‘The wolf in the story’ : wolves as speech-stealers and outlaws in Old English literature

  • Lizzie Marshall

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


A full-length study of wolves in Old English literature has yet to be published. With the aim of filling this gap in research, this study provides an historicist examination of four pre-Norman texts (three Old English, one Anglo-Latin) in relation to two associations with wolves inherited from the classical and Germanic traditions: speech-stealing and outlawry.

Though the Germanic association between wolves and outlaws has been the subject of much debate, there remains scope for extending previous analyses, particularly in relation to the Old English term wearg. Chapter one of this thesis therefore examines the legal, literary, and lexicological histories of this association. The classical speech-stealing lupus in fabula superstition, however, is markedly less well-researched. As such, the transmission of the superstition (which appears in a wide variety of classical and early medieval texts) is traced in chapter two, in which the likelihood that the lupus in fabula was known in pre-Norman England is also considered.

Chapter three constitutes an analysis of the notoriously difficult Wulf and Eadwacer, wherein it is contended that the poem’s characters are simultaneously outlawed humans and wolves, based on the perceived lack of distinction between the two in Germanic literature and culture. Chapter four, meanwhile, is an analysis of Abbo of Fleury’s Anglo-Latin Passio sancti Eadmundi and Ælfric’s vernacular adaptation of the same text, arguing that the lupus in fabula superstition informed both works. The final chapter draws both lupine associations together, contending that the Grendelkin of Beowulf, as well as (to an extent) its titular hero, are wolf-like, speech-stealing outlaws who participate in a speech-stealing ‘feud’. This thesis thus endeavours to demonstrate that the wolf is not merely a Beast of Battle, but a creature who possessed a more complex and powerful hold upon the Anglo-Saxon imagination than has previously been recognised.
Date of Award2 Dec 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorTom E Jones (Supervisor) & Chris Jones (Supervisor)


  • Old English literature
  • Wolves
  • Wolf
  • Animal studies
  • Old English language
  • Anglo-Saxon culture
  • Anglo-Latin literature
  • Outlaw
  • Superstition

Access Status

  • Full text embargoed until
  • 27th July 2025

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