Featuring essays from some of the most prominent voices in early medieval English studies, Dating Beowulf: studies in intimacy playfully redeploys the word ‘dating’, which usually heralds some of the most divisive critical impasses in the field, to provocatively phrase a set of new relationships with an Old English poem. This volume presents an argument for the relevance of the early Middle Ages to affect studies and vice versa, while offering a riposte to anti-feminist discourse and opening avenues for future work by specialists in the history of emotions, feminist criticism, literary theory, Old English literature, and medieval studies alike. To this end, the chapters embody a range of critical approaches, from queer theory to animal studies and ecocriticism to Actor-Network theory, all organized into clusters that articulate new modes of intimacy with the poem.
What would it mean to ‘date’ Beowulf? And what do we learn when we try? This playful pun on one of the more controversial terms in the scholarship on this poem allows a consideration of the range of intimacies generated by it as well as a conditioning of both the poem and its scholarship. Accordingly, this introductory chapter seeks to get intimate with Beowulf, drawing on critical discussions of affect, queer historiography, and contemporary literary theory in order to form a kind of dating profile that serves as a conceptual framework for the various modes of intimacy in and with the poem that emerge throughout the volume. Dating Beowulf coheres as a project in presenting a new set of readings – both critical and personal – that aim to generate new avenues of discussion for an Old English poem too often mired in critical impasses, and this opening essay frames the conversation accordingly, highlighting the various couplings and methodological approaches on display, while articulating the relevance of the early Middle Ages to affect studies and vice versa.
Although it only survives in one half-burned copy, Beowulf is today both the star poem that begins countless British literature surveys and one of the few medieval texts with sufficient name recognition to receive a major movie adaptation under the same title as its scholarly edition. Yet the traditional account of the poem’s – relatively recent – rise to prominence hinges on a single essay. For a long time, Beowulf’s success has been attributed to J. R. R. Tolkien’s 1936 Israel Gollancz Memorial British Academy lecture, subsequently published as ‘Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics’, which is conventionally understood to have authorised the poem for literary study insofar as it frames Beowulf as worthy of aesthetic appreciation and analysis. Was Tolkien – together with the British Academy – really singularly responsible for delivering Beowulf to the literature classroom, the publishing industry and Hollywood? In this chapter, we ask what other stories we can tell about the poem, both in terms of its enduring appeal as a poem and its course through different institutional spaces and historical moments.