EAS2026 - Desire and Power: English Literature 1570-1640

2020/1 Module description

StaffProfessor Ayesha Mukherjee - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level5
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks;

Module description

In this module you will be introduced to a wide variety of literature written during the most important years of the English Renaissance, when society was in the process of enormous change and upheaval at every level.

The module explores works by Shakespeare, Marlowe, Spenser, and Donne, as well as other important writers of the era including Queen Elizabeth I, Mary Wroth, Philip Sidney, Francis Bacon, John Webster and Thomas Nashe. You will engage with a wide range of topics including eroticism, religion, authorship, social change, and anxiety about the power of the monarchy.

Module aims

  • To introduce English literature written during the most important years of the English Renaissance, when society was in the process of enormous change and upheaval at every level. It covers the work of important dramatists of the era, including Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Webster, and poets including Elizabeth I, Shakespeare, Spenser, Donne, Herbert and Wroth. Some of the topics considered are eroticism, religion, social change, and anxiety about the power of the monarchy.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Demonstrate informed appreciation of specific Renaissance authors and texts, and of sixteenth-century and seventeenth-century literary history
  • 2. Demonstrate an informed critical understanding of the relation between Renaissance literature and important historical and intellectual developments of the time
  • 3. Demonstrate a developed capacity to apply appropriate critical and theoretical ideas to illuminate Renaissance literary works, their rhetorical strategies and conventions

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 4. Demonstrate an ability to analyse the literature of the English Renaissance and to relate its concerns and its modes of expression to its historical context
  • 5. Demonstrate an ability to interrelate texts and discourses specific to your own discipline with issues in the wider context of cultural and intellectual history
  • 6. Demonstrate an ability to understand and analyse relevant theoretical ideas, and to apply these ideas to literary texts

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 7. Through discussion, demonstrate communication skills, and an ability to work both individually and in groups
  • 8. Through essay-writing, demonstrate appropriate research and bibliographic skills, a capacity to construct a coherent, substantiated argument and a capacity to write clear and correct prose
  • 9. Through research for seminars and essays, demonstrate proficiency in information retrieval and analysis, and the capacity to question assumptions, to distinguish between fact and opinion, and to critically reflect on your own learning process
  • 10. Through sitting your final examination, demonstrate proficiency in the use of memory and in the development, organisation, and expression of ideas under pressure of time

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: Elizabeth I and Elizabethan Literature

  • Queen Elizabeth: letters, poems, and speeches.
  • Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, Book I.
  • William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream

Section 2: Devils and Machiavels in the 1590s

  • Christopher Marlowe, The Jew of Malta
  • Thomas Nashe, Pierce Penniless His Supplication to the Devil
  • William Shakespeare, Richard III

Section 3: Elizabethan to Jacobean

  • Francis Bacon, Essays
  • The sonnet: selection from Philip Sidney, Shakespeare, Lady Mary Wroth
  • John Donne and George Herbert, poems

Section 4: Jacobean Women

  • John Webster, The Duchess of Malfi
  • Woman Writers in Jacobean England: Lady Mary Wroth, Rachel Speght and Ester Sowernam

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 teaching14Lectures
Scheduled learning and teaching22Seminars
Scheduled learning and teaching2Workshops on reading Renaissance literature
Guided independent study33Study group preparation and meetings
Guided independent study70Seminar preparation (individual)
Guided independent study159Reading, research and essay preparation

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Written critical commentary700 words1-6, 8-9Oral feedback from tutor and peers in seminar, with opportunity for tutorial follow-up

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
Essay452000 words1-6, 8-9Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up
Examination452 hours1-6, 8-10Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up
Module participation10Continuous1-9Oral feedback with opportunity for office hours follow-up

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay1-6, 8-9Referral/Deferral period
ExaminationExamination1-6, 8-10Referral/Deferral period
Module participationRepeat study or Mitigation1-9N/a

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

Core Reading:

  • The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Ninth Edition: Volume B (16th and Early 17th Century), ed. Stephen Greenblatt et al. (London: W.W. Norton, 2012) OR Tenth Edition, Package 1 (2018).
  • Christopher Marlowe, The Jew of Malta (New Mermaids, Oxford or Revels editions).
  • Thomas Nashe, The Unfortunate Traveller and Other Works, ed. J.B. Steane, Penguin Classics (London: Penguin, 1972; repr. 1985).
  • William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream. (Oxford Shakespeare or Arden Shakespeare editions).
  • — The Tragedy of King Richard III (Oxford Shakespeare or Arden Shakespeare editions).

Secondary Reading:

  • Stephan Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning (U California P, 1980).
  • Contance Jordan, Renaissance Feminism (Cornell UP, 1990).
  • Katherine Maus, Inwardness and Theater in the English Renaissance (U Chicago P, 1995).
  • David Norbrook, Poetry and Politics in the English Renaissance (Routledge, 1984).
  • Michael Schoenfeldt, Bodies and Selves in Early Modern England (Cambridge UP, 1999).

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Extensive web resources will be available in conjunction with this and other Renaissance Studies modules through the Exeter Learning Environment, providing syllabus information, reading lists, lecture lists, links to Renaissance sites on the Web, and a forum for discussion.

Indicative learning resources - Other resources

Reading for week 1:

  • Elizabeth I, poems and prose (selections in Norton Anthology and module ELE site).

Students are also advised to read as much as possible of Book I of Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (the text for week 2) before the start of term.

Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date


Key words search

English, literature, Renaissance, Early Modern, desire, power

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