Life and Death in Early Modern Literature (EAS3179)

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

Module aims

Life and Death is designed to advance knowledge and appreciation of early modern English culture. Through rigorously examining early modern literature that connected the stages of life to ideas of self, family and state, you will be invited to make your own contribution to intellectual debates about early modern views regarding the life cycle . Was producing children always crucial to concepts of selfhood within the period? To what extent does literature give insight into debates surrounding affective relationships between family members in the early modern period? How did different early modern writers confront the idea of dying?

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. demonstrate an informed appreciation of specific works of early modern literature that engage with ideas about stages in an individual’s life.
  • 2. confidently relate these literary works to the relevant contextual material from the period
  • 3. demonstrate an informed appreciation of a variety of critical approaches to the early modern life cycle.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 4. demonstrate an advanced ability to analyse 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 cultural and intellectual history.
  • 6. demonstrate an advanced ability to understand and analyse relevant theoretical ideas, and to apply these ideas to literary texts.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 7. 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
  • 8. through research for seminars and essays, demonstrate proficiency in information retrieval and analysis.
  • 9. 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.
  • 10. 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

The module is structured around four sub-topics relating to the human life cycle: ‘Having Children and Being Parents’; Growing Up’; Unrest Within and Without the Household’; ‘Getting Old, Dying, and Leaving a Legacy’. Within the topic of ‘Having Children and Being Parents’, students will examine texts including: bereavement poetry by Katharine Philips and Ben Jonson; Dorothy Leigh’s A Mother’s Blessing, and Thomas Middleton’s A Chaste Maid in Cheapside. Within the topic of ‘Growing Up’ students will examine: Ben Jon’s Hymenaei: John Milton’s Comus, and William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet  Within the topic of ‘Unrest Within and Without the Household’, students will consider texts that include: Thomas Dekker’s Shoemaker’s Holiday; Thomas Heywood’s A Woman Killed With Kindness, and John Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore. Within the topic of ‘Getting Old, Dying, and Leaving a Legacy’ students will examine William Shakespeare’s Hamlet and poetry by Isabella Whitney, John Donne and Shakespeare.  While texts are organised by thematic topics pertinent to understanding aspects of each text, students are encouraged to draw comparisons across texts and topics within the module as a whole.

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 & Teaching activities 22Seminars
Scheduled Learning & Teaching activities 15Lectures
Guided independent study33Study group preparation and meetings
Guided independent study70Seminar preparation (individual)
Guided independent study160Reading, 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
Essay503000 words1-3, 4-6, 7-9.Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up.
Exam502 hours1-3, 4-6, 10Feedback 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
EssayEssay1-3, 4-6, 7-9.Referral/deferral period
ExamExam1-3, 4-6, 10Referral/deferral period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Core reading


English Renaissance Drama: A Norton Anthology, ed. David Bevington et al. (W.W. Norton, 2002). A Woman Killed With Kindness and other Domestic Plays, ed. Martin Wiggins (Oxford World Classics, 2008).


Students may have modern scholarly editions of Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet that can be used for the module and should check with seminar leaders whether individual editions will be suitable. Recommended for these plays here is William Shakespeare, The Norton Shakespeare: Tragedies, ed. Stephen Greenblatt et al., 2nd ed. (W.W. Norton, 2008).


Secondary Reading


David Cressy, Birth, Marriage and Death: Ritual, Religion and the Life Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England. (1999)

Greenblatt, Stephen. Renaissance Self-Fashioning from More to Shakespeare(1980)

Laura Gowing, Domestic Dangers: Women, Words and Sex in Early Modern London (1996)

Kathryn M. Moncrief and Kathryn R. McPherson, Performing Maternity in Early Modern England (2007)

Michael Neill, Issues of Death: Mortality and Identity in English Renaissance Tragedy (1997)

Lind Pollock, Forgotten Children: Parent-Child Relationships from 1500 to 1900 (1983)                     Wendy Wall, The Imprint of Gender:Authorship and Publication in the English Renaissance (1993) Susan Zimmerman, (ed.), Erotic Politics: Desire on the Renaissance Stage (1992)

Module has an active ELE page?


Available as distance learning?


Last revision date


Key words search

English literature, early modern, Renaissance, life and death.