Skip to main content

Study information

Desire and Power: English Literature 1570-1640

Module titleDesire and Power: English Literature 1570-1640
Module codeEAS2026
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Dr Jo Esra (Lecturer)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

This module introduces you to a wide range of literature written during a crucial turning point in the English Renaissance, when society was undergoing enormous change and upheaval at every level. It covers the work of dramatists, such as Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Webster; poets, including Queen Elizabeth I, Mary Wroth, Spenser, Sidney, and Donne; and inventive prose writers like Rachel Speght, Thomas Nashe and Francis Bacon. It deals with constructions of race, sexual-ity, and disability; explores issues of cultural contact and migration; examines the role of literature in upholding and sub-verting authority; and investigates the representation and meanings of violence.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The module aims to familiarise you with the breadth and depth of the literature of the English Renaissance, its fascinating contexts, complexities, and contradictions. You will engage with the ways in which Renaissance writers address eroti-cism, religion, race, class, authorship, social change, and anxiety about the power of the monarchy. You will learn about theoretical and critical landmarks in Renaissance Studies, as well as recent, cutting-edge critical perspectives on the Re-naissance, its cultural discourses and current resonances.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Demonstrate informed appreciation of specific Renaissance authors and texts, and of sixteenth-century and seventeenth-century literary history
  • 2. Demonstrate the ability to independently research and engage with a wide range of primary source material in order to enhance your understanding and analysis of the literature of the period
  • 3. Demonstrate a developed capacity to employ appropriate critical methods to illuminate Renaissance literary works, their rhetorical strategies, genres, and conventions

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

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

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 6. Through discussion, demonstrate communication skills, and an ability to work both individually and in groups
  • 7. 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
  • 8. Through research, discussion, and essay writing demonstrate proficiency in information retrieval and analysis, and the capacity to question assumptions, to distinguish between fact and opinion, and to critically reflect on their own learning process

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:
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

Devils and Machiavels in the 1590s
· Christopher Marlowe, The Jew of Malta
· Thomas Nashe, Pierce Penniless His Supplication to the Devil
· William Shakespeare, Richard III

Elizabethan to Jacobean
· Francis Bacon, Essays
· The sonnet: selection from Philip Sidney, Shakespeare, Lady Mary Wroth
· John Donne and George Herbert, poems

Jacobean Women
· John Webster, The Duchess of Malfi
· Women Writers and Polemics: 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
Scheduled learning and teaching15Lectures
Scheduled learning and teaching22Seminars
Scheduled learning and teaching1Workshops on reading Renaissance literature
Guided independent study33Study group preparation and meetings
Guided independent study70Seminar preparation (individual)
Guided independent study159Reading, research and essay preparation

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
5-minute presentation and 700-word re-flective piece5 minutes plus 700 words1-8Written feedback from tutor, with op-portunity 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
Portfolio 1452 x 700-word pieces (30%) 1x 3-minute video essay (15%)1-8Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up
Portfolio 2452 x 700-word pieces (30%) 5-minute contribution to group video presentation (15%)1-8Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up
Module participation10Continuous1-6, 8Oral 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
Portfolio 1 2 x 700-word pieces (30%) 1x 3-minute video essay (15%)2 x 700-word pieces (30%) 1x 3-minute video es-say (15%)1-8Referral/Deferral period
Portfolio 2 2 x 700-word pieces (30%) 5-minute contribution to group video presentation (15%)2 x 700-word pieces (30%) 1 x 3-minute video es-say (15%)1-8Referral/Deferral period
Module participationRepeat study or Mitigation1-6, 8Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

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) OR Tenth Edition, Package 1 (2018).
· 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: Pen-guin, 1972; repr. 1985).
· William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream. (Oxford Shakespeare or Arden Shakespeare editions).
·— The Tragedy of King Richard III (Oxford Shakespeare or Arden 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 (Oxford UP, revised ed., 2002).
· Michael Schoenfeldt, Bodies and Selves in Early Modern England (Cambridge UP, 1999).

Indicative learning 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.

· ELE –

Key words search

English, literature, Renaissance, Early Modern, desire, power

Credit value30
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date