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SEL2219 : Monsters, Misery & Miracles: Heroic Life in Old English Poetry

  • Offered for Year: 2020/21
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Aditi Nafde
  • Lecturer: Dr Adam Mearns
  • Owning School: English Lit, Language & Linguistics
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


This module introduces students to the poetry of the early middle ages in its original language, thereby allowing them to study the very beginnings of literature in English. Old English poetry covers a wide range of genres, including wisdom literature, religious verse, heroic and elegiac poetry, and innuendo-laden riddles. The module will explore literature that negotiates between the Germanic, heroic, Christian, and quotidian cultures that pervaded the age and were especially relevant to the North of England.

Outline Of Syllabus

This module will focus on three main texts in their original language. It will start by examining the earliest dream poem in English, instrumental in establishing the conventions for describing religious experience, The Dream of the Rood. This will be followed by a deeply moving poem about loss and loneliness, The Wanderer. Finally, the module will examine one of the greatest poems about heroes, monsters, and warfare, Beowulf.

Students will situate these texts in their literary contexts by reading a wider range of other Old English poetry in translation. Students will also develop an understanding of key features of the Old English language, which will enable them to create their own translations of these texts. In doing so, they will have the opportunity to examine and reflect on their own poetic impulses.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion170:0070:00Reading and translation
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture111:0011:00Linguistic, literary, and historical background
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading183:0083:00Reading and translation
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching111:0011:00Literary analysis of set texts in their literary contexts
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops111:0011:00Translation of set texts
Guided Independent StudyStudent-led group activity111:0011:00Study Groups
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDrop-in/surgery31:003:00Group sessions or one to one drop in sessions
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lectures introduce students to the contexts of the texts they will study in workshops and seminars, including linguistic and literary background. Workshops provide guidance and support for the translation of the core texts and an opportunity to consider the creative processes involved in producing poetry of this kind. Small group teaching seminars develop the topics of the lectures and enable the practice of skills, namely close textual analysis, critical thinking, literary, oral, written, and interpersonal communication, and the synthesis and presentation of textual material.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Description Length Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Written Examination901M25N/A
Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay1A753,000 word essay
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The mid-module exam will ask students to choose from a selection of passages of text in Old English, extracted from the core texts, and to write a close commentary on their chosen passage.

The end of module essay will ask students to write a comparative piece comparing at least two different texts.

Offering a mix of modes of assessment (close reading of Old English, comparative/contextual analysis, and a reading of a single text) and ensuring good coverage of the texts on the module, the assessments will focus students upon detailed aspects of the material in terms that connect their ideas with the module’s broader thematic content.

Reading Lists