Beowulf and the challenges of translation

Course Dates: 26/06/23 - 31/07/23
Time: 18:00 - 19:30
Location: Online
Beowulf is one of the foundational works in the history of English literature. It is at once familiar and strange: its story is well-known, but critics continue to debate its origins and its language and form have long challenged modern readers and translators. This course will explore the poem and its original language, and recent attempts to render that language into modern English.
This course will be delivered online. See the ‘What is the course about?’ section in course details for more information.
Book your place
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Full fee £99.00 Senior fee £99.00 Concession £64.00

Course Code: HLT200

Mon, eve, 26 Jun - 31 Jul '23

Duration: 6 sessions (over 6 weeks)

Please note: We offer a wide variety of financial support to make courses affordable. Just visit our online Help Center for more information on a range of topics including fees, online learning and FAQs.

What is the course about?

In this online literature course, we will embark on two tasks: first, to read and study Beowulf in its original Old English; second, to discover how its translators have sought to render the poem’s language and form into modern English. Old English might be a dead language, but the poem remains an important source of inspiration and provocation. Modern poets have returned to Beowulf at various moments and from various locations: these translations acknowledge the poem’s uniqueness and historical specificity, while also exploring its remarkable potential to illuminate some of the pressing social and cultural questions of their own time.

Tutor biography:
Tom White received his PhD in English from Birkbeck, University of London in 2016. He has since worked in the English Faculty at Oxford University, as a lecturer at Mansfield College, and as a tutor for the Workers' Educational Association. His research interests range broadly across the literature of the medieval and early modern periods, the history of the book, critical theory and visual culture. He also writes for the London Review of Books and MAP Magazine.

This is a live online course. You will need:
- Internet connection. The classes work best with Chrome.
- A computer with microphone and camera is best (e.g. a PC/laptop/iMac/MacBook), or a tablet/iPad/smart phone/iPhone if you don't have a computer.
- Earphones/headphones/speakers.
We will contact you with joining instructions before your course starts.

What will we cover?

The first two sessions will introduce the poem and Old English poetic style. We will read and discuss short passages as a class. We will then explore a range of translations, dating from the late nineteenth century to 2021:
William Morris’s 1895 translation and edition
Thomas Meyer’s experimental 1960s translation
Seamus Heaney’s 1999 translation
Maria Dhavana Headley’s 2021 feminist translation.

What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...

Recognise and discuss some of the key features of Old English verse. Discuss the social and political context of modern translations. Compare and contrast different translations and their literary effects.

What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?

Some prior experience of studying poetry and/or Old and Middle English may be an advantage but is not essential.

How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?

Sessions will include short lectures providing historical and cultural context, group discussions of sections from the texts, and work in small groups in breakout rooms. Readings should be done outside of class in preparation for each session.

Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?

Passages from the Old English and William Morris’s translation will be supplied.
Beowulf By All (Arc Humanities Press, 2021) and Thomas Meyer’s Beowulf (punctum books, 2012) are available online for free.
Please purchase a copies of Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf: A New Verse Translation (Faber, 2000) and Maria Dhavana Headley’s Beowulf: A New Translation (Scribe, 2021) [total cost for both of around £10].

When I've finished, what course can I do next?

Exploring Medieval Literature: late Medieval Drama will be available in term three. Details tbc by Sept 2022. Look for other literary history courses on our website at under History, Culture and Writing/Literature/Literary History.

We’re sorry. We don’t have a bio ready for the tutor of this class at the moment, but we’re working on it! Watch this space.