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Old English

ENGL 501.301
instructor(s):
TR 3-4:30

This course is an introduction to 8th-12th-century language and literature, with careful attention to grammar, metrics, the history of the English language, and manuscript culture. We will cover a wide range of texts, such as the Life of Saint Andrew, a saint who saved his followers from cannibals; Wulfstan’s Sermon to the English, which rebukes the Anglo-Saxons for stooping to fratricide, incest, and child slavery during the Norman invasions; “Caedmon’s Hymn”, what might just be the first recorded poem in English, supposedly composed by an illiterate cowherd; and the stunningly beautiful lyric poem “The Dream of Rood” in which the Cross recounts its heroics during the Crucifixion.

Some larger questions I hope we will address are the following: What has Old English criticism contributed historically to the formation of English as a discipline, and what does it offer today? Why has Old English become marginalized within literature departments at the same time that it remains alive and well in popular culture? Is it productive to talk about the Old English corpus in terms of gender, hybridity, material culture, audience, national and postcolonial identities, as some scholars recently have tried to do? And how might the Anglo-Saxons’ pressing concerns with conquest, anonymity, decadence, and suffering open up new areas of discussion?

All participants, including auditors, will be expected to prepare translations for every class meeting. Other assignments include an oral presentation, annotated translation, mid-term exam, and final exam. Advanced undergraduates may enroll with permission of instructor.