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Unit information: Old English Language and Literature in 2019/20

Please note: Due to alternative arrangements for teaching and assessment in place from 18 March 2020 to mitigate against the restrictions in place due to COVID-19, information shown for 2019/20 may not always be accurate.

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Old English Language and Literature
Unit code ENGL20065
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Kate McClune
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of English
Faculty Faculty of Arts


This unit is an introduction to the language and literature of Anglo-Saxon England. Anglo-Saxon, or Old English, is the form of English that was spoken and written in Britain before about 1100. Unlike later forms of English, which are heavily influenced by French, it is an entirely Germanic language, and it differs from modern English in terms of both its grammatical structure and its vocabulary. Accordingly, the language will be taught from scratch in this unit. Students will be given instruction in the basic elements of Old English grammar, vocabulary and verse form so as to enable them to read a selection of works from the period in the original. These will include some of the major examples of ‘heroic’ verse, such as Beowulf and The Battle of Maldon, as well as elegies and ‘Christian-heroic’ verse such as The Dream of the Rood.

The unit aims to:
1) introduce students to the syntax and vocabulary of the Old English language;
2) introduce students to the literary culture of Anglo Saxon England in its historical and aesthetic contexts;
3) enable students to engage in the close reading of passages of Old English poetry in its original language;
(4) foster debate on the reception of the literary culture of the Anglo Saxons in present day society, and the application to it of literary critical methodologies.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, students will be able to:

(1) translate examples of Old English poetry into idiomatic modern English with the aid of notes and glossary;

(2) demonstrate understanding of some of the major currents of Anglo Saxon written culture in relation to what can be known of the social, religious and aesthetic contexts of its production;

(3) demonstrate an understanding of the principles of Old English grammar;

(4) identify typical and distinctive features of specific passage of Old English poetry;

(5) demonstrate engagement with the nature and diversity of the reception of Anglo Saxon literature in present day society and criticism.

Teaching details

1 x 2-hour seminar per week

1 x 1-hour lecture per week

Assessment Details

Summative assessment:

1. Portfolio of translations, to include at least one passage discussed in class and at least one passage not discussed in class (40%) [ILOs 1 and 3]

2. 2000-word essay (60%) [ILOs 2, 4, 5].

Formative assessment:

3. Completion of grammar exercises in Old English, delivered on-line through Xerte within Blackboard, as a requirement for the award of credit points in this unit. [ILOs 1 and 3]

Reading and References

Peter S. Baker, Introduction to Old English 3rd edition (Oxford: Blackwell, 2007)

M. Atherton, Teach Yourself Old English (London, 2006). Includes Audio CD.

Murray McGillivray’s Old English Course: on-line learning at

Bruce Mitchell, An Invitation to Old English and Anglo Saxon England (Oxford, 1995)

B. Mitchell and F. C. Robinson, A Guide to Old English, 6th edn (Oxford, 2001)

George Jack (ed.), Beowulf: A Student Edition (Oxford, 1994)