Questioning the Validity of Some Notes by Prominent Old English Scholars
Medieval and Early Modern English Studies, Volume 17 No. 1 (2008)
The interpretative observations made by the scholars of fame are often taken to be absolutely true so much so that most students will consider it an act of heinous treason or sacrilege even to question their truthfulness. To respect the foregoing scholars’ achievements is one thing; to question the truthfulness of what they have said another. When misinterpretation of a certain passage or phrase occurs in an influential book, such as A Guide to Old English or Beowulf: An Edition, both edited by Bruce Mitchell and Fred C. Robinson, the students will not notice it, nay, not even question whether what the editors say is correct or not, because for them these books are like the Holy Bible, the authority of which is not to be challenged.
The two books mentioned above continue to be the standard textbooks for ‘Introduction to Old English’ and ‘Beowulf,’ the two introductory courses in Anglo-Saxon studies in many graduate programs. For this very reason, we must not remain blind to the blunders the renowned scholars have made in them: the misinterpretations suggested by them can persist for a long time, thus influencing the students’ approach to the works involved. In this paper, I wish to call the reader’s attention to three instances of misinterpretation of words or phrases that appear in the notes on Beowulf, and one on The Wife’s Lament, all by prominent scholars of Old English poetry.