One of the most pressing matters facing teachers of English and literature is how to teach complex literary works, such as those written in Old and Middle English. Works such as Beowulf, The Canterbury Tales, and the works of William Shakespeare are some of the most integral parts of literary study, especially considering these are the foundations on which British literature, and as an extension, American literature, stands. Many instructors of literature lament teaching these complex works to undergraduates. According to Kleypas (2004):
“Teaching Shakespeare to undergraduates can be difficult under the best of circumstances. The densely figurative language can be very difficult to sift through for students unfamiliar with anything but naturalistic speech. When this is further compounded by the student’s resistance to reading anything longer than several paragraphs, I find myself wanting to throw my hands up in despair and exchange the Shakespeare for several very brief short stories which I can read aloud to the class if it becomes apparent that they have not read them.” (Kleypas 2004).
This does not paint a particularly optimistic picture. Most undergraduate students are compelled to take at least one course that requires the study of complex literary works such as Shakespeare and Beowulf. Many of these students have neither the drive nor the time to study these works to the extent needed to comprehend the works on their own, leading to a conundrum for both instructors and students.
Without an effective method of teaching these literary works, undergraduate students, particularly those who are required to study British literature for their composition or hu...
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...tion and alliteration. By teaching this translation in conjunction with Heany’s more direct plain-prose translation, students have an understanding of both Beowulf’s beautifully complex nature and the story’s literal meaning.
Teaching any work in translation requires a balance. You must allow undergraduate students to come to a full comprehension of the material, yes. However, you must also keep in mind that the most daunting piece of any complex piece of literature is one of the elements that makes it so beautiful: the language. Any translation of a literary masterpiece must include the original language, or as close to it as possible. This allows undergraduates who are required to learn the material to master it to their fullest potential, while still keeping the language as pure as possible for those students whose life’s work is to study literature.
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