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The World of Beowulf - ENG00145I

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  • Department: English and Related Literature
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Elizabeth Tyler
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24

Module summary

Beowulf has long fascinated readers with its riveting stories of pagan kings, queens, heroes, and the monsters who threaten them. Set long ago and far away in sixth-century southern Scandinavia, and told in moving epic and elegiac modes, it is a story which captivated early medieval English audiences. During this time, the English were transforming themselves from small kingdoms led by warlords who settled in Britain in the wake of the Roman Empire, across periods of Scandinavian (Viking) conquest, into a unified kingdom of England. However, the Beowulf manuscript is just as interested in the wider world: its perspective is global, situating Beowulf within a world that stretches from Scandinavia to India. Four other texts in the manuscript recount the adventures of Alexander the Great in Persia and India, the marvels of the ‘East’, the deeds of a heroic Jewish woman defending herself against sexual violence and her people against destruction, and the martyrdom of the dog-headed saint.

As we read the texts of the Beowulf manuscript, and others, including The Wanderer, The Ruin and other elegies, Asser’s Life of Alfred the Great and the first romance written in an European vernacular, we will open up how the English understood the multiplicity of their cultural inheritances. Key themes will include pagan origin myths, conversion to Christianity (and with it the coming of literacy), aggressive English hegemony over the other peoples of Britain, European belonging, and global thinking. We will also explore questions of gender and sexuality and the environment and engage with the Beowulf manuscript as a handwritten material object.

Seminar texts are read in translation; however, students will receive elementary instruction in Old English grammar and vocabulary through collaborative workshops, for which no prior experience is required. This will enable them not only to engage with some of the greatest works of early medieval literature in the original language, but also to deepen their understanding of the history and grammar of modern English.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2023-24

Module aims

This module introduces students to rich and varied literature composed in England in the Early Middle Ages (c. 600-c.1000). Students will develop a detailed knowledge of a range of poetic and prose texts, a basic reading knowledge of Old English, and form engage with the critical debates sense of their place within the world.

Module learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module, you should be able to:

  1. Demonstrate an informed understanding of and engagement with a range of core early medieval English texts.

  2. Demonstrate an informed understanding of and engagement with the sophisticated sense of place in time and space, as well as social, cultural and political contexts evident among the people of early medieval England.

  3. Examine key debates and critical contexts for interpreting early medieval English literature.

  4. Develop arguments and ideas which demonstrate a proficiency in critical thinking, research, and writing skills.

  5. Demonstrate a basic knowledge of Old English, and an understanding of some of the key issues at stake in the act of translation.


Task Length % of module mark
Essay 2,000-word essay
N/A 70
Open Examination: Multiple choice questions online
The World of Beowulf Open exam : Take-home exam
N/A 30

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Essay 2,000-word essay
N/A 70
Open Examination: Multiple choice questions online
The World of Beowulf Open exam : Take-home exam
N/A 30

Module feedback

You will receive feedback on all assessed work within the University deadline, and will often receive it more quickly. The purpose of feedback is to inform your future work; it is designed to help you to improve your work, and the Department also offers you help in learning from your feedback. If you do not understand your feedback or want to talk about your ideas further you can discuss it with your tutor or your supervisor, during their Open Office Hours

For more information about the feedback you will receive for your work, see the department's Guide to Assessment

Indicative reading


The Letter of Alexander,


Marvels of the East

Life of St Christopher

Asser’s Life of Alfred the Great

Alfred’s Preface to the Pastoral Care

The Wanderer, The Ruin and other elegies


The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.