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Old English literature is largely preserved in manuscripts of the late tenth, eleventh and twelfth centuries, and Beowulf is no exception, surviving in a late 10th- or early 11th-c. Based on external evidence such as historical references or authorship, some poetry, like Cædmon's Hymn, can be dated as early as the 7th-c., whilst other poems, like The Death of Edgar, can be dated as late as the mid-eleventh century. But the main body of Old English literature, including Beowulf, cannot be so easily dated, except roughly to sometime during a period of two or three hundred years or more. What follows attempts to present a straightforward synopsis of the relevant facts, largely based on R. Fulk's excellent work on the dating of Old English poems based on Kaluza's Law (see Fulk, A History of Old English Meter, §§ 170-183, §§406-421), which suggests that Beowulf was composed between 685 AD - 725 AD (though one should be aware that there are other valid arguments for a later date of composition, as well as some difficulties with the evidence provided by Kaluza's Law:-- see postscript below). Metre can be roughly described as the rhythm used in recitation. More exactly, metre comprises the patterns of stressed (or emphasised) and unstressed syllables, which are inherent in spoken language, but take on a more regulated form in poetry. The Rhythm of Beowulf: an interpretation of the normal and hypermetric verse-forms in Old English poetry. In English, both modern and ancient, stressed syllables are usually distinguished from unstressed syllables in being longer and/or having more amplitude (i.e. Verses in Old English are bound together by alliteration, much as rhyme forms the linking structure for rhyming poetry. '"Þurs" and "Þyrs": Giants and the Date of Beowulf'. New Haven (Connecticut): Yale University Press, 1942 [2nd ed., 1966].
An abrupt shift from one scribe to the next on folio 174v suggests that two distinct poems may have been combined at the last minute.Scholars have presumed to study the poem as if it were Classical, and find much difficulty in the non-continuous narrative and the unfamilliar form.Allen Frantzen, in ; he is also critical of the quest to find a single author of the `pure' poem.Instead, he is looking for the gaps in the text that indicate to him that it had been constantly rewritten to suit the culture of that time.In effect, there may have been so many authors spanned the six centuries that the authorship remains in question; the rewriting of he suggests that a single author had combined two folk stories with some historical events as a backdrop and some Christian doctrine to create a new form of heroic epic, or as Tolkien suggests, an "heroic-elegaic" poem.
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Boyle also suggests that the fitts may have recieved their numbering for the first time on this manuscript.