BA Art History and English Literature

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
Mapping the Medieval

Unit code ENGL10051
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 1
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by English and American Studies
Available as a free choice unit? Yes



On Mapping the Medieval you will study two masterpieces of medieval English literature: Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. We study both of these in translation, though with some reference to key passages in the original Old English (of Beowulf) and the Middle English (of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight). Lectures and seminars approach these texts from a variety of literary and theoretical perspectives: writing and material culture, sex and gender, belief and power, monsters and magic, translation and adaptation.




  • to introduce students to literature of the Anglo-Saxon and later medieval periods
  • to familiarise students with two key literary genres of the Middle Ages (epic and romance)
  • to familiarise students with different literary and contextual themes and frameworks
  • to encourage a critical engagement with the term ‘medieval’ and its contemporary connotations, both in literature and in other media
  • to develop the ability to read and discuss medieval literatures with reference to recent theoretical developments in the field
  • to encourage group discussion as well as the development of independent research skills


Learning outcomes

 By the end of this course students will be able to:


  • be able to demonstrate a familiarity with two key genres in medieval literature
  • analyse (close read) two of the most important poems from the English Middle Ages
  • discuss the texts on the syllabus with an awareness of their cultural and historical contexts
  • appreciate the role of translation in mediating these texts


 Week      1st hour/2nd hour

1             1. Introduction: Mapping the Medieval.  Dr David Matthews
               2. Beowulf and the Anglo-Saxons. Dr James Paz

2             1. Beowulf: Story, Song and Memory. JP
               2. Beowulf: Writing, Reading and Runes. JP

3             1. A Big Book of Monsters? The Beowulf Manuscript. JP
               2. Beowulf: Monsters and their Mothers. JP

4            1. Swords, Rings and Other Things: Beowulf and Material Culture. JP
              2. Beowulf: Until the Dragon Comes. JP

5           1. Beowulf beyond the Manuscript: Translation and Creative Mistranslation. JP
             2. Beowulf beyond the Manuscript: Novels, Comics, Films. JP

6          READING WEEK

7           1. Britain, Arthur, Origins. DM
             2.  Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Fit 1: How to Begin? DM

8           1. Gawain: Chivalry and Spirituality, Fit 2. DM
             2. Cultures of Consumption.  DM

9           1. Gawain, Fit 3: Gender and Sexuality. DM
             2. Gawain and the Medieval Book. DM

10        1. Gawain, Fit 4: Temptation and Resolution. DM
            2. Gawain, Fit 4: Individual and Community. DM

11         1. Medieval Afterlives. DM
             2. Gawain: Approaches to the Text. DM

12        1. Beowulf and Gawain: Roundtable with student participation. DM/JP

Teaching and learning methods


1 x 2 hour lecture per week; 1 x 1 hour seminar per week


Further reading and study questions via Blackboard


One-to-one consultations with tutors during office hours (or by appointment)

Knowledge and understanding


By the end of this course students will be able to:


  • demonstrate a familiarity with two key genres in medieval literature
  • identify and explain the distinctive formal properties of medieval poems
  • discuss the texts on the syllabus with an awareness of their cultural and historical contexts
  • demonstrate a basic understanding of different literary and theoretical approaches to premodern literature


Intellectual skills


By the end of this course students will be able to:


  • offer a cogent overview of medieval English literature (Old and Middle English)
  • have an awareness of recent theoretical approaches within this field
  • be able to show critical awareness of the current interpretations and versions of ‘the medieval’ in different media


Practical skills


By the end of this course students will be able to:


  • engage in discussion and debate with peers
  • form a coherent written argument
  • carry out some basic translation from Old and Middle English into Modern English

Transferable skills and personal qualities


By the end of this course students will be able to:


  • analyse and process complex information
  • work effectively in groups
  • demonstrate appreciation and sensitivity towards a historically distant culture

Employability skills

Analytical skills
synthesise and present information in a lucid and engaging manner
Group/team working
work effectively as a member of a group
organise time effectively in pursuit of specific goals

Assessment methods

2000-word essay (50%) and 2-hour exam (50%).

Feedback methods


  • Oral feedback during seminars
  • Written feedback on essays
  • Additional one-to-one feedback (during consultation hour or by making an appointment)

Recommended reading


You should purchase the two essential texts below; please note that there are many translations and editions of both, and you should purchase these editions rather than any other. It would be an advantage to have read the translations before the course begins:


  • Seamus Heaney, trans. Beowulf: A Verse Translation (Norton Critical Editions, 2002)


  • 'Simon Armitage, trans. *Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: A New Verse Translation* New York: Norton, 2007 (NB: please obtain this precise edition, with facing-page edition and translation of the poem)


If you wish to commence some critical reading, see also the following recommended texts:


  • A Companion to the Gawain Poet, ed. by Derek Brewer and Jonathan Gibson (D.S. Brewer, 1997)


  • A Beowulf Handbook, ed. by Robert E. Bjork and John D. Niles (Exeter Medieval Texts and Studies, 1997)






Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
David Matthews Unit coordinator

Additional notes

Timetable for 2019/20:

Lecture: Tue 3pm - 4pm

Lecture: Thu 11am - 12pm

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