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

  • Offered for Year: 2024/25
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Adam Mearns
  • Co-Module Leader: Dr Caoimhe Whelan
  • Owning School: English Lit, Language & Linguistics
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
  • Capacity limit: 150 student places

Your programme is made up of credits, the total differs on programme to programme.

Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
European Credit Transfer System


This module introduces you to the poetry of the early middle ages in the original Old English, thereby giving you the opportunity to study the very beginnings of literature in the English language.

Old English poetry covers a wide range of genres, including wisdom literature, religious verse, heroic and elegiac poetry, and innuendo-laden riddles. From this range of material, we 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. As such, this module is uniquely placed to address topics of race, gender, and othering, which have a deep and sometimes troubling association with an English past.

Outline Of Syllabus

We will focus on three main poetic texts in their original language. We 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, we will examine one of the greatest poems about heroes, monsters, and warfare, Beowulf.

You will 'slow read' these texts by creating your own translations of the original Old English. Through this process, you will gain an understanding of the key features of the language and its poetics and, in doing so, you will have the opportunity to examine and reflect on your own poetic impulses. You will also situate these texts in their literary contexts by reading a wider range of other Old English poetry in translation, as well as reflect on the place of Old English literature today.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture111:0011:00Linguistic, literary, and historical background; key module activities
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion170:0070:00Reading and translation
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading197:0097:00Reading and translation
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching101:0010:00Seminars that cover language work and analysis of set texts in their literary/linguistic context
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops101:0010:00Translation discussion
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDrop-in/surgery12:002:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lectures introduce students to the contexts of the texts they will study in the module, including linguistic and literary background. Translation discussion sessions 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

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay1A1003,000 word essay
Formative Assessments

Formative Assessment is an assessment which develops your skills in being assessed, allows for you to receive feedback, and prepares you for being assessed. However, it does not count to your final mark.

Description Semester When Set Comment
Written exercise1MN/A
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

Written Exercise 1 (mid-module, formative; 1000 words): students will produce a close-reading commentary on a passage of Old English.

Essay 1 (end-of-semester, summative; 3000 words, 100%): using their understanding of Old English and translation practices, students will write a comparative, thematic piece on at least two different Old English texts. Students will have the option of producing an essay with either a literary or linguistic focus.

The mid-module close-reading exercise will give students a base on which to build their understanding of Old English language and poetics, their own translation practices, and those of others. They will use this understanding in their end-of-semester essay, to produce detailed textual evidence for their argument. The mixed modes of assessment, combining close reading and comparative/contextual analysis, ensure good coverage of the selected texts and encourage students to focus on detailed aspects of the module materials and topics, connecting their ideas with the module's broader themes.

Reading Lists