The Beowulf Poet and His Real Monsters: A Trauma-Theory Reading of the Anglo-Saxon Poem

History, Education & Textbooks

By Ted Morrissey

Publisher : Edwin Mellen Press

The Beowulf Poet and His Real Monsters: A Trauma-Theory Reading of the Anglo-Saxon Poem

ABOUT Ted Morrissey

Ted Morrissey
I'm the author of the novels An Untimely Frost and Men of Winter and the novelette Figures in Blue, all from Twelve Winters Press. My fiction has appeared in numerous journals, including Glimmer Train Stories, The Chariton Review, PANK, and Pisgah Review. A Ph.D. in English studies, I've  More...



This book opens a new line of inquiry into the Old English poem, specifically trauma theory, which attempts to map the psychological typography of an author and his or her culture, that is, when the text appears to be wrought of traumatic experience. Indicators of a "trauma text" are narrative techniques often associated with postmodernism--expressly, intertextuality, repetition, a dispersed or fragmented voice, and a search for powerful language. The anonymous Beowulf poet made extensive use of all four narrative techniques, suggesting he and his culture were suffering some sort of traumatic stress. The author brings together knowledge from myriad disciplines, among them history, anthropology, sociology, biology, psychology, with special emphases on the branches of psychoanalysis and neuropsychology--and focuses his trauma-theory reading on the poem's original language.

Praise for The Beowulf Poet and His Real Monsters . . .

“I’m delighted to have read the book, partly because your thinking about Beowulf is so compatible with my own.  I’ve never read about trauma theory, trauma literature or trauma criticism, so the central concept of the book is entirely new to me. . . .  Chapter after chapter, you develop ideas that remain implicit in my own work, but which I’ve never expressed as fully or as well as you do, because I never saw the connection. . . .  You even help me to understand the larger shape of my career, when . . . you useGravity’s Rainbow to illustrate your point:  I’ve never really understood why I’m drawn to these two works so strongly. . . .  What you do is very impressive.”
– James W. Earl, University of Oregon, author of Thinking About Beowulf

“I’ve now finished  your fascinating reading of Beowulf through the lens of post-modern trauma theory, and I applaud both your attempt and your achievement.  The reading is well documented, provocative, and goes far in bringing our discussion of this ancient text into the realm of twenty-first century thought.”
– Robert E. Bjork, Arizona State University, director of Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, editor and translator of The Old English Poems of Cynewulf, and co-editor ofKlaeber’s Beowulf

From the Foreword to The Beowulf Poet and His Real Monsters:  “Morrissey’s illuminating monograph demonstrates the advantages of bringing  newer critical strategies to bear on the poem, especially ‘postmodern’ ones. . . .  Looking at Beowulf through postmodern eyes fosters a greater appreciation of the craftsmanship and subtlety of this masterpiece. . . .  I was previously unaware of trauma theory, but Morrissey argues convincingly that this branch of postmodern theory shines new light on several murky aspects of the poem, on what some readers call its disjointedness and downright weirdness. . . .   Morrissey shows how other postmodern strategies illuminate the poem, and respectfully suggests these new approaches can supplement, not supplant, the more traditional philological approaches.”
– Steven Moore, author of The Novel:  An Alternative History, Beginnings to 1600, and A Reader’s Guide to William Gaddis’s “The Recognitions”

From the letter announcing the D. Simon Evans Prize:  The subject has been of continuous interest to me for 60 years and I have written a small essay on the text myself.  In my judgment your book is one of the most brilliant and persuasive scholarly proposals that I have ever read. . . . [W]hat you have created is of such extraordinary importance that in the long run you will be thanked and praised.”
– Herbert W. Richardson, Editor-in-Chief, Edwin Mellen Press