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

Ghosts and Witches

  1. Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus
  2. Shakespeare, Macbeth
  3. Shakespeare, Hamlet
  4. Cyril Tourneur, The Atheist’s Tragedy


Angels and Demons

  1. Milton, Paradise Lost, books 1-4
  2. Milton, Paradise Lost, books 5-8
  3. Milton, Paradise Lost, books 9-12
  4. Milton, Paradise Regained


The Decline of the Supernatural?

  1. William Davenant, Macbeth; John Dryden, The State of Innocence
  2. Translations of Lucretius: Lucy Hutchinson, John Dryden
  3. Review and Conclusion

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 Independent33Study group preparation and meetings
Guided Independent70Seminar preparation (individual)
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 1,2,5Feedback 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
PresentationPresentationReferral / Deferral period
Essay Essay Referral / Deferral period
EssayEssayReferral / 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)


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Key words search

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