This chapter surveys linguistic regularities in Beowulf in order to gauge the extent to which the poem’s text might have been altered during its transmission. For the literary critics and cultural historians who constitute the majority of scholars interested in Beowulf, no question pertaining to textual transmission is more consequential than that of the poem’s unity. The same metrical features that establish Beowulf as an archaic composition also provide firm indications that the poem is a unitary composition transmitted with minimal scribal interference. In addition, direct examination of the linguistic evidence is the most reliable method for determining the relative probability of competing hypotheses concerning the unity of Beowulf.
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