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Study information

Bodies Politic: Cultural and Sexual Politics in England, 1603-1679

Module titleBodies Politic: Cultural and Sexual Politics in England, 1603-1679
Module codeEASM109
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Dr Niall Allsopp (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

Bodies Politic uses the central metaphor of the body to trace cultural conflicts through the literature of the most turbulent period of English history. The module reads a range of plays, poems, and prose works within their contexts. You will explore how the body metaphor constructs ideas of government, nationhood, and community in this period, by drawing on concepts of gender, sexuality, race, medicine, science, and religion.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The module investigates how the body formed a central metaphor in early-modern literature, shaping the period’s key political, ideological, and cultural conflicts. The state was conceived as a political body, in a period that saw expanding state power both at home and overseas, but also unleashed resistance, revolution, and civil war. The module will also explore how the body politic governed and sometimes damaged the bodies of subject people: through enclosure and empire; through the church’s spiritual doctrines and ceremonies; or through developing scientific and medical thought. These equally political processes were also disrupted, e.g. by the rise of radical spirituality, or of libertine sexuality. Across the module we will pursue these connections through major genres, including tragedy, comedy, religious poetry, and emerging ones, like essays, pamphlets, and science-fiction, reading major writers like Shakespeare and Milton alongside their contemporaries.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Demonstrate advanced critical knowledge and understanding of the key social, intellectual and political issues in seventeenth-century English culture
  • 2. Demonstrate an advanced appreciation of modern theoretical debates surrounding the interpretation of these issues
  • 3. Demonstrate an advanced capacity to identify the complex relations between literary production and the social, economic, political and cultural developments of the period
  • 4. Demonstrate an intellectually sophisticated ability to apply this knowledge to the analysis of seventeenth-century texts

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 5. Demonstrate an intellectually sophisticated ability to analyse the literature of the seventeenth century, and to relate its concerns and modes of expression to its historical context
  • 6. Demonstrate an advanced and autonomous ability to relate texts and discourses specific to their own discipline to wider issues of cultural and intellectual history
  • 7. Demonstrate an advanced and autonomous ability to understand and analyse relevant theoretical ideas, and to apply these ideas to literary texts
  • 8. Demonstrate an advanced and precise ability to work from the detail of literary texts, with a full appreciation of their formal aspects
  • 9. Demonstrate an advanced ability to digest, select, and organise interdisciplinary material and to trace the development of debate across disciplinary boundaries

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 10. Through seminar work and presentations, demonstrate advanced communication skills, and an ability to articulate their views convincingly both individually and in groups
  • 11. Through essay-writing, demonstrate advanced research and bibliographic skills, an advanced and intellectually mature capacity to construct a coherent, substantiated argument and to write clear and correct prose
  • 12. Through research for seminars, essays, and presentations demonstrate an advanced proficiency in information retrieval and analysis
  • 13. Through research, seminar discussion, and essay writing demonstrate an advanced and intellectually mature capacity to question assumptions, to distinguish between fact and opinion, and to critically reflect on their own learning process
  • 14. Through responses to constructive feedback, demonstrate an advanced and intellectually mature ability to reflect upon and strengthen written and other work

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:

  • Tragedy and the Jacobean body politic
  • Corruption and sexual politics in the Caroline court
  • The flesh and the spirit: the politics and poetics of devotional poetry
  • State expansion, labour, and the colonized body
  • Utopia, science and the body
  • Medical, anatomised, gendered bodies
  • Sexuality, heresy and the early Milton
  • The body politic, beheaded: responses to the regicide
  • Sexual freedom and libertinism in the Restoration court
  • Resistance: radical and non-conformist bodies

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 activities22Seminars
Guided independent100Seminar preparation (independent)
Guided independent178Reading, research and essay preparation

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Abstract500 words1-8, 12-14Feedback via seminars and 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
Research report 252500 words1-4, 12-14Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up
Essay755000 words1-14Feedback 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
Research reportResearch report1-4, 12-14Referral/Deferral period
EssayEssay1-14Referral/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 50%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of referral will be capped at 50%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic reading:

Core Reading:

  • William Shakespeare, Macbeth (any modern ed.) Martin Wiggins (ed.), Four Jacobean Sex Tragedies (Oxford, 1998)
  • Susan Bruce (ed.), Three Early Modern Utopias (Oxford, 1999)
  • Deborah Payne Fisk (ed.), Four Restoration Libertine Plays (Oxford, 2005)
  • Katherine Eisaman Maus (ed.), Four Revenge Tragedies (Oxford, 1998)
  • John Milton, The Major Works, ed. Stephen Orgel and Jonathan Goldberg (Oxford, 1997)

Secondary Reading:

  • Warren Chernaik, Sexual Freedom in Restoration England, paperback ed. (Cambridge, 2008)
  • Thomas Corns, A History of Seventeenth-Century English Literature (Oxford, 2006)
  • Derek Hirst, England in Conflict, 1603-1660 (Hodder, 1999)
  • John Morrill (ed.), The Impact of the English Civil War (Collins and Brown, 1991)
  • David Norbrook, Writing the English Republic (Cambridge, 1999)
  • Graham Parry, The Seventeenth Century: The Intellectual and Cultural Contexts of English Literature, 1603-1700 (Longmans, 1989)
  • Jonathan Sawday, The Body Emblazon'd: Dissection and the Human Body in Renaissance Culture (Routledge, 1996)
  • R.M. Smuts, Culture and Power in England 1585-1685 (Palgrave Macmillan, 1999)
  • K. Wrightson, English Society, 1580  1680, 2nd ed. (Routledge, 2002)
  • Reading for week 1 William Shakespeare, Macbeth. Copies of James Is Daemonologie and contemporary witchcraft pamphlets will be circulated to students before the start of the module.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Key words search

Early modern literature, politics, religion, gender, body, science, civil war, monarchy, republicanism, Milton

Credit value30
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date

October 2011

Last revision date