Beowulf+ | Adaptation, Imagination, and Medievalism

Beowulf +
Adaptation, Imagination, and Medievalism

English 162W-01 | Monday & Wednesday 10:30am – 12:20pm | Bldg. 160, Rm. B37 (Wallenberg)

Instructor: Jonathan Quick Contact: jquick@stanford.edu
Office: Bldg. 460, Rm. 314 (Jacks) Hours: M 12:30-2pm, Tu 10-11:30am, & by appointment

Course Description:
Despite its having no Anglo-Saxon characters and containing no mention of England, popular understanding of Anglo-Saxon culture is primarily mediated through one literary text: Beowulf, an Old English epic poem. The text itself survives in just one manuscript from around the turn of the first millennium which is securely stored in a display case in the British Library. It is almost certainly the most widely canonized text from this period of British history and has been transcribed, edited, photographed, digitized, and translated since its rediscovery in the early 18th century.

Recently the idea of ‘Beowulf’ has been mediated and remediated through films, television series, children’s books, comics, graphic novels, board games, video games, and even through self-help books (e.g. Beowulf for Business: The Modern Warrior’s Guide to Career Building, 2007). The last two decades have seen a sharp spike in the production of Beowulfiana and in medievalism in general. What makes Beowulf or “Beowulf” such a popular subject for adaptation?

This course looks at the afterlives of this Old English poem. We will begin and end the course by reading the poem (in translation), and closely examine its cultural, historical, and linguistic context(s). From there, our chief aim will be to evaluate Beowulf’s reception and influence from its textual origin up through to its present-day manifestations in various media. By using the Anglo-Saxon poem as our base-line, we will study novels, comics, children’s literature, film, games, and more in order to explore the many modes and levels of adaptation. To achieve this aim, this study of ‘Beowulf +’ will be grounded in adaptation theory and some new media studies, and students will leave the course with many skills necessary to be careful readers of other adaptations both for pleasure and for future studies.