Summer Course // ENG 423: The Age of Beowulf

Summer Term 2018,  July 23-August 19,  Mon.-Thurs., 1000-1150
Instructor: Stephanie Clark    CRN 42249

In “The Age of Beowulf” we will read an epic from the three major cultures inhabiting the British Isles in the early Middle Ages: the Irish Táin bo Culainge, the Old English Beowulf, and the Old Norse Saga of the Volsungs. These texts, products of a violent era, wrestle with the implications of such violence: is it possible to use violence without it slipping out of control? Do hero stories glorify masculinity, or do they devalue men? Are violent women the same thing as strong women? Is it possible to remember and honor those killed without seeking vengeance for them?

Medieval literature presents interesting challenges for modern readers. For instance, early medieval texts often have no particular author. How do we read a story like that? Because all of the texts we’re reading are translated from their original languages, we’ll spend some time thinking about the types of choices translators have to make and how that influences our readings of the texts. All the texts we’re reading were preserved in hand-written manuscripts: we’ll look at digital reproductions of the actual manuscripts and consider the problems they present for interpretation and understanding. In the end, medieval literature is both deeply strange and oddly familiar. It’s highly rewarding and can train readers to notice, understand, and even empathize with ways of thinking alien to that of modern society.

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