Ghosts, Witches and Demons: The Renaissance Supernatural (EAS3409)

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

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


Topics to be covered may include:

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
Guided Independent103Seminar Preparation
Guided Independent164Reading, 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 words1,2,3,4,6Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up.
Essay503000 words1,2,3,4,6Feedback 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, 2, 3, 4, 6Referral / Deferral period
Essay Essay (2000 words)1, 2, 3, 4, 6Referral / Deferral period
EssayEssay (3000 words)1, 2, 3, 4, 6Referral / Deferral period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading


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)


A. 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)



Module has an active ELE page?


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date


Key words search

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