Literature, Culture, and Politics in Early Modern England: Context (HIH3625)

StaffDr Freyja Cox Jensen - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level6
Pre-requisitesAt least 90 credits of History at Level 1 and/or Level 2
Co-requisitesHIH3624 (Sources)
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks; Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

Over the course of the module, you will have the opportunity to develop your understanding of the classic canon of the English Literary Renaissance, so influential in shaping the development of English literature and culture ever since.  You will also develop an understanding of the political and religious upheavals of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which had a profound effect upon the way that the England is governed to this day.  This module will allow you to enhance your critical thinking skills, as you study the interrelationship of complex political, social, and religious factors, and it will provide you with the opportunity to engage with an interdisciplinary strand of research that is constantly changing, as scholars find new approaches to the study of the history of literature, and the history of the book.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Evaluate the different complex themes in the history of early modern literature, the contexts of its production, and its significance.
  • 2. Make close specialist evaluation of the key developments within the period, developed through independent study and seminar work.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 3. Analyse the key developments within the political and literary history of early modern England.
  • 4. Focus on and comprehend complex issues.
  • 5. Understand and deploy relevant historical terminology in a comprehensible manner.
  • 6. Follow changes and continuities in social, political, and cultural developments across the period.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 7. Independently and autonomously study and also work within a group, including presentation of material for group discussion, developed through the mode of learning
  • 8. Digest, select and organise material to produce, to a deadline, a coherent and cogent argument, developed through the mode of assessment
  • 9. Present complex arguments orally

Syllabus plan

Among the themes we will study in this module are: the Court; humanism; nobility, honour and service; biography; literature and the nation; the production of books; the relationship between Christian and classical values; the role of women in printing, reading, and writing; early Stuart monarchy and the masque; the development of the history play; the relationship of the drama to politics and to Puritanism; the responses of writers to the Civil Wars.  We will read a wide variety of literary, and other, texts, including authors such as Skelton, More, Wyatt, Sidney, Spenser, Marlow, Shakespeare, Jonson, Bacon, Middleton, Massinger, Milton, Marvell, and others.

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 activities4422 x 2 hour seminars
Guided independent study256Reading and preparation for seminars, coursework and presentations

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Seminar discussionOngoing through course1-7, 9Verbal from tutor and fellow students

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
Essay253000 words1-8Verbal and written
Unseen exam502 questions in 2 hours1-8Verbal and written
Essay253000 words1-8Verbal and written

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Two essaysTwo essays1-8Referral/deferral period
Unseen examUnseen exam1-8Referral/deferral period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Achinstein, S., Milton and Toleration (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).

Axton, M., The Queen's Two Bodies: Drama and the Elizabethan Succession (London: Royal  Historical Society, 1977).

Baker-Smith, D., More's Utopia (London: Harper Collins, 1991).

Brigden, S., Thomas Wyatt: The Heart’s Forest (London: Faber and Faber, 2012).

Burlinson, C. & Zurcher, A. (eds.), Edmund Spenser: Selected Letters and Other Papers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).

Burrow, C., ‘The experience of exclusion: literature and politics in the reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII’ in D. Wallace (ed.), The Cambridge History of Medieval English Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).

Bushnell, R.W., Tragedies of Tyrants. Political Thought and Theater in the English Renaissance (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990).

Campbell, G. & Corns, T.N., John Milton: Life, Work and Thought (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).

Cummings, B & Simpson, J. (eds.), Cultural Reformations: Medieval and Renaissance in Literary Culture

 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).

Donaldson, I., Ben Jonson: A Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).

Grafton, A. & Jardine, L., ‘How Gabriel Harvey Read his Livy’, Past and Present (1990).

Griffiths, J. John Skeleton and Poetic Authority: Defining the Liberty to Speak (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2006).

Hadfield, A. (ed.), Literature and Censorship in Renaissance England (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001).

Hirst, D. & Zwicker, S., Andrew Marvell, Orphan of the Hurricane (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).

Kewes, P. (ed.), The Uses of History in Early Modern England (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006) and in HLQ, 68 (2005).

Nelson, E. ‘Greek Nonsense in More’s Utopia’, Historical Journal, 44 (2001), 889-917.

Norbrook, D., Writing the English Republic: Poetry, Rhetoric and Politics, 1627-1660 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).

Patterson, A., The Writer in Public Life (London: Longman, 2000).

Schwyzer, P. Literature, Nationalism and Memory in Early Modern England and Wales (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

Scott-Warren, J., Early Modern English Literature (Cambridge: Polity, 2005).

Sharpe, K., Criticism and Compliment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987).

Taylor, A.W. ‘Glass Houses: Surrey, Petrarch, and the Religious Poetics of the ‘London’ invective’, RES, 57 (2006).

Walker, G. Writing under Tyranny: English Literature and the Henrician Reformation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).

Woolf, D.R., Reading History in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).

Worden, B., ‘Delightful Teaching: Queen Elizabeth and Sidney’s Arcadia’ in Elizabeth I and the Culture of Writing, ed. Beal, P. & Ioppolo, G. (London: British Library, 2007).

Zwicker, Z., Lines of Authority: Politics and English Literary Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993).

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Early English Books Online; Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date


Key words search

Literature, Politics, Shakespeare, Tudors, Stuarts, Milton