Words are Weapons: Boast and Anti-boast in the Poetic Feuds of "Beowulf", Alexander Pope, and Twenty-first Century Battle Rap
A boast represents self-aggrandizement by the speaker for the purpose of building up his or her identity. Its opposite, the anti-boast, uses insult to direct attention away from a speaker and towards an intended target. Speakers routinely employ both in order to engage in an oppositional dialogue of identity creation and dissolution. Beowulf, the eighteenth century Pope/Curll literary feud, and twenty-first century battle rap music appropriate traditions of boast and anti-boast as a means of constructing individual identity. Using Greenblatt's notion of the social basis of identity, this thesis will examine the ways in which speakers use these traditions to fashion self-identities as well as reveal cultural values held by their audiences. The ritualized verbal boasts of Beowulf create a lineage or present a history in order to fabricate status as a warrior. The anti-boasts of Pope and Curll focus on establishing auctorial rights and reaping the economic rewards. By cross-reading works from these earlier eras with the battle raps of twenty-first century rap artists such as 50 Cent and Eminem, this thesis will argue for a common cultural value shared by each era: a self-destructive obsession with reputation and authenticity.
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