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ENGL3079 Visions of Beowulf: New Encounters with Anglo-Saxon Culture

Module Overview

Written around the year 1000, the surviving manuscript of the Old English poem Beowulf represents just one version of a story which continues to inspire new translations and interpretations, critical debates and creative responses across a wide variety of genres and media. This module will approach the Old English Beowulf alongside its transformations and re-appropriations in modern literature and culture. Sources will range from direct translations to fiction inspired by the story, poetry, illustrations, graphic novels and film, and will encompass the work of writers including Seamus Heaney, John Gardner, Geoffrey Hill and J.R.R. Tolkien. We will focus on changing representations of the hero and the monsters he encounters, asking questions about how different audiences and contexts of reception, re-workings within different genres, and shifts in narrative perspective or focalisation can transform a text. Our readings will open up wider discussions about the uses of an imagined medieval past in modern culture, processes of literary tradition and translation, the writing of histories (national, literary, autobiographical) and even the formation of ‘English Literature’ as an academic discipline. Our analysis of modern re-workings and critical conversations will enable us to return to the Old English poem with nuanced readings and fresh interpretations. No prior knowledge of Old English is required. The reading for this module will include recommended texts and editions as well as a wider selection of sources for study collected in a coursepack. Beowulf will be approached via modern translations and with the aid of glossaries, though there will also be opportunities to engage with the text in the original Old English.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

• introduce you to the Old English poem Beowulf and the wider literary and cultural context of Anglo- Saxon England • explore re-appropriations and transformations of Beowulf from the nineteenth century onwards • examine uses of an imagined early medieval or Anglo-Saxon past in modern culture • analyse how specific texts and writers re-work Beowulf and respond to Anglo-Saxon culture • investigate and compare a range of sources and media, including poetry, prose, graphic novels / comics and film

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • the Old English poem Beowulf, using modern translations and glossaries to help you
  • the cultural and critical contexts of Beowulf
  • uses of Beowulf and the idea of Anglo-Saxon England in modern culture
  • theories of ‘appropriation’ and translation
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • discuss complex issues using varied source materials to illustrate and support your ideas
  • draw comparisons across a range of sources, genres and media
  • articulate your ideas effectively in written work group discussion
  • direct and manage your own research
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • analyse and compare a variety of sources
  • demonstrate skills of close reading and textual criticism
  • make use of print and electronic sources for research
  • employ research skills and initiative in identifying additional relevant source material
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • analyse sources with attention to their historical and cultural contexts
  • discuss key themes and features in Beowulf and Old English literature more widely, such as heroism, monsters, gender roles, gift economy, narrative forms and stylistic techniques
  • identify how modern culture makes use of an imagined Anglo-Saxon past and draws on Old English literature
  • make use of secondary / critical material to inform your own close readings

Syllabus

The module will be organised around a series of themes, including: 1. From scop to scribe to cyberspace 2. The politics of translation: versions, audiences, agendas 3. Illustrating Beowulf: heroes and monsters 4. Grendel’s story (John Gardner) 5. Gift economy in Beowulf and beyond 6. A landscape of ruins: Tolkien and Old English 7. Dragon Slayer: comics and graphic novels 8. ‘Overlord of the M5’: twentieth-century poetry and Anglo-Saxon England 9. Beowulf, Cædmon and the beginnings of ‘English Literature’ 10. Beowulf at the movies The reading for this module will include recommended texts and editions as well as a wider selection of sources for study collected in a coursepack. Beowulf will be approached via modern translations and with the aid of glossaries, though there will also be opportunities to engage with the text in the original Old English.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

• Lectures • Tutor-led seminars • Small group work • Individual research opportunities • Individual consultations with the module tutor Year 3 UG (Level 6) students taking this double-coded module will be expected to devise their essay questions themselves, in consultation with the module tutor.

TypeHours
Preparation for scheduled sessions62
Lecture10
Wider reading or practice14
Follow-up work12
Tutorial2
Seminar10
Completion of assessment task42
Total study time152

Resources & Reading list

David Clark and Nicholas Perkins, eds (2010). Anglo-Saxon Culture and the Modern Imagination. 

Geoffrey Hill (2006). Selected Poems. 

Michael Uslan and Ricardo Villamonte (1975-76). Beowulf: Dragon Slayer. 

Seamus Heaney (1975). North. 

Chris Jones (2006). Strange Likeness: The Use of Old English in Twentieth-Century Poetry. 

Allen J. Frantzen (1990). Desire for Origins: New Language, Old English and Teaching the Tradition. 

Andy Orchard (2003). A Critical Companion to Beowulf. 

J.R.R. Tolkien (1936). Beowulf: the monsters and the critics. 

Beowulf (directed by Robert Zemeckis, 2007). Film

Beowulf and Grendel (directed by Sturla Gunnarsson, 2005). Film

Seamus Heaney (1999). Beowulf: A New Verse Translation. 

George Jack (1994). Beowulf: A Student Edition. 

Robert Bjork and John D. Niles, eds (1997). A Beowulf Handbook. 

Robert Fulk, ed (1991). Interpretations of Beowulf: A Critical Anthology. 

John Gardner (1971). Grendel. 

J.R.R. Tolkien (1954-55). The Lord of the Rings. 

Gareth Hinds (2000). The Collected Beowulf (graphic novel). 

R.D. Fulk et al (2008). Klaeber’s Beowulf. 

Assessment

Summative

MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (2000 words) 50%
Essay  (2000 words) 50%

Referral

MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (2000 words) 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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