Life and Death in Early Modern Literature (EAS3179)

30 credits

In this module, we will read early modern works that are engaged with the milestones of human life: childhood, adolescence, parenthood, marriage, ageing and death. These stages of the life cycle are represented in a wide range of plays, poems, and prose pieces by such writers as William Shakespeare, James I, Thomas Heywood, Isabella Whitney, John Donne, Thomas Middleton, Dorothy Leigh and Katherine Philips. Analysing the module’s core texts, students will encounter a rich variety of early modern views on how the stage of an individual’s life is related to his or her understanding of self, family, and state. In addition to literary representations of the life cycle, students will examine non-literary materials such as ballads and songs, sermons, and medical writing from the same period. In its combined exploration of core and contextual materials, this module aims to encourage students to pursue textual analyses that recognise important nuances within early modern representations of Life and Death.  Students will be given the opportunity to investigate how early modern writers’ concerns with birth, marriage, and death prompt exploration of adjacent fields such as illegitimacy, impotence, health, sickness, ageing, spiritual uncertainty and poetic legacy.

The module is aimed at students without any background knowledge, and those wishing to build on and refine their experience of early modern literature and drama at earlier stages of their degree. It is recommended for those considering postgraduate study in an early modern or related field. Students will be encouraged to develop independent research skills, especially in the identification and analysis of contextual materials.