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Unit information: Introduction to Old English in 2015/16

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Unit name Introduction to Old English
Unit code ENGL10020
Credit points 20
Level of study C/4
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


Old English (sometimes also known as Anglo-Saxon) 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 is strikingly different from modern English in terms of both its grammatical structure and its vocabulary. Accordingly, the language is 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 include some of the major examples of ‘heroic’ verse, such as excerpts from the epic Beowulf and The Battle of Maldon, as well as riddles, elegies, and ‘Christian-heroic’ verse such as The Dream of the Rood.

The unit aims to:

(i) to introduce students to the literary culture of Anglo Saxon England in its historical and aesthetic contexts

(ii) to introduce students to the structures and vocabulary of the Old English language

(ii) to enable students to engage in the close reading of passages of Old English poetry in its original language

(iii) to 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

By the end of the course students should:

(1) understand 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

(2) be able to translate examples of Old English poetry into idiomatic modern English with the aid of notes and glossary

(3) be able to comment on typical and distinctive features of specific passage of Old English poetry

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

Teaching details

1 x1-hour lecture and 1x 90 minute tutorial per week.

Assessment Details

  • 1x take-home exam (50%)
  • 1x 2500-word essay (50%)

Essay tests ILOs 1 and 4; exam tests ILOs 2 and 3.

Reading and References

Detailed reading lists will be provided by individual tutors at the start of the academic year.

Students are advised to read the relevant chapters in David Crystal, The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of the English Language (Cambridge, 1995) as a basic introduction to the Old English language.

Peter S. Baker, Introduction to Old English 2nd edition (Oxford: Blackwell, 2007); also on-line at, accompanied by a self-help site for practising the Old English language, Old English Aerobics,

Bruce Mitchell and Fred Robinson, eds., Beowulf (Oxford 1988)

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)

Sweet’s Anglo Saxon Reader, revised by Dorothy Whitelock (Oxford, 1967)

J. R. Clark Hall, A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, 4th edn (Toronto, 1960)