Beowulf and the Origins of English Literature 700-900

Course Dates: 10/01/22 - 07/02/22
Time: 18:00 - 19:30
Location: Online
After Conversion brought writing to England, Christian monks scribed poems and other literature in manuscripts that were often composed in an earlier, pre-literate culture. It is widely held that Beowulf is a product of this period of Old English writing, between 700 and 900, but most of the poetry is found in manuscripts dated centuries later, around the year 1000. There is thus much speculation as to the circumstances surrounding the composition of earliest literature in England, and this course explores the creativity of those poets and scribes, and the world in which they lived.
This course will be delivered online. See the ‘What is the course about?’ section in course details for more information.
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Full fee £79.00 Senior fee £79.00 Concession £48.00

This course has now started

Course Code: HLT200

Started Mon, eve, 10 Jan - 07 Feb '22

Duration: 5 sessions (over 5 weeks)

Call us to check if you can still join the course 020 7492 2652 (depart num)

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What is the course about?

This online literature course considers the early centuries following the birth of literacy in England. It looks at several examples of writing that remain to us in manuscripts, written in Old English, the predecessor of the language spoken in England and around the world today. Some of the poems and prose we will examine are the product of an earlier age, but during the period 700-900 a flowering of written English occurred, even though most of the people who could write used Latin in their daily lives. The Venerable Bede, for example, possibly the most well-known English literary figure before the Norman Conquest save for King Alfred, was a great Latin writer. Yet some of his work was translated into Old English, possibly under orders from Alfred, who was a great champion of English.

What kinds of literature circulates in this period? Who wrote it? What is the relationship between the literature we have in manuscripts and the culture of oral composition and performance that must have operated before and during the establishment and Christianity and literacy in England? This course aims to probe these complex and disputed issues. It also aims to demonstrate the brilliance of early literature in the English language.

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 style and substance of key literature of the period 700-900.
The cultural context in which the literature was composed and disseminated.
The relationship between the literature and the oral past.
The key figures of the literary establishment in the period – Bede, Alfred, Cynewulf, and of course Anonymous.

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

Understand the world in which early English scribes operated.
Be aware of a range of early English writing.
Understand the style of the literature in poetry and prose
Have a general understanding of the manuscript culture operating in the period.
Understand the relationship between Latin and English writing.

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

Although this course considers early English language and texts, it is not technical and requires no specific knowledge of linguistics or linguistic terms. There will inevitably be discussion of historical as well as legendary events, but no knowledge of such matters is required before the course.

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

By presentation, demonstration, and group discussion. To get the most out of the course there will be some preparation between classes.

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

Familiarity with Beowulf, Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, and Alfred’s Preface to the Pastoral Care will be a bonus, but no prior relationship with Old English literature is expected.
Specific material will be provided in advance by the tutor.

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

Look for other literary history courses on our website at under History, Culture and Writing/Literature/Literary History.

Steven Breeze

Steven teaches medieval literature, including Old and Middle English, Old Norse literature, and modern interpretations of medieval works and the medieval period for the Culture and Humanities department at City Lit. He has taught at City Lit since 2013, and he also has experience teaching in higher education and in secondary schools. Steven completed a PhD at Birkbeck, University of London, in 2018, and has degrees in English and anthropology, a master’s degree in ethnomusicology and a PGCE. He is currently writing a book about performance in Old English poetry, which will be published in 2021 by Boydell and Brewer. In addition to his specialist work in Culture and Humanities, Steven also teaches in the Business and Technology department.

Please note: We reserve the right to change our tutors from those advertised. This happens rarely, but if it does, we are unable to refund fees due to this. Our tutors may have different teaching styles; however we guarantee a consistent quality of teaching in all our courses.