EAS3409 - Ghosts, Witches and Demons: the Renaissance Supernatural

2018/9 Module description

StaffProfessor Nicholas McDowell - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level6
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks;

Module description

This module explores the representation of the supernatural in a selection of poetic, dramatic and prose works written between 1580 and 1680. Among its topics will be consideration of how representations of the supernatural – witches, ghosts, devils – could be in tension with Christian religious belief to the point where such representations might be held to be irreligious or atheistic, and how great imaginative writers such as Marlowe, Shakespeare and Milton combine, or fail to combine, orthodox religious belief with representation of the supernatural. Some of the greatest works of English literature are covered in the module: Doctor FaustusMacbeth, and Paradise Lost (to which three weeks are devoted).

Module aims

  • To understand how the Renaissance imagined supernatural beings such as ghosts, witches, angels and demons, and to explore how great imaginative writers such as Marlowe, Shakespeare and Milton combine, or fail to combine, orthodox religious belief with representation of the supernatural.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Demonstrate an informed appreciation of a range of texts written between 1580 and 1680 which deal with issues of religion and the supernatural
  • 2. Demonstrate a detailed knowledge of religious ideas and ideas of the supernatural in the English Renaissance

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 3. Demonstrate an advanced ability to analyse the literature of an earlier era and to relate its concerns and its modes of expression to its historical context
  • 4. Demonstrate an advanced ability to interrelate texts and discourses specific to their own discipline with issues in the wider context of cultural and intellectual history

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 5. Through seminar work and presentations, demonstrate advanced communication skills, and an ability to work both individually and in groups
  • 6. Through essay-writing, demonstrate appropriate research and bibliographic skills, an advanced capacity to construct a coherent, substantiated argument, and a capacity to write clear and correct prose

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

Section 1: Ghosts and Witches

  • News from Scotland and other Witch Pamphlets
  • Marlowe, Doctor Faustus
  • Shakespeare, Macbeth
  • Shakespeare, Hamlet
  • Cyril Tourneur, The Atheist’s Tragedy

Section 2: Angels and Demons

  • Milton, Paradise Lost (1667/1674), books 1-4
  • Milton, Paradise Lost (1667/1674), books 5-8
  • Milton, Paradise Lost (1667/1674) books 9-12

Section 3: The Decline of the Supernatural?

  • Milton, Paradise Regained (1671)
  • William Davenant, Macbeth; John Dryden, The State of Innocence
  • Focus on Assessment

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching33Seminars
Guided independent study103Seminar preparation
Guided independent study164Reading, research and essay preparation

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Presentation1510 minutes 1-2, 5Oral feeback in seminar, supplemented by feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up
Essay352000 words1-4, 6Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up
Essay503000 words1-4, 6Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Presentation1000-word write-up of presentation1-4, 6Referral/Deferral period
Essay Essay (2000 words)1-4, 6Referral/Deferral period
EssayEssay (3000 words)1-4, 6Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Primary texts:

  • Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus, ed. David Scott Kastan (Norton, 2005)
  • William Shakespeare, Hamlet, ed. Robert Miola (Norton, 2010)
  • William Shakespeare, Macbeth, ed. Robert Miola (Norton, 2004) 
  • Four Revenge Tragedies, ed. Katherine Maus (Oxford, 1998)
  • Milton, Paradise Lost, ed. Gordon Teskey (Norton, 2004)

Other primary texts will be made available in a course reader.

Selected secondary texts:

  • Stuart Clark, Thinking with Demons: the Idea of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, 1999)
  • Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (Penguin, 1971)
  • D. Nuttall, The Alternative Trinity: Gnostic Heresy in Marlowe, Milton, and Blake (Oxford, 1998)
  • Kirsten Poole, Supernatural Environments in Shakespeare’s England (Cambridge, 2014)
  • Joad Raymond, Milton’s Angels (Oxford, 2010)

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Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

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Key words search

Renaissance, supernatural, ghosts, witches, demons, Shakespeare, Marlowe, Milton, Drama

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