This paper asks how ships create distinct sites of reform for the literature and landscape of Anglo-Saxon England. The evolution of maritime technology contributed to the development of towns and trade, but archaeological and historical evidence of navigational innovation should be considered in light of the literary treatment of ships and sailing. In Anglo-Saxon poetry and prose, seafaring vessels are more than mere means to spiritual revival of an individual or political realignment of a kingdom. Ships are places, mechanisms, and objects of metaphorical and literal (indeed, littoral) change. Shifting our terrestrial gaze to a nautical one reveals a new perspective on ever-changing surface of the Anglo-Saxon world.
Heorot, Hrothgar’s great hall in Beowulf, has generally been read simply as setting for the actions of the first half of the poem. Reading the hall as ‘place’ from an ecocritical perspective, however, enriches our understanding of the poem. After Beowulf defeats Grendel, the hall will be renewed, its doors and hinges repaired so that it can be used once again. Yet when the construction of the hall is narrated earlier in the poem, its destruction by fire is already foreshadowed. The poet’s narrations of Heorot’s raising and burning, damage and repair, as well as the complex interactions of Geats, Danes, and Grendel as occupants of the hall suggest a fluid and hybrid sense of place.
The banqueting hall in heroic poetry has special meanings since it contains both physical and moral dimensions. In heroic poetry such as Beowulf the most important concept, the binding force of society, was the comitatus, the mutual loyalty between lord and his chosen warriors. The lord gave legal and economic protection in return for military services. The central location for the comitatus society was the hall, called goldsele (gold-hall), meduseld (mead-hall), hringsele (ring-hall) or gifhealle (gift-hall) in Beowulf. Here vows of allegiance were interchanged, heroic boasts made and feasting and mead-drinking carried out. In this context hall functions not only as a space for entertainment but also as a place where heroic ethos is formed. The beer (mead)-drinking at the feasting hall implies not only the literal act of consumption, but also the ritual swearing of vows. This drinking custom at the mead-hall is especially important in clan society, since it is understood as a symbol and a confirmation of mutual social obligation. A successful lord means the one who secures a consistent binding force based on complete loyalty. Since this binding force is directly related to the existence of the heroic society, the distribution of wine and a pledge from warriors contain more significant symbolic meaning than the mere formality of a banquet hall. Besides, the hall is closely associated with a hero’s identity and his social status. In Beowulf the identification of a hero is established based on publicity and objectivity. This publicity referring to warriors’ qualification is closely related to the fact that a warrior’s vow is made at the banqueting hall before he takes an adventure. If he fails to carry out his vows at the real scene he will be judged later by the witnesses who are present at the banqueting hall. In this paper I will discuss those multiple functions of the hall referring to the epithets for the banqueting hall and the contextual analysis of key passages related to the banqueting hall in Beowulf.