Old English Literature I: stories from the heroic age ENGL3009
(Course Convenor: Prof Richard North)
The earliest English literature was written in Anglo-Saxon England from the late 600s to the reign of King Alfred the Great (871-99). Between faction-fighting at home and Viking invasions from abroad, an evolution took place in these centuries in which many warring aristocracies from Northumbria to Kent were slowly reduced to a smaller number of kingdoms with Wessex at their head. This course gives an opportunity to study the rich variety of the Old English poetry and prose of the earlier period in which tribal warfare, fierce Christianity and tangled politics are reflected in traditional and contemporary tales of mortal combat, spiritual ecstasy and the love of dangerous men and women. Poems including Beowulf, The Wanderer and The Seafarer, are read in full or in extract alongside Bede's account of Cædmon, the earliest named poet in the English language, stories involving ambush and assassination from The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and some of the earliest English prose from the reign of King Alfred. The aim of this course is to provide students with sufficient knowledge of Old English language and the background to the period to enable them to analyse these texts in terms of both their literary value and their social and cultural context.
Teaching consists of twice-weekly one-hour seminars. The course is examined by a three-hour written paper containing translation and commentary of texts already studied in class, and essay questions (NB: it is not possible to be examined by Course Essay for this course).