ENGL 3378: Old English: Beowulf, Then & Now

Winter 2021 (half unit)
Dr. Anna Smol
Tuesday and Thursday 12:00 – 1:15


ENGL/WRIT 3377 Old English: Translation Theory and Practice. Please read the description of that course to get an idea of the background that you will gain before taking this class on Beowulf. If you are thinking of taking this Beowulf course, you can register for it now in the Winter 2021 term before finishing ENGL /WRIT 3377 in the Fall term.

Course Description

Beowulf and the dragon from Stories of Beowulf Told to the Children by H.E. Marshall, 1908.
Beowulf and the dragon from Stories of Beowulf Told to the Children by H.E. Marshall, 1908.

Beowulf is an Old English heroic and elegiac poem written down at some point in the early medieval period, though its subject matter looks back in history to legends of the European ancestors of the early English people. In this course, we will first examine Beowulf in the light of Old English heroic poetry and in its manuscript context, where it appears with other stories of monsters. You will continue practicing the translation skills gained in ENGL/WRIT 3377 as we examine significant passages of the poem and discuss critical debates about such topics as heroism and masculinity, race, monstrosity, the representation of women, and historical and legendary elements of the poem. We will also have an opportunity to examine the choices made by various translators of the poem in a further application of the translation theories covered in ENGL/WRIT 3377.

Gareth Hinds. Beowulf. 2007

Our study will also extend beyond Beowulf in the Old English period to examine the function of the poem in later eras, from nationalistic exhortations in the nineteenth century to study the poem as a “sacred book of our origins,” as one Victorian writer put it, to the many adaptations in the twenty-first century in films, graphic novels, children’s books, and fiction. As part of the course assignments, you will have options for creative adaptation or translation projects.

Students who have taken ENGL 3361 cannot take this course for credit.

The Mere Wife: A Novel. Maria Dahvana Headley. 2018

The Mere Wife (above) is a contemporary satire on American life using Beowulf as its framework.

The image at the top of this page comes from a “rock-noir” version of the Beowulf story, first performed in 2019, called “The Ninth Hour: the Beowulf Story,” which is an interpretation that focuses on the effect of power and violence in “heroes” and “enemies” using music and dance.

These are only 2 examples of the way in which Beowulf lives now. But the best way to understand its afterlife in contemporary culture is to study the Old English poem first!

Check here again in early January for more details about this course. In the meantime, you can watch “The Ninth Hour: The Beowulf Story” on YouTube:

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