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Philology: Beowulf and Criticism

Course 2010-2011

Admission Requirements

Advanced knowledge of Old English language and culture.


What to make of Beowulf? What to do with the numerous interpretations that suggest the epic poem is basically pagan, Christian, oral, literary, dating from the eighth century, dating from the tenth, a tightly ordered whole, with many digressions, about a Germanic warrior, a superhuman hero, in a man’s world, in which women have power, focusing on the social bonds in early societies, an expression of the symbolical, divided into three fights, and organized around four funerals? In this course, we read major parts of the text in Old English and parts in (different) translation(s), thus increasing our alertness to the text’s intricacies. We study the story matter and the worlds evoked in the poem: Beowulf fighting Grendel, Grendel’s mother and a fire-spitting dragon in “mythistorical” societies in Scandinavia, and the Anglo-Saxon worldview that embeds them. We examine narrative and poetic techniques: structure, kennings, allegory, features of oral style and Ms Cotton Vitellius A.xv. We assess perspectives on Beowulf from anthropology, archaeology and philology to psychoanalysis, speech act theory and gender studies. With these, we develop our critical views in class discussion, oral presentations and two essays.

Course Objectives

An extension of existing skills in reading Old English poetry; an ability to analyze critically and reflect on Anglo-Saxon literary text in its cultural context; a good understanding of current critical work relevant to Beowulf; further experience in class discussion and oral and written presentation of one’s own thinking and research.


The timetable will be available from July 1 onwards on the Department website.

Mode of Instruction

Two-hour seminar per week.


Class participation and presentation (25%), mid-term essay (25%), final essay (50%).


This course is supported by Blackboard.

Reading list

To be announced.


Students can register through uSis.

Contact information

English Department, P.N. van Eyckhof 4, room 103c. Phone: 071 527 2144, or mail: