Translating the past: an analysis of Beowulf's reception history through the figures of Grendel and Grendel's mother

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Killilea, Alison Elizabeth
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University College Cork
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Since the nineteenth century, Beowulf has received sustained critical attention in the form of scholarship, translation, and adaptation. The figures of Grendel and Grendel’s mother have been presented to us in various forms throughout the last two hundred years, ranging from demonic ogres and witches (in H. E. Marshall’s Stories of Beowulf Told to the Children) to misunderstood and emotionally complex beings (in Parke Godwin’s The Tower of Beowulf). This thesis argues that there is no understanding or perception of Grendel and Grendel’s mother, by either scholars or general readers alike, that has not been intricately shaped by the images and language of these “rewritings”, to use André Lefevere’s term. As with all translations and adaptations, these rewritings are “haunted at all times by their adapted texts” (Hutcheon 6), but, as I argue in this study, they are also haunted by any number of adapted texts (and intertexts) which have preceded them. They are not texts in the second degree, as Linda Hutcheon claims, but rather texts in the nth degree, created and received in relation to any number of prior texts, in variations as diverse as their readers. Beginning with an analysis of numerous Old English terms and contextual information used to describe Grendel and Grendel’s mother, the first chapter of this thesis reconsiders how an Anglo-Saxon audience may have understood the Grendel-kin. By employing a philological and comparative linguistic approach to these descriptive terms, this chapter attempts to form as objective as possible an understanding of these characters, an imperative process if we are to critically examine translations of the text. My research also explores the effects of cultural context on translations and adaptations of Beowulf, recognising them as products of a particular time and space in society. Monstrous figures reflect back to us our own cultural fears, anxieties, and desires, and it is through the various receptions, variations, and constructions of Grendel and Grendel’s mother that these concerns can be best identified.
Old English , Beowulf , Reception history , Translation , Adaptation
Killilea, A. E. 2018. Translating the past: an analysis of Beowulf's reception history through the figures of Grendel and Grendel's mother. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.