Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2018-2019 (archived)


Department: English Studies


Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2018/19 Module Cap 10


  • Students who do not already have a basic knowledge of Old Norse must attend the classes offered on the ENGL 53030 Old Norse module, either to audit the course or to take it as an examined option. A knowledge of Old English is desirable but not essential.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • The module will offer the opportunity to study the role and craft of warrior poets in Anglo-Saxon England and medieval Iceland, two related but distinct societies that inherited Germanic heroic values. It combines a rigorous and detailed analysis of individual texts with a comprehensive approach to the different cultural contexts that produced the literary works and those to which they refer. Warrior poets were crucial to the status of the warrior class they served and to the preservation of heroic ideals; consequently their role continues to attract much critical attention and appeals strongly to students. The module will encourage students to extend their language skills and to draw extensively on appropriate critical methods and interdisciplinary approaches.
  • The module will provide an advanced study of the craft, role and representation of warrior poets in Old English and Old Norse. It will draw on critical procedures and linguistic expertise appropriate to the level for which it is designed and will build on the language skills and knowledge of literary and cultural history that students have acquired at undergraduate level or are acquiring in the ENGL 53030 Old Norse module.


  • The main weight of study will fall on Old Norse material, which is more abundant, but the module will begin with classes that will consider the Old English poems Widsith, Deor and the sections of Beowulf that represent poets in action and give accounts of their work. It will then move on to a consideration of the Old Norse Egils saga and its representation of Egill in his cultural context as warrior poet, worshipper of Óðinn and worker of magic, and the relationship between these roles will be examined. Particular attention will be given to the poem that Egill is said to have composed for King Eiríkr blóðøx, and in this connection students will be asked to consider Eiríksmál, which was also composed for Eiríkr. Gunnlaugs saga ormstungu (the saga of Gunnlaugr Snake-tongue) will have been translated for the MA Old Norse module; there will be further discussion of it here in relation to Kormaks saga to investigate possible ways in which the figure of the warrior poet may have been adapted under the influence of romance fashions. Finally, the role of the warrior poet in the context of early Scandinavian Christianity will be investigated through discussion of the figures and work of either Sighvatr Þórðarson or Þormóðr Kolbrúnarskáld, both of whom were associated with King Óláfr the Saint. The module content will also include extensive reference to relevant critical works such as the History of Old Norse Poetry and Poetics by Margaret Clunies Ross (2005), and students will be encouraged to make full use of the resources found on the Skaldic Project website <http://skaldic.arts.usyd.edu.au>

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • At the end of the module, students should have:
  • a comprehensive knowledge of the cultural contexts in which Old English and Old Norse warrior poets worked;
  • an understanding of their poetic techniques and an appreciation of the ways in which they are represented in literature.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Students should also have improved their ability to read one or both of the original languages and have developed a sophisticated critical awareness of current debates concerning poetry in heroic literature and societies. In addition they should have extended their ability to speak and write persuasively about specific literary works and their conventions.
Key Skills:
  • Students studying this module will develop:
  • an advanced ability to analyse critically;
  • an advanced ability to acquire complex information of diverse kinds in structured and systematic ways;
  • an advanced ability to interpret complex information of diverse kinds through the distinctive skills derived from the subject;
  • expertise in conventions of scholarly presentation and bibliographical skills;
  • an independence of thought and judgement, and ability to assess acutely the critical ideas of others;
  • sophisticated skills in critical reasoning;
  • an advanced ability to handle information and argument critically;
  • a competence in information-technology skills such as word-processing and electronic data access;
  • professional organisation and time-management skills;
  • further skills in translating.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Intensive seminar teaching is intended to promote high standards of intellectual enquiry and critical debate based on extensive reading and discussion of primary and secondary texts. Students will be allowed to use modern English translations as a mean of approaching the primary texts but in the seminars, whenever appropriate, will be helped to develop their ability to translate for themselves. Assessment in the form of two written assignments is designed to encourage and measure the quality and extent of independent judgement, argument and translation skills.
  • Typically, directed learning may include assigning student(s) an issue, theme or topic that can be independently or collectively explored within a framework and/or with additional materials provided by the tutor. This may function as preparatory work for presenting their ideas or findings (sometimes electronically) to their peers and tutor in the context of a seminar.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 9 weekly in Epiphany Term 2 hours 18
Independent student research supervised by the Module Convenor 10
Preparation and reading 272
Total 300

Summative Assessment

Component: Coursework Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Summative Essay 1 3,000 words 50%
Summative Essay 2 3,000 words 50%

Formative Assessment:

One essay of not more than 2,000 words.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University