Spring 2023 - ENGL 400W D100

Seminar in Advanced Old English (4)


Class Number: 4945

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Tu, Th 2:30 PM – 4:20 PM
    TASC2 7201, Burnaby

  • Exam Times + Location:

    Apr 24, 2023
    3:30 PM – 6:30 PM
    BLU 10901, Burnaby

  • Prerequisites:

    ENGL 300.



Advanced seminar in Old English language and literature. Students with credit for ENGL 400 may not take this course for further credit. Writing.



Beowulf the Hero – Grendel the Cannibal Zombie– Grendel’s Mother the Sea-Wolf-Witch – the Dragon at the End: the major figures and plot of the poem are well-known, but the poem itself is much weirder, richer, and compelling to read in Old English than in its numerous translations, adaptations, and mediations.  

In this course, we will read the Anglo-Saxon epic poem, Beowulf in detail and in its entirety (or almost its entirety) in the original Old English. Studying the poem in Old English reveals its sound and word play, its evocative inter- and intratextual echoes, uncanny allusions, and its marvelous texture chock full of local puzzles and cosmic mysteries. The course will primarily consist of us all working together, translating and discussing the poem in a seminar format; however, we will bring in looks at the poem’s manuscript, oral and heroic literary traditions, Latin learning, and analogues from texts in Old English, Old Norse, Celtic and other early medieval languages (these will be in translation). We will also think about the poem through the lens of some of its contemporary renditions in translation, novels, film, and other media. Seminar participants will be given the opportunity to perform a lexical study on an important word or phrase, and develop over the semester their own scholarly final research paper or creative project on the poem.


Attentive, slow, careful, and deep reading of the Old English poem Beowulf with an understanding of its cultural and historical contexts.
Consideration of what the poem meant in its own time, and what it continues to do and mean in our time.
Sustained research project on the poem, developed over the course of the whole term, giving students mastery not only of the material, but of research methods, critical methods, and critical and creative writing.


  • In-Class Preparation, Translation, Participation 30%
  • Lexical study 10%
  • Two midterm translation exams 20%
  • Final Project 25%
  • Final Exam 15%


Note: Beowulf is in Old English and students must have had training in the language, i. e. English 300 or a similar course.


In-class translation and participation: A significant part of the mark for this course is performance in the day-to-day translation and discussion of the poem. Each class meeting will cover a batch of lines, and everyone will read aloud and translate from this assigned batch. We will also discuss literary, historical, and cultural aspects of the lines and the poem. Presence, preparation, and participation.

Lexical study: Students will research the semantic and literary denotations and connotations of a word or compound in the poem, using the databases and dictionaries available through the SFU library online and print. The paper will be short, combining linguistic description with literary analysis.

Two midterm exams: There will be two short translation exams on text covered in class.

Final paper or project: Students will propose, research, draft and polish an extended research paper on a topic of their choice. We will work through each stage of the process in class with special focus on researching early medieval literature and culture and the reception of Beowulf in post-medieval contexts (such as novels, poetry, translations, film, and art). Students are also welcome to take up a creative project, which while based on knowledge of the Old English and research into the poem, can take a variety of forms (creative writing, art, film, material culture or otherwise).





Klaeber’s Beowulf, ed. R. D. Fulk, Robert E Bjork, and John D. Niles, 4th ed. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-802-09576-1

This book is fairly available in used copies in online booksellers, so feel free to look for it there and save some money. The Klaeber 4 is the standard scholarly edition of the poem, so you will want it for in-depth notes, amazing glossary, and bibliography. Students may also want to look for a copy of George Jack's Beowulf: A Student Edition, which is super handy for day-to-day translation work on the poem, but we will not use officially in the class.


Your personalized Course Material list, including digital and physical textbooks, are available through the SFU Bookstore website by simply entering your Computing ID at: shop.sfu.ca/course-materials/my-personalized-course-materials.

Department Undergraduate Notes:

IMPORTANT NOTE Re 300 and 400 level courses: 75% of spaces in 300 level English courses, and 100% of spaces in 400 level English courses, are reserved for declared English Major, Minor, Extended Minor, Joint Major, and Honours students only, until open enrollment begins.

For all On-Campus Courses, please note the following:
- To receive credit for the course, students must complete all requirements.
- Tutorials/Seminars WILL be held the first week of classes.
- When choosing your schedule, remember to check "Show lab/tutorial sections" to see all Lecture/Seminar/Tutorial times required.

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity website http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating. Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the university community. Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the university. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the university. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html