Beowulf : a northern archetype

Whalen, Linda Dorothy Sheppard (1983) Beowulf : a northern archetype. Masters thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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As an epic poem, Beowulf documents and attempts accurately to reflect the perimeters and possibilities of man's conscious development, on both the ontogenetic and the phylogenetic levels. Its epic scope therefore incorporates not only natural and social realities, which are expressed as phenomenological and philosophical structures, but also mental and emotional realities which find their expression in mythological, ritualistic, and dream form. Myths, rituals, and dreams represent the workings of the Unconscious mind, a psychic reality of far greater depth and potential than consciousness, and the patterns and figures manifest through these forms of psychic activity are, in actuality, facts of mind transposed into a figment of matter. -- The Swiss psychological theorist, Carl Gustav Jung, (1865 - 1961), who made the study of these Unconscious forms his life-work, isolated and described many of the figures and patterns which recur in mythology, ritual, and dreams, and came to the conclusion that they are archetypal, that is, that they are of primary material, indigenous to man at the deepest level of his being, and common to mankind at every level of collective and individual development. He depicts them as characters in a psychic drama which is enacted parallel to the physical process of life, or as scenarios which must be enacted in a process of psychic self-discovery that man is by nature impelled to undertake. -- In addition to naming the archetypes, Jung advanced a dual theory of the Unconscious which I feel has particular relevance to Beowulf: his notion of the Collective Unconscious, with its assertive cognizance of the "race memory" of man and its postulate of the Self, an archetypal form of consciousness which presupposes the importance of interaction between conscious and unconscious mind in the development of the whole psyche, is applicable to any study of the epic as the repository of the conscious and unconscious knowledge of a particular society; and his idea that the Unconscious is force directing three main instincts - the aggressive, the sexual, and the religious - suggests a possible interpretation of Beowulf in a formal and a structural sense. -- The adaptation of consciousness to its environment is of equal importance to the underlying common psychic reality of the Unconscious, for only by adaptation can the individual, or the race, survive. Beowulf is a study in survival, the survival of the individual, of the species, and of the human spirit as the transcendent form of his will to continuance and renewal; and, because man's consciousness is integral to his survival, Beowulf must, therefore, be a study of human consciousness in conflict with those forces of unconsciousness that threaten its being, as well as in faithful obedience to those forces that promote its potential for becoming. -- The epic form of Beowulf by definition demands the expansion and inclusiveness that establishes it as a vehicle for the presentation of man's greatest thoughts and actions. Just as the psyche, in its power to interpret the objective world, and to project its inner reality upon the world of nature, comprises all that man can know of himself and his world, the epic poem contains all of human reality, from the archetypal forms which manifest themselves as characters in the poem, to the landscape, which impresses itself upon the reader both as an introjection of objective reality and as a projection of subjective perception, to the structures of man's consciousness represented by Heorot, to the real and symbolic characters and objects encountered by the heroic protagonist. In relation to this essentially psychic material which forms the totality of Beowulf as a mental universe, Beowulf, as hero, represents man's awareness of himself as a center, and his activities represent the struggle of consciousness to comprehend and to overcome (by acceptance) the seemingly alien forces within his own nature. His journey to the real center of his being, the archetypal Self, or God, requires the integration of the disparate and opposing forces of conscious and Unconscious mind, and his final union with the God within and without his being is the "real" subject of this poem, as, perhaps, it is of every work of art.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
Item ID: 7067
Additional Information: Bibliography: leaves 299-310.
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > English Language and Literature
Date: 1983
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Beowulf; Subconsciousness

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