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Beowulf and beyond: Heroic literature in early medieval England


Admission requirements

Relevant BA-degree. A basic working knowledge of Old English language and literature is required; students who haven’t followed a course in Old English can contact the tutor some weeks before the course starts for an alternative, online means to grasp the basics of Old English.


The Old English epic Beowulf is the oldest and longest poem of its kind in the context of the Germanic tradition. The poem not only gives us an exciting story concerning the hero Beowulf’s fights against a cannibalistic monster, Grendel, and an unnamed fire-spitting dragon, but it also tells us extensively of the ways of life and expectations as they prevailed in the aristocratic warrior circles of Anglo-Saxon England shortly after the conversion. In this course we shall read and translate a number of episodes from Beowulf and place these episodes within their cultural-historical context. Attention will also be given to some smaller heroic poems so as to gain a better perspective on Beowulf itself. We will also consider modern adaptations of the poem, including Seamus Heaney’s translation and the various Beowulf movies.

Course objectives

Upon successful completion of the course, students will have:

  • improved their ability to read and interpret important works of Old English literature, both in translation and in the original language.

  • gained a thorough understanding of Beowulf and heroic literature in early medieval England

  • further developed their ability to analyse works of literature, to understand these works as belonging to their historical and cultural moments as well as specific textual traditions, and to make interesting and meaningful claims about these works in both written or oral form.

  • further developed their independent research skills.

  • produced a final research paper that represents the very best writing they were able to produce at that moment.

  • (ResMA only) The ability to participate in a discussion of the theoretical foundations of the discipline


The timetable is available on the Literary Studies website.

Mode of instruction

3-hour seminars

Course Load

Total course load for the course: 10 EC = 280 hours
Hours spent attending seminars: 36 hours
Time for studying the compulsory literature: 164 hours
Final papers: 80 hours
Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours= 280 hours

  • Seminars: 36 hours

  • Preparation tutorials: 164 hours

  • Assignment(s): 80 hours

Assessment method


1) Research paper or annotated translation of 1500-2000 words after Block I
2) Research paper or annotated translation of 2500-3000 words after Block II
3) Presentation of 15-20 minutes on selected secondary literature
4) Participation and preparation of weekly readings

ResMA only:
5) Additional paper of 3000 words on the theoretical debates revolving around the dating of Beowulf.


Element 1) 30%
Element 2) 40%
Element 3) 20%
Element 4) 10%

Element 1) 20%
Element 2) 30%
Element 3) 15%
Element 4) 10%
Element 5) 25%


If the average grade is a 5,49 or lower, one or two of the research papers will need to be retaken. There is no resit for the presentation, participation and preparation (elements 3 and 4).

Exam review

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • the weekly syllabus

  • handing in assignments

  • additional reading materials

  • there will be homework for week 1!

Reading list

  • Peter S. Baker, ed., The Beowulf Reader. Basic Readings in Anglo-Saxon England 1 (New York: Routledge, 2000)

  • George Jack, ed., Beowulf: A Student Edition (Oxford: OUP, 1994; repr. 2009)

  • Seamus Heaney, Beowulf: A New Translation (available in various formats)


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory. You can register until two weeks after classes have started however students are advised to register as soon as possible and preferably before the start of the course. In the case of electives: please be aware that most electives have a maximum amount of students who can enroll. Do not approach the course instructor in case the class is full. You will automatically be put on a waiting list.

In case you have difficulties with registering for courses you may ask the student administration at Van Wijkplaats for assistance. Their e-mail address is Always include your name, student number, the course title and the concerning activity number (see schedule).

General information about uSis is available on the website

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


For questions about the content of the course, you can contact the teacher Dr. M.H. Porck.

Literary Studies departmental office

Coordinator of studies: Mr. J. Donkers, MA


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