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Beowulf and Beyond: An Early Medieval Poem and Its Modern Adaptations


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA Literary Studies, research master Literary Studies and research master Arts, Literature and Media (other relevant MA on request and if places available, please contact the study coordinator).
A basic working knowledge of Old English language and literature is required; students who haven’t followed a course in Old English can contact the tutor some weeks before the course starts for an alternative, online means to grasp the basics of Old English.


The Old English epic Beowulf is the oldest and longest poem of its kind in the context of the Germanic tradition. The poem not only gives us an exciting story concerning the hero Beowulf’s fights against a cannibalistic monster, Grendel, and an unnamed fire-spitting dragon, but it also tells us extensively of the ways of life and expectations as they prevailed in the aristocratic warrior circles of Anglo-Saxon England shortly after the conversion. Ever since its first edition in the 19th century, the Beowulf poem has been studied, read, translated, recreated, adapted and appropriated for a variety of purposes. These adaptations range from faithful translations to radical reimaginations, in the form of historical novels, modern poems, graphic novels, video games and movie adaptations.
In this course we shall read and translate a number of episodes from Beowulf and place these episodes within their cultural-historical context. Attention will also be given to modern adaptations of the poem, including the modern English translations by Seamus Heaney and Maria Dahvana Headley, graphic novels and the various Beowulf movies.

Course objectives

Upon successful completion of the course, students will have:

  • improved their ability to read and interpret important works of Old English literature, both in translation and in the original language.

  • gained a thorough understanding of Beowulf and its modern-day afterlives

  • further developed their ability to analyse works of literature, to understand these works as belonging to their historical and cultural moments as well as specific textual traditions, and to make interesting and meaningful claims about these works in both written or oral form.

  • further developed their independent research skills.

  • learned how to communicate academic information to a broader audience

  • produced a final research paper that represents the very best writing they were able to produce at that moment.

  • (ResMA only) The ability to participate in a discussion of the theoretical foundations of the discipline


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

3-hour seminars

Assessment method


  1. Academic blog post of c. 1500 words after Block I
  2. Research paper of 2500-3000 words after Block II
  3. Participation and preparation of weekly readings
  4. (Bi-)weekly mini-presentations (4-5 minutes)

ResMA only:
5. Additional paper (or extension of research paper) of 3000 words


Element 1) 30%
Element 2) 40%
Element 3) 10%
Element 4) 20%

Element 1) 20%
Element 2) 25%
Element 3) 10%
Element 4) 20%
Element 5) 25%


If the average grade is a 5,49 or lower, one or two of the research papers will need to be retaken. There is no resit for the presentation, participation and preparation (elements 3 and 4).

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

The following books should be bought:

  • George Jack, ed., Beowulf: A Student Edition (Oxford: OUP, 1994; repr. 2009)

  • Seamus Heaney, trans., Beowulf: A New Translation (available in various formats)

  • Maria Dahvana Headley, trans., Beowulf: A New Translation (available in various formats)


Enrolment through My Studymap Login | Universiteit Leiden is mandatory.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Arsenaal

Coordinator of studies:


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