Literature, Culture, and Crisis in Early Modern England (TRU3028)

StaffDr Ayesha Mukherjee - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level6
Pre-requisites120 credits at level 2
Duration of Module Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

The module will cover a range of genres - satires, commonplace books, religious prose, prose fiction, and drama - and examine the roles of literature in defining and managing crisis. It will require students to analyze the work of much-discussed authors such as Shakespeare and John Donne as well as the less frequently examined works of Robert Greene and Thomas Middleton. It will address questions of contemporary early modern reception of the selected texts, and encourage analysis of their rhetorical and performative strategies. On the other hand, it will enable students to engage with the material culture of the period. The workshops on book history and manuscript study (palaeography) will teach how to read Elizabethan and Jacobean handwriting, and how to analyze manuscripts and rare books as material objects. The archival field trip will provide the opportunity to test and refine this knowledge by directly handling and examining material texts from the period. The lectures and seminars are designed to encourage engagement with the richness, complexity, and strangeness of this period’s cultural history. Close focus on a short span of time will enable greater depth of study and give students room to find new sources and develop their own interdisciplinary approaches to the course materials. Both essays and presentations will thus be research-based. For their presentations, students will choose from a list one rare text, find and examine it during the archival field trip, and analyze it within its cultural context and in relation to the module texts they have been reading. The listed texts could be of various kinds: contemporary letters, obscure pamphlets or plays, herbals, bibles, natural histories, etc. Students will be given clear instructions about possible approaches to the task, and will make their presentation on this selected text. All presentations will be organized into a symposium held in the final week of the module.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Demonstrate an advanced critical understanding of the literature and cultural history of early modern England.
  • 2. Demonstrate an advanced critical understanding of how early modern literature engaged with key aspects of political and social change and the construction of cultural identities.
  • 3. Demonstrate wider acquaintance with lesser known authors and independently assess their position in the early modern canon.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 4. Demonstrate an advanced ability to analyse early modern literature and to relate its concerns and its modes of expression to its historical context.
  • 5. Demonstrate an advanced ability to interrelate texts and discourses specific to their own discipline with issues in the wider context of material, cultural, and intellectual history.
  • 6. Demonstrate an advanced ability to work with both primary research materials and theoretical ideas pertinent to literary texts and develop independent research interests.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 7. Through seminar work and presentations, demonstrate advanced communication skills, and an ability to work both individually and in groups.
  • 8. 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.
  • 9. Through research for seminars, essays, and presentations demonstrate advanced proficiency in information retrieval and analysis.
  • 10. Through research, seminar discussion, and essay writing demonstrate an advanced capacity to question assumptions and to critically reflect on their own learning process.

Syllabus plan

1: A lost world: Introduction to early modern cultural history
2: Satire and social criticism (Hall, Marston, Guilpin, Bastard)
3: Households (commonplace and receipt books, country house poems)
4: Utopias (More, Bacon)
5: Underworlds: crisis and the act of writing I (Greene, Nashe)
6: Underworlds: crisis and the act of writing II (Nashe, Dekker)
7: Religion (Selected poems, sermons and tracts)
8: Staging the crises I (Shakespeare)
9: Staging the crises II (Jonson, Dekker)
10: Staging the crises III (Middleton)
11: Symposium: presentations based on research conducted during an archival field trip

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 Teaching Activities11Lecture (11x1hr)
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities22Seminar (11x2hrs)
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities11Study group (11x1hr)
Guided independent study256Private study

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
Essay352000 wordsAll (except PKS a)Essay feedback sheet and marker annotations
Presentation1510 minutesAll (except parts of PKS b, c and d)Oral
Essay503000 wordsAll (except PKS a)Essay feedback sheet and marker annotations

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssayAll (except PKS a)tbc
PresentationPresentationAll (except parts of PKS b, c and d)tbc
EssayEssayAll (except PKS a)tbc

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Primary texts

Francis Bacon, New Atlantis; Thomas More, Utopia: in Three Early Modern Utopias (Oxford, 2008)

Thomas Dekker, The Wonderfull Yeare. 1603. (Online: EEBO); Shoemaker’s Holiday (New Mermaids, 2008)

Robert Greene, selected ‘conny catching’ pamphlets (Online: EEBO)

Ben Jonson, Volpone (New Mermaids, 2003)

Thomas Middleton, A Game at Chess (Revels Plays, 1997)

Thomas Nashe, Pierce Penniless; Lenten Stuff (Penguin, 2006)

William Shakespeare, 1 Henry IV (Arden, 3rd series, 2002), King Lear (Arden, 3rd series, 1997)

R.H. Tawney and Eileen Power (eds), Tudor Economic Documents (London, 1924)


Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

ELE site for the module

EEBO (Early English Books Online)


Indicative learning resources - Other resources

Selected secondary texts

William C. Carroll, Fat King, Lean Beggar: Representations of Poverty in the Age of Shakespeare (Ithaca, 1996)

John Guy (ed.), The Reign of Elizabeth I: Court and Culture in the Last Decade (Cambridge, 1995)
Arnold Hunt, The Art of Hearing: English Preachers and their Audiences, 1590-1640 (Cambridge, 2010)

Peter Laslett, The World We Have Lost: further explored (Methuen, 1983)

Gerald Maclean, Donna Landry and Joseph Ward (eds), The Country and the City Revisited: England and the Politics of Culture 1550-1850 (Cambridge, 1999)

Andrew McRae, God Speed the Plough: The Representation of Agrarian England 1500-1660 (Cambridge, 1996)

Deborah Shuger, Habits of Thought in the English Renaissance: Religion, Politics, and the Dominant Culture (1990)

Linda Woodbridge, Vagrancy, Homelessness and English Renaissance Literature (Illinois, 2001)

Keith Wrightson, Earthly Necessities: Economic Lives in Early Modern Britain, 1470-1750 (Penguin, 2002)

Available as distance learning?