Direct Speech in Beowulf
: Its Formal Presentation and Functions

  • Hatsuko Matsuda

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Direct speech, which represents nearly forty per cent of Beowulf, is evidently an important component of this Old English epic poem. It contributes to its narrative in a way very different from that in other Old English poems or in classical epics. This dissertation examines how direct speech is presented and considers its functions in the poem.
The most notable feature in the presentation of direct speech in Old English poems is the use of verbs of speech (inquits). In Beowulf, sixteen different inquits are employed to introduce forty-five passages of direct speech, and they are most likely used in specific senses. Moreover, the repeated use of the inquit ‘maþelode’ seems the poet’s own device to indicate that the speeches it introduces have special importance to the narrative.
In Beowulf, the onset of direct speech and the resumption of the narrative voice after direct speech are demarcated clearly by linguistic or metrical strategies. While most of them are observable in other Old English poems, the careful uses of switches of verb tense/mood or the metrical line are more noticeable in Beowulf. These formal features of direct speech in the poem point to the poet’s conscious efforts to make it prominent.
Most of the speeches in Beowulf are delivered on public occasions. In those speeches that the verb ‘maþelode’ introduces, the characters speak as official figures in the community. Their speeches, interacting with what is recounted in the narrative voice, contribute to moving the story forward. Moreover, some speeches serve to verify the actions or events in the narrative voice, which seems to reflect the value that Anglo-Saxons placed on first-hand information. Another significant function of direct speech is to present Beowulf as an ideal hero, who is not only valiant and strong but also wise and gentle.
Date of Award7 May 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorAd Putter (Supervisor) & Myra Stokes (Supervisor)

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