John Hines, Anglia, 113.1 , pp.95-97.
Beowulf continues to exercise an inexorable fascination, not just for what it is - a unique Germanic heroic epic - but also as a window upon whatever contexts it belongs to. The most sustained effort ever made to define the proper context of Beowulf, that which sought to establish a tenth-century date of composition for the poem and resulted in the collection of essays The Dating of 'Beowulf' (ed. C.Chase [Toronto 1981]), signally failed to establish an orthodoxy…. Sam Newton's book represents the most substantial essay since then to present the case for an 'early' Beowulf….
The argument itself is presented with an agreeable blend of frankness about when its author wishes to date the poem and care and scepticism in evaluating the relevant evidence. Newton is never tempted to claim that he has effectively proved when the poem, substantially as we know it, was composed, nor even that this early eighth-century date is the best inference to be drawn from the available evidence, although the latter would not have been grossly out of order. He is careful to point out that this possibility is a credible hypothesis….
Altogether this is a relaxed and enjoyable book that productively turns over an area of the ground of Beowulf studies that had been somewhat heavily trampled on at the start of the 1980's. Despite a few misprints - nothing of great consequence - it is a now increasingly unfamiliar pleasure to read something written with such verve and aplomb and without pretentiousness. Newton's dating of Beowulf remains, to use his own concluding words, no more than 'a hypothesis for the origin of the poem'. But the character of the approach - his range of interests, the critical attitude, and above all the general enthusiasm - make this an exemplary hypothesis, in a book that one can therefore gladly put high on a list of recommended reading for students of Beowulf.
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