This book presents a new treatment of metre of Beowulf, an Old English epic poem of uncertain date and origin which is nonetheless considered one of the gems of Germanic Alliterative Verse. Grounded in the idea of constraint interaction and conflict associated Optimality Theory, this book presents the case that the alliterative lines of Beowulf are based on an ideal structure consisting of trochaic metrical feet organized into an iteratively binary, strong-weak structure. Around this ideal hovers an apparently wild range of divergent structures which have proven difficult to accommodate under a unified approach. In fact, the considerable variation in Beowulf can be understood as reflecting an inherently simple system of accommodating the diverse phonological shapes of words within the Old English poetic lexicon. Crucially, this accommodation takes place against a background in which a number of independent and often conflicting conditions on metrical and prosodic form are played out.
To a greater extent than previous approaches, this book establishes a line of inquiry into the metre of Beowulf that is compatible with the burgeoning fields of generative metrics and phonology. One important fallout of this aim is the proposal to do away with the notion of 'metrical types,' the dominant thread in research on Old English metre since the late nineteenth century. Crucially, both of these moves allow for novel and compelling explanations for a range of metrical peculiarities of Beowulf, from Kuhn's Laws to Kaluza's Law. Moreover, the analysis points toward data on patterns which have, to date, escaped scholars' notice, while at the same time showing surprising consistencies between the metre of Beowulf and other, unrelated metrical traditions.
From the contents:
II The stress phonology of Old English
III Metrical structure at the foot level: Part I
IV Metrical structure at the foot level: Part II
V Metrical structure at the level of the half-line and long-line