Early Women's Writing 1500-1700 (TRU3027)

Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level
Pre-requisites120 credits at level 2
Duration of Module

Module aims

Did women have a Renaissance? Instruction books from the early modern period often present an “ideal” 
woman who is “chaste, silent, and obedient”. But how far did this view prevail? Historical and literary data 
from the period demonstrates that female literacy and readership rose significantly, as did the number of 
female authors, and that the early modern book trade was quick to respond to such changes. This course 
examines the writing of women authors of different social, political, religious, and economic status – from 
Aemilia Lanyer, a “dark lady” of dubious reputation, to Queen Elizabeth I herself. Students will encounter, 
across the chronological range 1500-1700, the variety of women’s writing in the period – lyrics, sonnets, 
romances, letters, political pamphlets, prophetic exhortations, and plays. These works will be compared to 
similar (perhaps more canonical) male-authored works with which students may already be familiar.

Syllabus plan

1. Women in Early Modern Society – Criticism and History 
2. Public World (Elizabeth I, Mary Sidney, Devereux, Raleigh, Puttenham)  
3. Love and Marriage (Wroth, Whitney, Philips, Osborne) 
4. Friendship and Patronage (Lanyer, Clifford, Stuart, Philips) 
5. Tragedy (Cary) 
6. Polemics (Speght, Sowernam, Swetnam) 
7. Politics and Society I: Epic and politics (Hutchinson, Milton) 
8. Politics and Society II: Utopia and science (Cavendish, Bacon) 
9. Religion (Askew, Bradstreet, Davies, Trapnel) 
10. Theatre I (Behn) 
11. Theatre II (Pix, Centlivre)

Learning and teaching methods

Details of Learning and Teaching Methods: 
Teaching is by one two-hour seminar per week. Students will be expected to participate in class 
discussion and will be encouraged to hold independent small group meetings in preparation for the 
seminars. Seminar attendance is compulsory. 

Indicative basic reading list

Indicative basic reading list: 
Primary texts 
? Stephen Greenblatt et al. (eds), The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 8
 ed., Vol.B: The 
Sixteenth Century, The Early Seventeenth Century (Norton, 2006) 
? Paddy Lyons and Fideles Morgan (eds), Female Playwrights of the Restoration (Everyman, 1994) 
? Aphra Behn, The Rover and Other Plays (OUP, 1998) 
? Margaret Cavendish, The Blazing World and Other Writings (Penguin Classics, 1994) 
? Lucy Hutchinson, Order and Disorder (Blackwell, 2001) 
? Danielle Clark (ed.) Isabella Whitney, Mary Sidney, and Aemilia Lanyer: Renaissance Women 
Poets (Penguin, 2000)
Selected secondary texts 
? Danielle Clarke and Elizabeth Clarke (eds), “This Double Voice”: Gendered Writing in Early 
Modern England (Macmillan, 2000) 
? George L. Justice and Nathan Tinker (eds), Women’s Writing and the Circulation of Ideas: 
Manuscript Publication in England, 1550-1800 (CUP, 2002) 
? Ruth Kelso, Doctrine for the Lady of the Renaissance (U of Illinois P, 1956) 
? Tina Krontiris, Oppositional Voices: Women as Writers and Translators of Literature in the English 
Renaissance (Routledge, 1992) 
? Barbara Kiefer Lewalski, Writing Women in Jacobean England (Harvard UP, 1993) 
? Anita Pacheco (ed.), A Companion to Early Modern Women’s Writing (Blackwell, 2002)  
? Katherine Quinsey (ed.), Broken Boundaries: Women and Feminism in Restoration Drama
(Kentucky UP, 1996) 
? Helen Wilcox (ed.), Women and Literature in Britain, 1500-1700 (CUP, 1996)  
Indicative web based resources: 
Exeter Learning Environment (e-learning platform) 
Women Writers Online. Women Writers Project. Brown University.
Other resources: 
Module reading pack

Last revision date


Total student study time

300 hours (including 1 x 2-hr seminar per week)

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module, students should be able to: 
1. Module Specific Skills: 
a. demonstrate an advanced critical understanding of the cultural history of women’s writing in an 
early period (1500-1700) 
b. demonstrate an advanced capacity to analyse early modern women’s writing in the context of 
political, social and cultural change  
c. demonstrate an advanced ability to use and respond to historicist, feminist and other critical 
approaches to early women writers 
2.  Discipline Specific Skills:
a. demonstrate an advanced ability to analyse early modern women’s literature and to relate its 
concerns and its modes of expression to its historical context. 
b. 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. 
c. demonstrate an advanced ability to understand and analyse relevant theoretical ideas, and to apply 
these ideas to literary texts. 
3. Personal and Key Skills: 
a. through seminar work and presentations, demonstrate advanced communication skills, and an 
ability to work both individually and in groups. 
b. 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 
c. through research for seminars, essays, and presentations demonstrate advanced proficiency in 
information retrieval and analysis. 
d. through research, seminar discussion, and essay writing demonstrate an advanced capacity to 
question assumptions and to critically reflect on their own learning process.  

Assignments and assessments

Formative or % ContributionForm of AssessmentSize of the assessment e.g. duration/lengthILOs assessed by this assessmentFeedback method
35%Essay2000 words All (except PKS a)Essay feedback sheet and marker’s annotations
15% Presentation 10 minutesAll (except parts of PKS b, c and d) Oral
50% Essay 3000 wordsAll (except PKS a) Essay feedback sheet and marker’s annotations