Image from Sturla Gunnarsson, Beowulf, by permission
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This syllabus is subject to change. The latest version on this website is the binding syllabus.

Office: Bartlett 259
Office Hours: Wed and by appointment.
545-6598 | sharris at english.umass.edu

Spring 2008
TTh 1:00pm-2:15pm


This course focuses on the epic poem Beowulf in its original language and in translation. Written between c. 750 and c.1000 AD, Beowulf is the chief poetic achievement of Anglo-Saxon England. It is a poem of stunning artistry, complex structure, and profound wisdom. Beowulf inspired J. R. R. Tolkien and Seamus Heaney as it continues to inspire today. We will read the poem extremely closely. As we do, we will put it into its historical and literary contexts, imagining Anglo-Saxon readers as well as modern ones. Recommended for students who have completed ENGL 502.


Books will be ordered to Amherst Books, 8 Main St., in Amherst.

Beowulf, ed. Mitchell and Robinson A Beowulf Handbook, ed. Robert Bjork
Beowulf, ed. and trans. Roy Liuzza Christopher Fee, Gods, Heroes, & Kings.
Jesse Byock. Saga of the Volsungs Denton Fox. Grettir's Saga.


The course is both a language course, and a course in literary culture. Many of the students will already have learned Old English, so if you have not taken English 502, then you will need to take advantage of the on-line grammars to catch up quickly. I will be making available a number of resources to help you read Old Englsh effectively. Please check the resources section of this site often.

One half of each class will be dedicated to the language of the poem. This means lexicon, syntax, and semantics. It also means memorizing paradigms. If you don't like foreign or ancient languages, then this course is not for you. The second half of each class will be dedicated to discussion.

You are also expected to complete your readings and translations prior to each class--the readings average 100-200 pages per week. The translations should take about 4 to 6 hours per week. Here is Beowulf in MS Word. Those without Old English can limit themselves to as much per class as they can manage.


Please attend classes. University guidelines for absence will be enforced. Check your handbook. My lectures are copyrighted material. Any use of my lectures in written, electronic, or recorded form without my prior consent is strictly illegal.


There are two (2) papers, 1500 wds.(20%) and 2500 words (45%); a sample translation (10%), and a final exam (15%). 5% is awarded for class participation. See Grading Policies and Papers for more information on how I assign grades. Paper topics in Notes.

  • No electronic submissions.
  • ALL MISSED ASSIGNMENTS GET AN "F." If you foresee being absent, please let me know well beforehand. Check "Policies" in the help section.
  • PLAGIARISM GETS AN "F." This may be for the paper or for the course, at my discretion. Please check your student handbook and university guidelines for more on plagiarism.
  • ALL PAPERS MUST BE TYPED OR WORD-PROCESSED. Not doing so reduces your grade by one letter-value (e.g., "C" down to "D").

Please meet with me at least once during the semester, if only to check your grades against my records. Let me know when you want to meet and I will try to oblige.

NOTE 1: Please make and keep a copy of all your assignments. That copy may be a disc copy. In case any difficulties arise with respect to misplaced assignments or with respect to discrepancies between your records and my own, I will accept the evidence of your computer system's dating function. For your own peace of mind, I suggest that you lock any document on the day it is due. That will prevent your system from associating your document with a later date.

NOTE 2: The schedule of Part II is subject to change. It is not to be construed as a substitute for your attendance or as a catalogue of all the information for which you are responsible. All changes will be announced within a reasonable lead time. This syllabus constitutes a binding contract between the student and the professor. If you do not agree with any of the provisions set herein or if you foresee disagreeing with any of the provisions which may be added during the course of the term, then you are free to drop this class within the time allotted by UMass.

NOTE 3:All material pertaining to this course--namely handouts, quizzes, exams, tests, maps, graphs, charts, printed matter, recorded matter, electronic matter including but not limited to this syllabus and associated electronic documents, films, video clips, conversations, office consultations, classroom responses, lectures, asides, answers to classroom queries, and related utterances--is copyrighted material and is subject to international and US laws of copyright. Enrollment in this course constitutes tacit acceptance of this agreement and of the copyright claims made therein. Any breach of this agreement or use of copyrighted material by any member of the university or the public without prior consent will be met with legal action