Friday, August 30, 2013


Here's a new one on me.  In his remarkable introduction to Beowulf, R. W. Chambers discusses the case of Hrethric and Hrothulf, Scandinavian princes.  Chambers says:
Hrethric is then almost certainly an actual historic prince ... Of Hrothmund, his brother, Scandinavian authorities seem to know nothing. He is very likely a poetical fiction, a duplicate of Hrethric.
You'd been wondering, right?  But what is interesting here is not just Chambers conclusion; rather, it is his argument:
 For it is very natural that in story the princes whose lives are threatened by powerful usurpers should go in pairs. Hrethric and Hrothmund go together like Malcolm and Donalbain. Their helplessness is thus emphasized over against the one mighty figure, Rolf or Macbeth, threatening them.
A footnote expands on the point:
 Compare the remark of Goethe in Wilhelm Meister, as to the necessity of there being both a Rosencrantz and a Guildenstern (Apprenticeship, Book V, chap. v). 
Chambers, R. W. (Raymond Wilson) (2011-03-30). Beowulf: An Introduction to the Study of the Poem with a Discussion of the Stories of Offa and Finn (Kindle Locations 649-54 and 8229-8230).  Kindle Edition.   The referenced passage from Wilhelm Meister is:
“Why not compress them into one?” said Serlo. “This abbreviation will not cost you much.”
“Heaven keep me from all such curtailments!” answered Wilhelm, “they destroy at once the sense and the effect. What these two persons are and do, it is impossible to represent by one. In such small matters we discover Shakespeare’s greatness. These soft approaches, this smirking and bowing, this assenting, wheedling, flattering, this whisking agility, this wagging of the tail, this allness and emptiness, this legal knavery, this ineptitude and insipidity,—how can they be expressed by a single man? There ought to be at least a dozen of these people, if they could be had: for it is only in society that they are anything; they are society itself; and Shakespeare showed no little wisdom and discernment in bringing in a pair of them. Besides, I need them as a couple that may be contrasted with the single, noble, excellent Horatio.
Link.  I admit I had never thought of this before, and I'm wondering how far it can be pursued.  Should we include the case of Brutus and Cassius, for example, conspiring to accomplish the death of Caesar?  Or Romulus and Remus, founders of Rome (though it may be Romulus who killed his brother)?  The Infante Don Carlos and his companion, the Marquis of Posa, in Verdi's Don Carlos?  I thought of one other dandy example when this matter first came to my attention last night, though I'm not bringing it up just now.* There most be others?

*Oh, right: Hengist and Horsa.

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