BA English Language and English Literature / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Things that Talk: Nonhuman Voices in Anglo-Saxon Literature and Culture

Course unit fact file
Unit code ENGL31622
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? No


The old work of giants decays. A dragon guards its hoard of treasure. The wanderer locks his thoughts away in an icy heart. A woman longs for her lost wolf. A wife weeps alone within her earth-grave. These are some of the striking images, stories and characters contained in Old English literature. The remains of this early literature survive in burnt manuscripts and ruined fragments. Anonymous voices still call out to us from these texts, but it is not always clear whether the speaker is a man or woman, pagan or Christian, saint or sinner, or even human or animal. They sing moving songs about themselves but their worldviews may seem strange and challenging to us today. Old English therefore tests your skill as a reader – and as a writer. Modern writers, from Tolkien and Auden to Heaney and Boland, have refused to abandon this vanished literary world. Instead, they have drawn on it as a source of creativity, inspiration and play. In lectures, we will study Old English alongside these Modern English translations and poetic responses. But students on this course will get the chance to go further still. In workshops, you will turn your critical insights into creative energy, making new translations of your own and shaping living songs from fading parchment.




  • to engage with Old English texts in both poetic modern translations and the original language
  • to examine how early medieval writing might relate to recent ideas about the nonhuman in thing theory and eco-criticism
  • to rethink critical and theoretical concepts of voice, body and agency in relation to nonhuman beings
  • to develop skills in reading a range of Old English literary genres (riddle, charm, elegy, dream vision)
  • to explore the intersections between literature and material culture


Knowledge and understanding

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

  •  identify connections between the themes of Old English literature and the concerns of thing theory
  • read a variety of early medieval genres closely and critically: riddle, charm, elegy, dream vision
  • identify and analyse different literary techniques used by Old English poets when writing about speaking animals and objects: prosopopoeia, paronomasia, chiasmus, cryptography, punning etc.

Intellectual skills

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

  •  present a coherent written argument
  • handle critical vocabulary and demonstrate a critical position according to the conventions of the discipline
  • demonstrate an awareness of recent theoretical approaches to nonhumans and the environment


Practical skills


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

  • use textual evidence to formulate convincing critical arguments about course texts
  • summarize and engage with the arguments in secondary texts
  • generate thoughtful written work on course texts and themes
  • speak clearly and articulately on course texts and themes
  • introduce and defend ideas in a presentation


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
  • manage deadlines and self-motivated study
  • demonstrate appreciation and sensitivity towards a historically distant culture


Employability skills

Analytical skills
Students taking this unit will be able to analyse and evaluate arguments and texts. Above all, committed students will emerge from this course unit with an advanced capacity to think critically, i.e. knowledgeably, rigorously, confidently and independently.
Group/team working
Students taking this unit will be able to work courteously and constructively as part of a larger group.
On this unit students are encouraged to respond imaginatively and independently to the questions and ideas raised by texts and other media.
Students on this unit must take responsibility for their learning and are encouraged not only to participate in group discussions but to do so actively and even to lead those discussions.
Project management
Students taking this unit will be able to work towards deadlines and to manage their time effectively.
Oral communication
Students taking this unit will be able to show fluency, clarity and persuasiveness in spoken communication.
Students on this unit will be required to digest, summarise and present large amounts of information. They are encouraged to enrich their responses and arguments with a wide range of further reading.
Written communication
Students on this unit will develop their ability to write in a way that is lucid, precise and compelling.

Assessment methods

Essay 50%

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

Readings may include:

Bird and beast riddles

Husband’s Message

Creation riddles and Old English Genesis

Panther, Whale, Phoenix

Soul and Body

Dream of the Rood

Study hours

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

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
James Paz Unit coordinator

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