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Study information

Food and Literature in Early Modern England

Module titleFood and Literature in Early Modern England
Module codeEAS3246
Academic year2019/0
Module staff

Professor Ayesha Mukherjee (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

In early modern England, food did not only appear as an object of description, or a rhetorical trope. Literary representations of food were linked to discourses of production and consumption, waste and luxury, which resonate with modern concerns. The early modern English feasted, fasted, rioted, and committed or punished crimes over the issue of scarce food. They also dreamt of plenty and debated ways of gaining it. By exploring the theme of food in canonical authors from Shakespeare to Milton, as well as popular pamphlets, satires, recipe books, and visual media, the module aims to open up new perspectives on this fundamental human concern.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module covers the English Renaissance, Civil Wars, and Interregnum (1580-1660) and aims to familiarise you with a range of texts, paintings, maps, and images that represented social, political, and cultural attitudes to food, and imagined remedies for food-related anxieties. Interdisciplinary developments in Food Studies – from anthropological, environmental, historical, and literary perspectives – have demonstrated creative ways of interpreting the pervasive presence of food in literature, which you will be encouraged to explore in an early modern context. You will develop research skills through work on conventional essays as well as distinctive group assignments and blog posts.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Demonstrate an informed appreciation of the relevance of food in specific authors and works of the period 1580-1660
  • 2. Demonstrate an informed appreciation of the literary and cultural approaches to understanding food-related issues in the early modern period, and their current relevance
  • 3. Demonstrate an informed appreciation of the literary and cultural approaches to understanding food-related issues in the early modern period, and their current relevance

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 4. Demonstrate an advanced ability to analyse the literature of an earlier era 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

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

  • 7. Through seminar work and presentations, demonstrate advanced communication skills, and an ability to work both individually and in groups;
  • 8. 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
  • 9. Through research for seminars, essays, and presentations, demonstrate advanced proficiency in the analysis of complex material and communication of ideas

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:

Section 1: Production and Distribution

 Growing Food: Agricultural Discourses

  • Core Texts: Edmund Spenser, Shepherd’s Calendar,“December Eclogue”; Andrew Marvell, “Mower” poems.
  • Extracts and images: Thomas Tusser’s Husbandry; Hugh Platt’s Garden of Eden

Knowing Food: Scientific Discourses

  • Core Texts: John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book IV
  • Extracts and images: Medical and alchemical works (Moffet to Brooke)

Mapping Food: Geographical Discourses

  • Core Texts: Michael Drayton, Poly-Olbion, Book 1, Song 1 (Devon and Cornwall); Peter Mundy, Travels (England, Wales, India)
  • Maps, illustrations, digital media: Speed, Drayton, Harriot, Mundy

Buying and Selling Food: Commercial Discourses

  • Core Text: Ben Jonson, Bartholomew Fair
  • Extracts: historical documents on food import and markets

Section 2: Politics of Consumption


  • CoreTexts: Ben Jonson, Love’s Welcome (masque); Eleanor Davies, “Belshazzar’s Feast”
  • Paintings and images: Breughel, Battle of Carnival and Lent; from Bartolomeo Scappi, Opera

Focus on Assessment

  • Group presentations

Crimes and Riots

  • Core Text: William Shakespeare, Coriolanus
  • Extracts: Robert Greene (conny catching), John Reynolds, Robert Wilkins (Midlands Rising)


  • Core Texts: Gerrard Winstanley et al, True Levellers Standard Advanced; Abiezer Coppe, First Fiery Flying Roll
  • Illustrations: From radical pamphlets and anti-ranter pamphlets

Section 3: Imagining Remedies


  • Core Texts: Ben Jonson, “To Penshurst”; Robert Herrick, selected poetry
  • Food recipes: Hugh Platt, Delights for Ladies


  • Core Texts: William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 1Merry Wives of Windsor
  • Images: Picturing Falstaff - performance images

Waste and Recycling

  • Core Text: John Milton, Paradise Regained, Book 2 (Satan’s banquet)
  • Extract: from Thomas Nashe, Lenten Stuffe

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 Teaching2211 x 2 hour seminars
Scheduled Learning and Teaching66 x 1 hour lectures
Scheduled Learning and Teaching55 x 1 hour workshops
Guided Independent Study33Study groups and presentation preparation
Guided Independent Study70Seminar preparation (individual)
Guided Independent Study164Reading, 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
Group presentation2015 minutes, 1-7, 9Oral feedback from tutor and peers in seminar, supplemented by feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up.
Blog post201000 words1-6, 8-9Online Feedback sheet with tutorial follow-up
Essay603500 words1-6, 8-9Online Feedback 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
Group presentationPresentation materials OR 1500 words essay1-7, 9Referral/deferral period
Blog postBlog post (1000 words)1-6, 8-9Referral/deferral period
EssayEssay (3500 words)1-6, 8-9Referral/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

Primary texts:

You must buy the following core texts in the editions mentioned below. Note that this list is indicative only, and the current year’s reading list can be found on ELE.

  • Ben Jonson, Bartholomew Fair, ed. Suzanne Gossett, Revels Student Edition (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000)
  • John Milton, The Major Works, ed. Stephen Orgel and Jonathan Goldberg (Oxford: OUP, 2008)
  • William Shakespeare, Coriolanus, ed. Peter Holland, Arden Shakespeare Third Series (Arden, 2013)
  • William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 1, ed. David Scott Kastan, Arden Shakespeare Third Series (Arden, 2002)
  • William Shakespeare, Merry Wives of Windsor, ed. Giorgio Melchiori, Arden Shakespeare Third Series (Arden, 1999)

The following core texts are in the Norton Anthology of English Literature, 9th edition, ed. Stephen Greenblatt et al (W.W. Norton and Company, 2012):

  • Robert Herrick, selected poetry
  • Ben Jonson, “To Penshurst”
  • Andrew Marvell, “Mower” poems

The following core texts and all additional extracts and images are provided on ELE:

  • Abiezer Coppe, First Fiery Flying Roll
  • Eleanor Davies, “Belshazzar’s Feast”
  • Michael Drayton, Poly-Olbion , Book 1, Song 1
  • Robert Greene, selected conny catching pamphlet
  • Ben Jonson, Love’s Welcome (masque)
  •  Edmund Spenser, Shepherd’s Calendar , “December Eclogue”
  • Peter Mundy, Travels (England, Wales, India)
  • Satires by Joseph Hall, Ben Jonson
  • Gerrard Winstanley et al, True Levellers Standard Advanced


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Indicative learning resources - Other resources

  • Appelbaum, Robert. Aguecheek’s Beef, Belch’s Hiccup, and Other Gastronomic Interjections: Literature, Culture, and Food Among the Early Moderns. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.
  • Goldstein, David B. Eating and Ethics in Shakespeare’s England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.
  • Laroque, Francois. Shakespeare’s Festive World: Elizabethan Seasonal Entertainment and the Professional Stage. Trans. Janet Lloyd. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
  • McRae, Andrew. God Speed the Plough: The Representation of Agrarian England, 1500-1660. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
  • Mukherjee, Ayesha. Penury into Plenty: Dearth and the Making of Knowledge in Early Modern England. London and New York: Routledge, 2015.
  • Thirsk, Joan. Food in Early Modern England: Phases, Fads, Fashions, 1500-1760. London: Hambledon Continuum, 2006.

Key words search

Food and literature, Renaissance, Civil War, England, Shakespeare, Jonson, Milton

Credit value30
Module ECTS


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