* Two ways of interpreting – either cultural context or textual basis.
* Beowulf is a narrative poem, best read in a cusp between Christian and Pagan societies. (capitals?) Ends with pessimistic heroism.
* This poem addresses an audience in tune with heroic poetry – an innovative style using the same literary techniques.
* THE TITLE IS NOT ORIGINAL! Dream = a vision, Rood = an old word for a cross – ancient language in a modern translation! ‘A vision of the tree’/'A vision of a tree’ would be more accurate.
* This poem is best approached as though it were a riddle.An object speaking about itself, just as in many of the Exeter Riddles.
* Poem about a vision (dreamer falls asleep and dreams in dream poetry). Creatures with power of speech named, however, power of speech is also given to the inanimate object of the cross.
* Main requirement is an ‘I’ – first person, not a narrative voice. Individual experience.
* Vision is given from the outside – not post-Freudian. The revealing of a truth. Presents itself in fantastical terms.
* First encounter represents/reveals other-worldliness.
* Find himself/herself in strange, unreal world. Find figuers in that world to argue with the self/dialogue. Engaged in argument with the figure (not necessarily human).
* At the end, there is a return to the normal world, then the application of this gained knowledge to life and self.
* Many different names than ‘tree’, but never a reference to a ‘rood’. Treow = wood, beam, cross.
* Beacon can be seen a long way away -it is a sign and is significant. Carries a message.
* Vision = intense consciousness by distance between beauty and the ‘I’ wounded and stained with sins, e.g. line 19.
* Messages carried by the cross/tree’s double nature.
* Sense of time gradually developed.
* The tree’s voice is not that of a ‘victory-tree’ – it is merely a memory-capable, natural tree. Limited viewpoint and therefore limited narration.
* Violent verbs – ‘hewn’, ‘torn’.
* Tree is chosen because it is the next one in the forest – could have been any tree – and is now made into a spectacle.
* Experience of being forced to change its identity to a gallows.
* Vision is a way of exploring passivity with action – intending to mount onto the cross, unlike the Biblical tradition of the passion.
* Main emphasis is on heroic action. Tree and Christ vs. enemies.
* Relationship of Lord and follower (thane) is very close. Therefore there is the suggestion that the thane would not survive the death of his lord in battle.
* Line 36: Speaking of the tree’s experience, not Christ – confusing experience – may not support his Lord by battling/falling. This tree has to contribute to the suffering of his Lord in a con tradition of traditional heroic duty.
* Statement of restrained power, not the restraint of the tree, but the Lord’s power is restrained – explored through the consciousness of the tree.
* Identity revealed at line 44 – as the rood.
* Leaves the reader to guess at the nails also being placed through Christ. There is no bodily experience of Christ presented, rather the physical experience of the tree.
* Direct sending of spirit in line 49.
* Then followed by much understatement – litotes!
* Darkness as a shadow – keeps close to the Biblical narrative at this point, esp. in John with the shadow passing over the sun at the moment of Christ’s death.
* Darkness overtaking light, contemplation of events represented in the natural world. (Natural representation of religion? Pagan suggestions?)
* 59 – close to statement of dreamer at the start of the poem. Tree is now the surviving thane, disgraced by his survival when his Lord has died.
* Understatement of solitude in 60-65.
* Only creatures who remained are the three crosses on Calgary (?) – ‘We’ remained.
* Cross doesn’t see any more – easily and apparently felled – cross doesn’t have a resurrection but knows and holds memory.
* PASSION REWRITTEN AS AN ACTIVE EVENT!
* Cross is now venerated – a time of hope. It is a ‘speech-bearer’ who can relate to other ‘speech-bearers’.
* Tree was chosen randomly, just as Mary was.
* Dreamer is commissioned to relate this and other stories as its future task. By its Lord?
* IS 85 ONWARDS AN ADDITION? Adding clarity, meaning and/or significance?
* 140 onwards is a traditional Anglo-Saxon verse form.
* Last 10 = harrowing of hell, ascension – came to native land – heroic narrative (defeating enemies in battle) completed.
Lecture 2 Notes:
Versions of The Vision of the Tree:
1. The Ruthwell Cross ( c.700)
2. The Vercelli Book (10th C)
3. The Brussels Cross (c.1050)
1. Biblical: Book of Daniel 4:7-10
2. Mythical: Death of Balder
Early Traditions of the Cross:
1. Constantine, Emperor of Rome – battle of Milvian Bridge (AD312) ‘in hoc signo vinces’ (in this sign conquer).
2. Oswald King of Northumbria – battle of Heavenfield (AD633)
3. St Helena, ‘Invention’ of the Cross (4th C)
1. For Good Friday
* Fortunatus: hymns: (5th/6th C )
o ‘Vexilla Regis’ (The royal banners forward go / The Cross shines forth in mystic glow).
o ‘Pangua Lingua’ (Sing my tongue the glorious battle).
About the Ruthwell Cross
* What is the significance of the fact that these events are seen in a dream?
* How is Christ characterised in this passage? What is added? What is missing? What is the effect of these additions and subtractions from the Biblical portrait?
* What does treasure mean in the poem?
* Audience: who would be interested in this poem?
* What is the role of the dreamer?
* How is the Cross characterised? How is he made into a human character (i.e. anthropomorphised).
* How are the ‘rules’ of the lord-thegn relationship incorporated into the relationship between Christ and the cross?
* How is heaven depicted in the poem?
* What is the Harrowing of Hell? What does it mean? What is its significance in this poem?
The Dream of the Rood as Prosopopoeia: Margaret Schlauch
* ‘The DOTR stands somewhat apart from the other elegiac monologues in Old English.’
* ‘The discourse of the Rood is enclosed in another one, that of the dreamer who heard it speak; but the inner monologue is the essence of the poem.’
* ‘[The Cross's power of locution] was… a device of unexampled effectiveness in making vivid an event about which, for all devout Christians, the entire history of the world revolved.’
* ‘Yet [giving an object speech] was not commonly done at the time. The Old English poet was not following a literary tradition concerning the Rood; he was making an innovation with the originality of genius.’
* A.S. Cook – ‘The second part, the address of the cross, is unique in its composition.’
* Ebert – ‘proposed a fourth-century poem De Cruce by Cyprian, also called De Pascha, as a direct inspiration for the Old English poem; but this is allegorical exposition with but a slight modicum of narrative in the third person.’
* Ovid, De Nuce; ‘The resemblances of this poem to the DOTR are largely generic, because both are laments and both are spoken by trees. The chief difference lies in the important circumstance that Nux complains of his own misfortunes, whereas the Rood solicits pity for the crucified Christ whom it bore. Certain verbal parallelisms result from the similarity of theme: “ac ic sceolde fæste standan” and “hyldan me ne dorste” (ll. 43b and 45b) recall “nec vitare licet mihi moto vulnera trunco, / quem sub humo radix vinclaque firma tenent?”(ll. 169f.).
* ‘There are specific references in both poems to the wounds suffered by the tree.’
* ‘protestation of innocence in the Rood’s repeated emphasis on its inability to do otherwise than carry out the Lord’s will (ll. 35 and 42) even though its part in the crucifixion made it seem for a time most loathsome to men (“leodum laðost”, l. 88a).
* ‘a few riddles which bear a remote resemblance to TDOTR. Number 17 by Eusebius (eighth century) represents the Cross as speaking briefly in the first person, but the discourse is a form of enigmatic definition, entirely lacking in the narrative element so conspicuous in TDOTR.’
* ‘Old English riddles composed in the first person singular show similarity of phraseology with the DOTR; for instance, number 72, which concerns a spear, begins “I grew in the mead, and dwelt where earth and sky fed me, until those who were fierce against me overthrew me when advanced in years.”‘
* Discourse by an inanimate object, making use of narrative, was a form known and practiced according to the precepts of mediaeval rhetoric.’
* PROSOPOPOEIA and ETHOPOEIA?
* ‘Prosopopoeia assumes that an object feels and speaks like a person.’
* ‘As prosopopoeia the DOTR appears to be an oratio passionalis (a specific Cross speaks, not one of a class; moreover, the aim is certainly to evoke “commiseratio perpetua”).’
* ‘The Dream observes the suggested time sequence of present-past-future by means of the introduction in which a dreamer recounts his vision of the Cross as an event in the present time, but the Rood’s narrative account of the Crucifixion in the past, and by the closing references to a future life. (e.g. l. 119-121).’
* ‘Although not intended as an exculpation or speech of defense from an implied charge, the Rood’s narrative contains certain phrases suggesting a desire to dissociate itself from the cruel tragedy to which it served as instrument.’
* ‘throughout the narrative the Rood’s helplessness has been emphasised. Just as the voluntary character of Christ’s sacrifice is underscored in certain locutions, so the involuntary function of the Cross appears in such phrases as ll.35f, 42, 43b, 45, 58f.)’
* ‘Literary defense from a charge, whether overt or implied, was known as purgatio.’
* ‘Mary is mentioned in the Old English poem, but the defense, if such it may be called, is directed not to her but to the dreamer.’
* ‘its poignant effectiveness of form can be better accounted for by pagan theory and practice of prosopopoeia.’
The Dream of the Rood: Patterns of Transformation, Louis H. Leiter:
* ‘Metamorphosis informs the structure of the poem and gives life and significance to its aesthetic materials.’
* ‘For poetic reasons the poet casts the Passion, the drama of the Cross, and the salvation of the Dreamer into a series of three almost identical dramatic metaphors that reinforce each other contrapuntally. By this means he achieves amplification, progression and cohesion among his metaphors.’
* Metaphors are not only ‘dramatic’ but also ‘dynamic’, ‘incremental, varied, and transmuted’ and they ‘progress though a series of dramatic climaxes.’
* ‘… a new state of being for the three performers – Christ, Cross and Dreamer.
* ‘The poem, then, is concerned with the religious experience… religion in the sense of change – human transformation. Hence metamorphosis is used quite deliberately and literally for two reasons: the transformations of the performers and, congruent with their change, the transformation of the structure, imagery, and thematic materials of the poem.’
* ‘For these dramas the poet chose materials close at hand, experience from daily life that was animated by memories of a pagan past and incidents from his encounter with biblical story. Then, taking the vocabulary of warfare of which he had intimate knowledge, he constructed the three identical dramas that form the poem: the defeat and paradoxical victory of Christ, the hewing down and raising up of the Cross, and the sleep and awakening of the stained and sinful Dreamer.’
* ‘The defeated hero proves he still has the hero’s ellen, however, since he efstan elne mycle ‘hastened with great boldness’ (34a) and Gestah he on gealgan heanne ‘ascended the high gallows’ (40b).’
* ‘they mocked us both together’ (48a) – emphasis on union. Both endured pain and ridicule, each supporting the other – one physical, one spiritual supporter.
* BEOWULF: ‘Like the comitatus around a fallen prince – those around the burned Beowulf, for instance – the warriors, eager but mournful reinforcements, gather to sing funeral songs: Ongunnon him ða sorhleoð galan ‘they then began to sing a dirge’ (67 b). The grief-stricken mæte weorode ‘little band’ (69b) remain with their lord.’
* ‘The poet continues to amplify the battle metaphor: now physically defeated by the enemy, strange feondas (30b), but spiritually victorious, the warrior-hero-prince rises pheonix-like from the flames of death: hwæðere eft dryhten aras / mid his miclan mihte mannum to helpe ‘yet again the lord arose with his great strength as a help to men’ (101b-2).’
* ‘Like a warrior-prince, he returns from exile in the foreign country of his captors and executioners: the prince cwom / … ðær his eðel wæs ‘came… where his native land was’ (155b-56b),’
* ‘… the metaphor would serve to capture the emotions of a people to whom warfare was as familiar as their daily bread and catch them up in the excitement of its drama.’
* ‘By identifying with the protagonist of the clearly wrought struggle, the listeners would unconsciously submit to the mimetic powers of the metaphor, supported, to be sure, but the rhythm of the verse, for the poet has at his command means other than that of dramatic metaphor… he achieves emotional heightening by repetition of half-lines, often beginning with the same word…’ (e.g. 65b-67b).
* ‘After using three images of stasis within the space of two lines – limwerigne (63a), gestodon (63b), and reste (64b) – to characterise the astonishment and moral perplexity of the witnesses of the dramatic execution, the poet immediately calls in verbs of actions – ongunnon, curfon, gesetton, ongunnon – to signal a rebirth, a new beginning, of the spirit in the emotionally depleted men at the exact moment they entomb their warrior-hero-Christ. The transformation is mimed here rather than overtly presented…’
* ‘The poet dramatises this inspiration [the warriors of Christ rebuilding their lives] when he sings of the raising and adorning by the prince’s comitatus of the felled and buried Cross.’
* ‘… the men symbolically spiritualise the Cross by adorning it with jewels, thus making it worthy of its future office. In turn, the spiritualised Cross repeats their action when it appears to the Dreamer and ministers to him…’
Credit to Dr. Field and Dr. Kennedy.