Faculty of Arts


Early Texts: Modern Inventions


This is an introductory study of medieval and early modern literature, covering works by major authors like Chaucer, Malory, Shakespeare, Milton and England’s first woman author, writing professionally, Aphra Behn. This study, construed as a reading of highly individual texts, or as a sequence that constructs something of a textual history, immediately strikes us as challenging, by virtue of its alterity, its otherness. That has value for us, viewing this literature from our historical and cultural distance, not least because it requires us to bring our historical imagination into play. In reading these works, furthermore, we discover a compact history of literary engagements with social, cultural and political issues that arose in a period that is notable for the cataclysmic changes it enjoyed, or endured: revolution and reforms, in state government and in religion (which saw England change radically from a Catholic to a Protestant country during the sixteenth century), but also in organisation of urban and domestic societies. At the same time, this study of socially engaged literary texts develops acquaintance with a range of important literary forms, mostly forms that had long histories before them, but, in this period, commonly charged with the force of the new.

A number of topics and tropes will be discussed in the course of tracing various histories through the texts studied:

Travel, quest and discovery
Belief and burning
The place of women and women’s speech
Identity and self-fashioning
Imagined communities and the making of a nation
Alterity and innovation

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course students should

1. have an enhanced ability to read and understand late medieval and early modern English verse and prose;

2. be aware of traditions of literary writing in late medieval and early modern England;

3. be able to recognize and discuss some important features and changes in English society and culture across this period;

4. have familiarity with typical features and structures of early modern literary genres, including poetry, drama and non-dramatic prose;

5. Be able to discuss and compare literature from this period using critical and scholarly resources, including electronic databases and research tools;


Coursework + exam

Availability 2021

Semester 2


Lecturer(s) Dr Eluned Summers-Bremner
Dr Sophie Tomlinson


Malory, King Arthur and his Knights; Selected Tales by Sir Thomas Malory, ed. Eugene Vinaver (Oxford, 1975), York Mystery Plays: A Selection in Modern Spelling, ed. Richard Beadle and Pamela King (Oxford, 1984), Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, ed. Peter Holland (Penguin, 2000); Jonson, Volpone, or The Fox, ed. Robert Watson, New Mermaids (2003); Behn, Oroonoko and Other Writings, ed. Paul Salzman (Oxford World's Classics, 2009).


Texts for Chaucer, Sidney and Shakespeare sonnets, Marvell and Donne poems to be advised.

Recommended Reading



Coursework + exam


ENGLISH 214: 15.0 points


15 points at Stage I in English



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