Desire and Power: English Literature 1570-1640 (EAS2026)

StaffDr Ayesha Mukherjee - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level6
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks;

Module aims

This 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 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;
  • 2. demonstrate an informed appreciation of sixteenth-century and seventeenth-century literary history;
  • 3. demonstrate an informed critical understanding of the relation between Renaissance literature and important historical and intellectual developments of the time;
  • 4. 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

  • 5. 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;
  • 6. demonstrate an ability to interrelate texts and discourses specific to their own discipline with issues in the wider context of cultural and intellectual history;
  • 7. demonstrate an ability to understand and analyse relevant theoretical ideas, and to apply these ideas to literary texts;

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 8. through seminar work and group presentations, demonstrate communication skills, and an ability to work both individually and in groups;
  • 9. 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;
  • 10. through research for seminars and essays, demonstrate proficiency in information retrieval and analysis;
  • 11. through research, seminar discussion, and essay writing demonstrate a capacity to question assumptions, to distinguish between fact and opinion, and to critically reflect on their own learning process;`
  • 12. through sitting their final examination, demonstrate proficiency in the use of memory and in the development, organization, and expression of ideas under pressure of time.

Syllabus plan

Topics to be covered may include:


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

[Opportunities Week]

William Shakespeare, Richard III


Section 3: Elizabethan to Jacobean


Francis Bacon, Essays (1597-1625)

The sonnet: Philip Sidney, Astrophil & Stella (1590), Shakespeare's Sonnets (1609)

John Donne and George Herbert, poems


Section 4: Jacobean Women


John Webster, The Duchess of Malfi

The Woman Writer 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
Schedules2Workshops on reading Renaissance literature
Guided Independent33study group preparation and meetings
Guided Independent70seminar preparation (individual)
Guided Independent159reading, research and essay preparation

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Group presentation15 minutes1-7, 9-11Oral 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 words1-7, 9-11Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up.
Exam452 hours1-7, 9-12Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up.
Seminar participation10continuousOral 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
EssayEssay1-7, 9-11Referral/deferral period
ExamExam1-7, 9-12Referral/deferral period
Seminar Participation Repeat Study or mitigation Referral/deferral period

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).

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, Arden Shakespeare or New Cambridge Shakespeare editions)

---. The Tragedy of King Richard III (Oxford Shakespeare, Arden Shakespeare or New Cambridge 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

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

Other resources:

Reading for week 1

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

Students arealsoadvisedtoreadasmuchaspossibleofBook1ofEdmundSpenser'sThe FaerieQueene(thetextforweek2) beforethestartofterm.

Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date


Key words search

English, Literature, Renaissance, Early Modern, Desire, Power