Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Dr. Kathryn Broyles
Oral-formulaic features of texts like Beowulf rely on the referentiality and metonymy of formulas to activate the reader or listener's knowledge of the larger tradition. Applying receptionalist theory to Old English poetry, pioneered by John Miles Foley, shows that these formulas signal traditional values. This thesis moves beyond Foley's ideas to consider the more specific function of noun-epithet formulas in Beowulf and the neuropsychological underpinnings of receptionalist theory. The distribution of noun-epithet formulas lends further proof to Foley's hypothesis about their traditional referentiality. Analysis of five noun-epithet formulas common in Beowulf shows that they not only signal a specific context but the poet appears to have employed them with that context in mind as a way to make meaning for his audience. Often, these uses show the poet is critical of traditional heroic institutions, simultaneously presenting the formulas as heroic but also in contexts where dependence and peril are the norm, suggesting the poet felt that heroic culture was inherently unstable. Finally, neurobiological research on music and emotion and music and memory reinforces the hypothesized function of formulas as a means to generate emotion in a listener and evoke specific memories of traditional formulaic contexts.
Walls-Thumma, Dawn M., "The Aesthetic and Critical Functions of the Noun-Epithet Formula in Beowulf" (2016). Master's Capstone Theses. 130.
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