English R1B

Reading and Composition: Writing with Beowulf

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
15 Fall 2022 Stevenson, Max
TTh 5-6:30 47 Evans

Book List

Donoghue, Daniel: Beowulf: A Verse Translation (Norton Critical Editions); Gardner, John: Grendel; Headley, Maria Dahvana: The Mere Wife; Rankine, Claudia: Citizen: An American Lyric

Other Readings and Media

The 13th Warrior (1999); Beowulf (2007).


This is not a class about Beowulf. As a course in the university’s R&C program, this is primarily a class on writing; as an R1B, it’s also a class on the skills of careful research and forceful argument.

It is, though, a class that uses Beowulf, one of the earliest literary texts in English, to explore what it means to be a writer in 2022. What does “authorship” mean when discussing an anonymous text, or when putting your own voice as a writer in conversation with other scholars? What does it mean to translate and adapt a work from one language or medium to another, or to write in different genres for different audiences using different registers? What does a poem about a single hero in sixth century Scandinavia have to say to a twenty-first century poem on systemic racism in the United States? How can we speak to and learn from people very unlike ourselves, and from writing very unlike our own? And just what do blood feuds have to do with bibliographies?

We’ll read both the original poem (in several translations) and read (and watch) a range of its adaptations, not only paying close attention to the poem’s form and its treatment of violence, gender, law, monstrosity, and history, but also considering how paying that kind of close attention to writing of any kind can make us not only better readers, but better writers ourselves. 

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