Dr Francis Leneghan

I work on Old English (i.e. pre-Norman Conquest) literature, in particular heroic poetry, biblical translation, and writing associated with King Alfred. dynastic drama of beowulf front cover 2

dynastic drama of beowulf front cover 2

My recent monograph, The Dynastic Drama of Beowulf, Anglo-Saxon Studies 39 (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2020), unravels the web of Scandinavian royal legends known to the original audience of Beowulf. The book offers a new interpretation of the work’s structure based on the principle of the dynastic life-cycle and provides explanations for features of the poem that have never been satisfactorily explained, most famously its many digressions and episodes. Highlighting the work’s originality, it proposes that the poet created a fictionalized monster-slaying hero and inserted him into royal legend in order to dramatize moments of dynastic crisis. It also brings into focus the poet’s debt to biblical paradigms of kingship and shows how the Anglo-Saxons came to read Beowulf as their own Book of Kings. As a follow-up project, I am writing a short essay on connetions between the poem and the Staffordshire Hoard.

Together with Dr Amy Faulkner (UCL), I am co-organiser of a major international research project involving over 40 scholars: The Age of Alfred. This aims to re-evaluate English literary culture c.850-950, including the question of what we mean by “Alfredian”. As well as the traditional corpus of texts associated with the king, namely the Old English Pastoral Care, Boethius, Soliloquies and Prose Psalms, we are equally interested in works often placed outside of this traditional canon, such as the Old English Bede, Orosius and Dialogues, the Domboc and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Literature produced at the West-Saxon court will be considered alongside Welsh and continental literary culture. Likewise, investigations into the vernacular works of the Alfredian period will be complemented by consideration of literature in Latin, while work on pre- and post-Alfredian literature will situate the traditional corpus in a broader context. My own book will explore how English writers in the late-ninth and early-tenth centuries revoiced works by respected figures such as King David, Gregory the Great, Bede, Augustine and Orosius in order to fashion a recognisable and authoritative Alfredian voice. The project will also result in the publication of a collection of essays and a freely available online database of Alfredian texts alongisde their Latin sources, with modern English translations.