as a true heroic ‘philantropist’, if we may borrow Joyce Hill’s idea, who, although not an
‘imitatio Cristi’ is neither a ‘rex perditus’, reflecting all the good and wholesome traits of a
‘geong hæleþ’ in youth, and a ‘rex iustus’ (although ‘lofgeornost’) in old age.
To conclude, we may certainly assert that ‘wyrd’ has a strong influences on Old English
‘elegiac’ poetry, in all its alliterative, formulaic and apositive splendour, though it is
counterweighed by Christian principles. Indeed, so strong were its roots, that even
Shakespeare has used the word in the early 17th century play The Tragedy of Macbeth in
creating “the weird sisters”, which we’ll discuss in the subsequent essay.