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ENGL201: ­Medieval English Literature and Culture

Unit 1: Anglo-Saxon England and Old English Poetry  

We will begin this unit with an overview of the Anglo-Saxon invasions of England and the conversion of the island to Christianity in the 6th and 7thcenturies, exploring how and why these developments contributed to the distinctive forms, themes, and tropes shared by many of the literary works from this period. We will study Old English poetic conventions with particular care, learning to recognize the alliterative line and appreciate the genre’s relationship to the Anglo-Saxon oral tradition.

Unit 1 Time Advisory
Completing this unit should take you approximately 33.5 hours.

  • Subunit 1.1: 3.5 hours
  • Subunit 1.2: 6.75 hours
    • Introduction: 0.5 hours
    • Subunit 1.2.1: 0.5 hours
    • Subunit 1.2.2: 0.5 hours
    • Subunit 1.2.3: 3 hours
    • Subunit 1.2.4: 2.25 hours
  • Subunit 1.3: 15.25 hours
    • Subunit 1.3.1: 3 hours
    • Subunit 1.3.2: 1.5 hours
    • Subunit 1.3.3: 0.75 hours
    • Subunit 1.3.4: 10 hours
  • Subunit 1.4: 8 hours
    • Subunit 1.4.1: 3 hours
    • Subunit 1.4.2: 3 hours
    • Subunit 1.4.3: 2 hours

Unit1 Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this unit, you will be able to:

  • identify the historical factors that led to the start of the Middle Ages;
  • explain the problems of identifying a clear beginning for English literature;
  • define the terms kenning and wergild, and identify textual examples of them;
  • identify examples of Christian imagery in “The Dream of the Rood”;
  • describe the way the comitatus ethic is represented in “The Seafarer” and “The Wanderer”;
  • describe the ways in which Bede’s work represents the evolution of the Christian church; and
  • explain the importance of the oral tradition in early Anglo-Saxon literature.

1.1 Introduction to the Middle Ages and Anglo-Saxon England

1.1.1 The End of Roman Britain and the Anglo-Saxon Settlements

Reading: W.W. Norton and Company’s The Norton Anthology of English Literature: “Introduction to The Middle Ages” and Regia Anglorum Publication’s “A Brief History of Anglo-Saxon England”

Link: W.W. Norton and Company’s* The Norton Anthology of English Literature*: “Introduction to The Middle Ages” (HTML) and Regia Anglorum Publication’s “A Brief History of Anglo-Saxon England” (HTML)

Instructions: Read both of these texts for an overview of the period, focusing on the start of the Middle Ages with the invasion of the Anglo-Saxons.

Reading these documents should take approximately 45 minutes.

Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

1.1.2 The Spread of Christianity, the Impact of Religion, and Literature

Reading: Regia Anglorum Publication’s “The Origins of the Anglo-Saxon Church” and Brown University: Decameron Web’s “Medieval Attitudes toward Literacy”

Link: Regia Anglorum Publication’s “The Origins of the Anglo-Saxon Church” (HTML) and Brown University: Decameron Web’s “Medieval Attitudes toward Literature” (HTML)

Instructions: Read the essay on “The Origins of the Anglo-Saxon Church” for more information on the development, structure, and importance of the Medieval Church. Then, read “Medieval Attitudes toward Literature” for an introduction to the function of literature within the Middle Ages. Also, note the emphasis on the relationship between literature and religion in this essay.

Reading these documents should take approximately 30 minutes.

Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

1.1.3 Anglo-Saxon Oral Tradition and Germanic Values

Reading: Washington State University: Dr. Michael Delahoyde’s “Anglo-Saxon Culture”

Link: Washington State University: Dr. Michael Delahoyde’s “Anglo-Saxon Culture” (PDF)

Instructions: Read all of Dr. Delahoyde’s review of “Anglo-Saxon Culture,” but focus specifically on the section titled “Language and Style” for context on oral tradition.

Reading this text should take approximately 15 minutes.

Terms of Use: The linked material above has been reposted by the kind permission of Dr. Delahoyde and the original version can be found here. Please note that this material is under copyright and cannot be reproduced in any capacity without explicit permission from the copyright holder.

*1.1.4 The World of Bede *

Reading: The ORB: Online Reference Book for Medieval Studies: Steven Muhlberger’s Medieval England: “The Age of Bede”; Catholic Encyclopedia’s “The Venerable Bede”; Excerpt from Bede’s *Conversion of England*

Link: The ORB: Online Reference Book for Medieval Studies: Steven Muhlberger’s Medieval England: “The Age of Bede” (HTML); Catholic Encyclopedia’s “The Venerable Bede” (PDF); Excerpt from Bede’s Conversion of England (PDF)

Instructions: First, read the chapter titled “The Age of Bede” from Muhlberger’s Medieval England. Then, read the Catholic Encyclopedia entry, titled “The Venerable Bede,” for a basic introduction to the historical figure, as well as his role in the history of the Medieval Church. Then, read Bede’s Conversion of England, excerpted from Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English Nations, which provides Bede’s own reflection on significant events of his time.

Reading these documents should take approximately 1 hour.

Terms of Use: The above excerpt from Conversion of England is available in the public domain. The article “The Venerable Bede” is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0. It is attributed to Catholic Encyclopedia, and the original version can be found here. Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

*1.1.5 Blend of Oral-Formulaic Verse and Christian Values in “Caedmon’s Hymn” *

Reading: Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, Book IV: “Chapter XXIV” and F.W. Garforth’s “Bede’s Account of the Poet Caedmon”

Link: Bede’s* Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation*, Book IV: “Chapter XXIV” (PDF) and F.W. Garforth’s “Bede’s Account of the Poet Caedmon” (PDF)

Instructions: Read all of Chapter XXIV from Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, which provides the full text of “Caedmon’s Hymn.” Also, read the essays titled “Introduction to Bede’s Account of the Poet Caedmon” and “The Miracle of Caedmon” from “Bede’s Account of the Poet Caedmon.”

In Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, we find the earliest extant Old English poem, “Caedmon’s Hymn,” written in an oral, formulaic style and featuring Christian themes.

Reading these documents should take approximately 30 minutes.
 
Terms of Use: Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation is available in the public domain. The copyright for “Bede's Account of the Poet Caedmon” is held by the English faculty at Oxford University, and permission has been given for educational uses. The license information can be found here. The original version can be found here.

Reading: W.W. Norton and Company’s The Norton Anthology of English Literature: “Caedmon’s Hymn”

Link: W.W. Norton and Company’s The Norton Anthology of English Literature: “Caedmon’s Hymn” (Flash)
 
Instructions: Scroll down the webpage and click on “Caedmon’s Hymn”. Listen to this recording to acquire a sense of the sound of early English.

Listening to this recording (several times as needed) should take approximately 15 minutes.

Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.   

Reading: The Saylor Foundation’s “Blend of Oral-Formulaic Verse and Christian Values in ‘Caedmon’s Hymn’”

Link: The Saylor Foundation’s “Blend of Oral-Formulaic Verse and Christian Values in ‘Caedmon’s Hymn’” (PDF)

Instructions: Read this article about “Caedmon’s Hymn” for an overview of how the poem contributed to the oral tradition as well as how Christian values appear as a theme in the poem.

Reading this article should take approximately 15 minutes.

1.2 Old English Poetry and the Oral Tradition    

Reading: The ORB: Online Reference Book for Medieval Studies: Steven Muhlberger’s Medieval England: “Early English Society” and PBS: L. Michael White’s “Importance of the Oral Tradition”

Link: The ORB: Online Reference Book for Medieval Studies: Steven Muhlberger’s Medieval England: “Early English Society” (HTML) and PBS: L. Michael White’s “Importance of the Oral Tradition” (HTML)

Instructions: Read the chapter titled “Early English Society.” As you read, pay attention to the mentions of literacy within the Church at this time. Also, read Professor L. Michael White’s essay for emphasis on the importance of oral tradition in the transmission of the Church’s ideas.

Reading these documents should take approximately 30 minutes. 

Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

1.2.1 The Church, the Oral Tradition, and Other Themes of Anglo-Saxon Poetry    

Reading: New World Encyclopedia’s “Anglo-Saxon Poetry”

Link: New World Encyclopedia’s “Anglo-Saxon Poetry” (HTML)

Instructions: Read this article about Anglo-Saxon poetry and the variety of themes and uses that we find in the work.

Reading this article should take approximately 30 minutes.

Terms of Use: Please respect the terms of use and copyright displayed on the webpage above.

1.2.2 The Heroic Code and Kinship, or the Comitatus Ethic, in Germanic Culture     Reading: Carson-Newman College: Dr. L. Kip Wheeler’s “Literary Terms and Definitions”; University of Central Arkansas: Excerpts from Dr. Jonathan A. Glenn’s Translations of “The Seafarer” and “The Wanderer”

Link: Carson-Newman College: Dr. L. Kip Wheeler’s “Literary Terms and Definitions” (PDF); University of Central Arkansas: Excerpts from Dr. Jonathan A. Glenn’s Translations of The Seafarer” (PDF) and “The Wanderer” (PDF)

Instructions: Read the definitions of comitatus, hlaford, and thegns from Dr. Wheeler’s “Literary Terms and Definitions.” These terms should provide basic information about the comitatus ethic as it operated in Anglo-Saxon culture. Once familiar with these terms, read lines 14 - 16 only from “The Seafarer” and lines 19 - 29 only from “The Wanderer,” both of which provide literary examples of the relationships formed by the comitatus ethic.

Reading these texts should take approximately 30 minutes.
 
Terms of Use: “Literary Terms and Definitions” is copyrighted by Dr. L. Kip Wheeler with permission granted for non-profit, educational, and student reproduction. The original version can be found here. The materials above, “The Seafarer” and “The Wanderer,” have been reposted by the kind permission of Dr. Jonathan Glenn and the original versions can be found here and here, respectively. Please note that this material is under copyright and cannot be reproduced in any capacity without explicit permission from the copyright holder.

1.2.3 The Basics of Old English Prosody and a Review of Poetic Scansion    

Reading: Western Michigan University: Dr. Peter S. Baker’s The Electronic Introduction to Old English: “Chapter 1: Anglo-Saxons and Their Language,” “Chapter 2: Pronunciation,” “Chapter 12: Word-Order,” and “Chapter 13: Meter”

Link: Western Michigan University: Dr. Peter S. Baker’s The Electronic Introduction to Old English: “Chapter 1: Anglo-Saxons and Their Language,” “Chapter 2: Pronunciation,” “Chapter 12: Word-Order,” and “Chapter 13: Meter” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Read the these chapters which will provide an overview of the Old English prosody, which is the study of versification that focuses on the rhythm, stress, and intonation of speech.

Reading these chapters should take approximately 3 hours.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

1.2.4 Thematic and Formal Elements in Old English Poetry    

Reading: University of Central Arkansas: Excerpts from Dr. Jonathan A. Glenn’s Translations of “The Wanderer” and “The Battle of Maldon”; Old English Literature: A Hypertext Course Pack: “Wanderer” and “The Battle of Maldon”

Link: University of Central Arkansas: Excerpts from Dr. Jonathan A. Glenn’s Translations of “The Wanderer” (PDF) and The Battle of Maldon” (HTML); Old English Literature: A Hypertext Course Pack: “Wanderer” (HTML) and “The Battle of Maldon” (HTML)

Instructions: Read Dr. Glenn’s translation of an excerpt from “The Battle of Maldon”. You may also choose to review “The Wanderer,” which you read in subunit 1.2.2. From Old English Literature’s “Wanderer,” read the essays titled “Introduction to the Poem,” “Criticism,” and “Synopsis of the Poem.” You may access these essays by clicking on “Context” in the navigation bar at the top of the webpage. Also, from Old English Literature’s “The Battle of Maldon,” read the “Introduction to the Poem,” “The History,” “The Battle,” and “The Date of the Poem.” You may access these essays by clicking on “Context” in the navigation bar at the top of the webpage. These brief essays on both poems should enrich your understanding of the poems.
 
Like many Old English poems, “The Wanderer” is elegiac in tone and structurally complex. It was preserved in the Exeter Book (c. 975), the largest surviving collection of Old English poetry. What we now call “The Battle of Maldon” is a fragment of what seems to have been a much longer poem. It is an excellent example of the comitatus ethos.

Reading these documents should take approximately 2 hours.

Terms of Use: The materials above “The Wanderer” and “The Battle of Maldon” have been reposted by the kind permission of Dr. Jonathan Glenn and the original versions can be found here and here, respectively. Please note that this material is under copyright and cannot be reproduced in any capacity without explicit permission from the copyright holder.

Lecture: The Battle of Maldon’s “Site Images”

Link: The Battle of Maldon’s “Site Images” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Click on “Site Images” in the list of contents on the left side of the webpage. Look at the pictures linked here for a visual of the site of the Battle of Maldon.

Looking at these images should take approximately 15 minutes.

Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

1.3 *Beowulf*  

1.3.1 Origins, Context, and Significance    

Reading: W.W. Norton and Company’s The Norton Anthology of English Literature: “The Linguistic and Literary Contexts of Beowulf”; The Norton Anthology of English Literature’s version of “Seamus Heaney on Beowulf”; Old English Literature: A Hypertext Course Pack’s “Beowulf"

Link: W.W. Norton and Company’s The Norton Anthology of English Literature: “The Linguistic and Literary Contexts of Beowulf (HTML); The Norton Anthology of English Literature’s version of “Seamus Heaney on Beowulf (HTML); Old English Literature: A Hypertext Course Pack’s Beowulf (PDF)
 
Instructions: Read the essay on “The Linguistic and Literary Contexts of Beowulf” for an introduction to the poem. Also read Seamus Heaney’s introduction to his translation of Beowulf, which provides an excellent overview of the literary and historical elements found in the poem. Next, read the short essays titled “Introduction to the Poem,” “Synopsis of the Poem,” and “The Beowulf Manuscript” from Old English Literature's “Beowulf” for a bit more information on the context and history of the poem. 

Reading these documents should take approximately 3 hours.
 
Terms of Use: The copyright for "Beowulf" is held by the English faculty at Oxford University, and permission has been given for educational use. The license information can be found here. The original version can be found here. Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpages above.

1.3.2 The Mechanics of Beowulf: Introduction of the Kenning and Identification of Other Old English Poetry Elements    

Reading: Carson-Newman College: Dr. L. Kip Wheeler’s “Literary Terms and Definitions” and Western Michigan University: Dr. Peter S. Baker’s Electronic Introduction to Old English: “Chapter 2: Pronunciation,” “Chapter 11: Concord,” “Chapter 12: Word-Order,” and “Chapter 14: Poetic Style” 

Link: Carson-Newman College: Dr. L. Kip Wheeler’s “Literary Terms and Definitions” (PDF) and Western Michigan University: Dr. Peter S. Baker’s Electronic Introduction to Old English: “Chapter 2: Pronunciation,” “Chapter 11: Concord,” “Chapter 12: Word-Order,” and “Chapter 14: Poetic Style” (HTML)

Instructions: Look at the definitions for alliteration, epic, kenning, litotes, meiosis, wergild, and wyrd found on Dr. Wheeler’s index of important “Literary Terms and Definitions.” All of these terms are important poetic devices or concepts that are integral to an understanding of Beowulf. At this point, it will be helpful to look again at Dr. Baker’s Electronic Introduction to Old English; this time review this material with a particular focus on the chapters titled “Pronunciation,” “Concord” “Word-Order,” and “Poetic Style.” As you read these sections, take note of Dr. Baker’s specific use of examples from Beowulf to demonstrate his points.

Reading these documents should take approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes.
 
Terms of Use: “Literary Terms and Definitions” is copyrighted by Dr. L. Kip Wheeler with permission granted for non-profit, educational, and student reproduction. The original version can be found here. Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpages above.

1.3.3 Beowulf Alive: Audio and Visual Introduction to the Poem    

Lecture: W.W. Norton and Company’s The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Seamus Heaney’s Audio version of Beowulf and The Sutton Hoo Society’s “Picture Gallery”

Link: W.W. Norton and Company’s The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Seamus Heaney’s Audio version of Beowulf (Flash) and The Sutton Hoo Society’s “Picture Gallery” (HTML)

Instructions: Listen to all of the available readings of Beowulf linked above, including the “Prologue,” “The Fight with Grendel,” “The Last Survivor’s Speech,” and “Beowulf’s Funeral.” Also, look through the pictures from The Sutton Hoo Society’s website, the site of the Beowulf epic.

Listening to the audio (several times as needed), pausing to take notes, and viewing the picture gallery should take approximately 45 minutes.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

1.3.4 Thematic, Generic, and Formal Elements of *Beowulf*  

Reading: Center for Studies in Oral Tradition’s “First Word: What Is Oral Poetry?” and *Beowulf*

Link: Center for Studies in Oral Tradition’s “First Word: What Is Oral Poetry?” (HTML) and Beowulf (PDF)
 
Instructions: Read the short essay “First Word: What Is Oral Poetry?” which provides a brief example of how to read a short passage from Beowulf. Then read the entire text of Beowulf.
 
Beowulf is the oldest of the epic poems written in English, although scholars disagree on the date of its composition. This epic poem makes use of heroic language and style while sustaining the oral-formulaic tradition.

Reading these documents should take approximately 10 hours.
 
Terms of Use: Beowulf is available for reading in the public domain. Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

1.4 Religion and Religious Themes in Early Medieval Literature    

1.4.1 An Ecclesiastical Worldview     Reading: Dr. Steven Kreis’s The History Guide: Lectures on Modern European Intellectual History: “Lecture 2: The Medieval World View (Part 1)” and “Lecture 3: The Medieval World View (Part 2)”; W.W. Norton and Company’s The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Excerpt from “Rule of St. Benedict”; Lynn Harry Nelson’s “The Rise of Monasticism”

Link: Dr. Steven Kreis’s The History Guide: Lectures on Modern European Intellectual History: “Lecture 2: The Medieval Word View (Part 1)” (HTML) and “Lecture 3: The Medieval World View (Part 2)” (HTML); W.W. Norton and Company’s The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Excerpt from “Rule of St. Benedict” (HTML); Lynn Harry Nelson’s “The Rise of Monasticism” (PDF)
 
Instructions: Read these two short lectures from Dr. Kreis for an overview of historical perspectives on religious thought. Read the excerpt from “Rule of St. Benedict” as well as The Norton Anthology of English Literature’s brief introduction at the onset of the text; the text provides a perspective on ecclesiastical life in the Middle Ages. Also, read this essay on “The Rise of Monasticism” for more context about the transformations in the ecclesiastical worldview at this time in history.

Reading these documents should take approximately 3 hours.
 
Terms of Use: The material above “The Rise of Monasticism” is available under the public domain. Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpages above.

1.4.2 Clash or Assimilation: Pagan Values Meet Christian Culture  

Reading: Old English Literature: A Hypertext Course Pack: “Pagan Gods” and Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, Book II: “Chapter I,” “Chapter XIII,” and “Chapter XIV”

Link: Old English Literature: A Hypertext Course Pack: “Pagan Gods” (PDF) and Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, Book II: “Chapter I,” “Chapter XIII,” and “Chapter XIV” (PDF)
 
Instructions: Read the essay titled “Pagan Gods,” which provides historical context about the Early Medieval conflict between Paganism and Christianity. Then, read these short chapters from Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, Book II: Chapter I, Chapter XIII, and Chapter XIV. As you read these excerpts, focus on the depiction of the cultural shift from Paganism to Christianity.

Reading these documents should take approximately 3 hours.
 
Terms of Use: Ecclesiastical History is available in the public domain. The copyright for “Pagan Gods” is held by English faculty at Oxford University, and permission has been given for educational uses. The license information can be found here. The original version can be found here.

1.4.3 Dream-vision/Dream Poetry, Apocalypse, and Pagan-Christian Hybridity in “The Dream of the Rood”   

Reading: University of Central Arkansas: Dr. Jonathan A. Glenn’s Translation of “The Dream of the Rood” and Old English Literature: A Hypertext Course Pack: “The Dream of the Rood”

Link: University of Central Arkansas: Dr. Jonathan A. Glenn’s Translation of “The Dream of the Rood” (PDF) and Old English Literature: A Hypertext Course Pack: “The Dream of the Rood” (PDF)
 
Instructions: Read the excerpt from “The Dream of the Rood,” translated by Dr. Jonathan A. Glenn. Also, read the sections titled “Introduction to the Poem,” “Language of the Poem,” and “The Meter of the Poem,” from Old English Literature: A Hypertext Course Pack: “The Dream of the Rood,” one of many religiously-themed Old English poems, is one of the earliest examples of dream poetry in the English language, a tradition we will encounter later in this course.

Reading these documents should take approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Terms of Use: The material above, “The Dream of the Rood,” has been reposted by the kind permission of Dr. Jonathan Glenn and can be viewed in its original form here. Please note that this material is under copyright and cannot be reproduced in any capacity without explicit permission from the copyright holder. The copyright for “The Dream of the Rood” is held by the English faculty at Oxford University, and permission has been given for educational use. The license information can be found here. The original version can be found here. Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpages above.

Reading: Hanover College: Jeannette C. Brock’s “‘The Dream of the Rood’ and the Image of Christ in the Early Middle Ages”

Link: Hanover College: Jeannette C. Brock’s “‘The Dream of the Rood’ and the Image of Christ in the Early Middle Ages” (PDF)
 
Instructions: Read this essay for a critical perspective on “The Dream of the Rood.” While reading this essay, consider the information of the previous unit about the shift to Christianity.

Reading this text should take approximately 30 minutes.

Terms of Use: “‘The Dream of the Rood’ and the Image of Christ in the Early Middle Ages,” has been reposted by the kind permission of Dr. Jeanette C. Brock and the original version can be found here. Please note that this material is under copyright and cannot be reproduced in any capacity without explicit permission from the copyright holder.