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Old English Literature: A Guide to Criticism with Selected Readings



Old English Literature: A Guide to Criticism with Selected Readings

John D. Niles

ISBN: 978-0-631-22057-2 May 2016 Wiley-Blackwell 368 Pages


This review of the critical reception of Old English literature from 1900 to the present moves beyond a focus on individual literary texts so as to survey the different schools, methods, and assumptions that have shaped the discipline.

  • Examines the notable works and authors from the period, including Beowulf, the Venerable Bede, heroic poems, and devotional literature
  • Reinforces key perspectives with excerpts from ten critical studies
  • Addresses questions of medieval literacy, textuality, and orality, as well as style, gender, genre, and theme
  • Embraces the interdisciplinary nature of the field with reference to historical studies, religious studies, anthropology, art history, and more

Preface and Acknowledgements viii

Abbreviations xii

Part I Main Currents in Twentieth-Century Criticism 1

1 Old English Studies 1901–1975 3

The Earlier Twentieth Century 4

Literary Criticism: A Slow Start 8

Two Scholars Representative of their Eras 10

New Directions after the Second World War 16

Changing Currents in Beowulf Studies 20

Key Works from the Early Seventies 32

Part II Anglo-Saxon Lore and Learning 41

2 Literacy and Latinity 43

Anglo-Latin Literature: Background or Mainstream? 44

Education in Two Languages 52

The Student in the Classroom 55

The Venerable Bede 58

A Selection from the Criticism 62

Excerpt: Joyce Hill, ‘Learning Latin in Anglo-Saxon England: Traditions, Texts and Techniques, (2003) 64

3 Textuality and Cultural Transformations 76

The Anglo-Saxon Book: Icon or Pragmatic Object? 78

Writerly Self-Reflexivity 81

Reading Old English Texts in their Manuscript Context 85

Authors and Scribes: The Flux of Texts 88

From Latin to Old English: Translation or Transformation? 92

Source Studies and the Culture of Translation 96

A Selection from the Criticism 100

Excerpt: M.B. Parkes, ‘The Palaeography of the Parker Manuscript of the Chronicle, Laws, and Sedulius, and Historiography at Winchester in the Late Ninth and Tenth Centuries’ (1976) 101

4 Orality 112

Parry, Lord, and their Legacy 116

Oral Poetics and Noetics 120

A Selection from the Criticism 126

Selection: Donald K. Fry, ‘The Memory of Cædmon’ (1981) 127

5 Heroic Tradition 136

Short Poems on Legendary Themes 139

Brunanburh, Maldon, and the Critics 142

Beowulf and the Critics 149

Indeterminacy and its Discontents 167

A Selection from the Criticism 171

Selection: Ernst Leisi, ‘Gold and Human Worth in Beowulf ’, first published as ‘Gold und Manneswert im Beowulf ’ (1952) 173

Part III Other Topics and Approaches 185

6 Style 187

A Selection from the Criticism 192

Selection: J.R. Hall, ‘Perspective and Wordplay in the Old English Rune Poem’ (1977) 194

7 Theme 203

A Selection from the Criticism 207

Selection: Hugh Magennis, ‘Images of Laughter in Old English Poetry, with Particular Reference to the Hleahtor Wera of The Seafarer’ (1992) 209

8 Genre and Gender 222

Genre 223

Gender 227

A Selection from the Criticism 230

Selection: Lisa M.C. Weston, ‘Women’s Medicine, Women’s Magic: The Old English Metrical Childbirth Charms’ (1995) 232

9 Saints’ Lives and Christian Devotion 246

A Selection from the Criticism 254

Selection: Edward B. Irving, Jr, ‘Crucifixion Witnessed, or Dramatic Interaction in The Dream of the Rood ’ (1986) 256

10 Ælfric 267

A Selection from the Criticism 274

Excerpt: Malcolm Godden, ‘Apocalypse and Invasion in Late Anglo-Saxon England’ (1994) 276

11 Translating, Editing, and Making it New 290

Translating 290

Editing 295

Making it New 297

A Selection from the Criticism 299

Selection: Joshua Byron Smith, ‘Borges and Old English’ 301

Afterword 319

Selection Bibliography 321

Index of Modern Authors Cited 329

General Index 336