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Confronting Evil and the monstrous "Other" in "Beowulf" and its filmic adaptations : understanding heroic action and the limits of knowledge

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Confronting Evil and the monstrous "Other" in "Beowulf" and its filmic adaptations : understanding heroic action and the limits of knowledge

Gomes Gargamala, Miguel Ángel
 
DATE : 2015-10-26
UNIVERSAL IDENTIFIER : http://hdl.handle.net/11093/679
UNESCO SUBJECT : 6202.01 Crítica de Textos ; 6203.01 Cinematografía ; 7202.02 Hermenéutica
DOCUMENT TYPE : doctoralThesis

ABSTRACT :

This thesis explores the struggle against the figure of the monster in the Old English poem “Beowulf” and in its cinematic adaptations. It looks at both the meaning and representation of monstrous creatures, and the heroic response to the threats they posed to humanity. I argue that by analysing the confrontation between mankind and its “Other”, it is possible to find out much about how poetry and storytelling react to the reality of Evil. Using a variety of approaches inspired by a narrative and practical understanding of the “enigma” of Evil, I offer a discussion of “Beowulf” that aims at highlighting the necessity for action and human response which lies at the heart of the poem. The Introduction discusses a variety of classical and early medieval approaches to evil thoughts, human vices, monstrosity and the demonic, alongside a brief commentary on the double nature of Evil as wrongdoing and suffering. Chapter One considers other researcher’s discussions on the hybrid figure of the monster and how such fictional characters toy with humanity¿s anxieties, neurosis and frames ... [+]
This thesis explores the struggle against the figure of the monster in the Old English poem “Beowulf” and in its cinematic adaptations. It looks at both the meaning and representation of monstrous creatures, and the heroic response to the threats they posed to humanity. I argue that by analysing the confrontation between mankind and its “Other”, it is possible to find out much about how poetry and storytelling react to the reality of Evil. Using a variety of approaches inspired by a narrative and practical understanding of the “enigma” of Evil, I offer a discussion of “Beowulf” that aims at highlighting the necessity for action and human response which lies at the heart of the poem. The Introduction discusses a variety of classical and early medieval approaches to evil thoughts, human vices, monstrosity and the demonic, alongside a brief commentary on the double nature of Evil as wrongdoing and suffering. Chapter One considers other researcher’s discussions on the hybrid figure of the monster and how such fictional characters toy with humanity¿s anxieties, neurosis and frames of identity. I also show how the hero of the Anglo-Saxon poem acts within an ethical context, which justifies violence against certain agents who dwell at the edges of space and time whilst at the same time posing a threat to individual and communal safety. Grendel is analysed from a perspective which recognizes his man-shaped body and his demonic nature, combined in the multiple meanings of his giant body. In addition, I show how Evil, both as an external agent and as internal discord, is observed in and through monstrous shapes and how the use of a dramatic audience enhances the feeling of terror and the tragic elements in the poem. Finally, the importance of story telling is emphasized, as it opposes the collapse of language caused and derived from evil actions. Chapter Two presents an analysis of the 'landscapes of Evil' in “Beowulf”, through a discussion of the natural environment that surrounds the monster’s mere. It offers a new pattern, the physical and symbolic aspects of the labyrinth, as an analogue for the structure of the poem. The function of the hero as he cleanses the landscape is explored in connection with Anglo-Saxon depictions and understanding of the natural world as corrupted creation. Chapter Three deals with the dragon episode, taking a point of view that considers the monster as both the hero and the people’s enemy. The heroic response to the type of evil embodied in the dragon casts the avaricious creature out of a ravaged land, but also leads to the death of Beowulf. I argue that the confrontation between hero and monster does not imply a condemnation of the first, based on what his fall entails for the Geats. I show how, in opposing the monster¿s pure autonomy, Beowulf¿s response to a meaningful and disproportionate form of revenge offers the only solution available to the hero and the community, but does so within the limits of human nature and knowledge. In Chapter Four I look at the proliferation of film (sub)versions of “Beowulf” in the last fifteen years, and I explain how the process of adapting early medieval heroic narratives and the alterity of monstrosities to the medium of film has led to new representations of Evil in popular medievalism. I argue that a process of transformation, caused by modern sensibilities and fantasies about “anything medieval”, has produced a number of cinematic adaptations of the Anglo-Saxon poem in which Evil has been sexualized and the hero has been portrayed as undoubtedly guilty. In order to account for these changes, the nature of film as a medium and its multiple social and commercial implications are considered in detail. This thesis ends with a brief conclusion which summarises the key ideas explored in the previous chapters and suggests new avenues of thought and for those who wish to research the fruitful cohabitation of Evil and storytelling in early medieval literary texts and in modern reimaginings of the Middle Ages. [-]

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