Skip to main content

Medieval and Renaissance Body, Mind, and Soul


Module description

This module introduces you to conceptions of the body, mind and soul in medieval and renaissance texts. Over the course of the module we will consider how writers from the early middle ages to the early modern era have considered the relationship between these elements of human and non-human beings, and between the material and immaterial. To what extent were these components entwined with, or distinct and separable from, one another? How did the actions of the mind and body affect what happened to the soul before and after death? And how were these relationships governed or affected by other factors, such as gender, ‘race’, sexuality and religion? This module considers all this and more, examining the ways in which writing about the body, mind and soul changed and developed over the course of a millennium, and thinking about the part literature has played in forming and challenging human understanding of who and what we are.

Indicative module CONTENT

  • Old English (taught in Modern English translation)
    • Guthlac (A), wherein a swamp-dwelling hermit faces off against demonic hordes
    • Andreas, wherein St Andrew rescues St Matthew from devil-worshipping cannibals in a postapocalyptic urban wasteland
    • The Old English version of Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy, wherein a grieving mind comes to terms with the tribulations of earthly existence
    • Judith, wherein a brave widow taken captive beheads the leader of an invading enemy army, leading her people to victory
    • The Ruin and Durham, wherein cities alive and dead appear as bodies with and without the lifeblood of human occupation
  • Middle English
    • Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love
    • Geoffrey Chaucer, ‘The Summoner’s Tale’
    • Sir Gowther
    • Works of Thomas Hoccleve
    • Late medieval medical texts
  • Renaissance
    • Christopher Marlowe, Dido, Queen of Carthage 
    • John Marston, Antonio's Revenge
    • John Webster, The Duchess of Malfi 
    • William Shakespeare, Othello
    • William Shakespeare, The Tempest
    • Sonnets by Sidney, Spenser and Shakespeare
    • Donne, ‘A Comparison’, ‘The Extasie’, ‘A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning’, ‘The Good Morrow’, ‘The Relic’
    • Andrew Marvell, ‘A Dialogue Between the Soul and Body’, ‘Dialogue Between the Resolved Soul and Created Pleasure’, ‘Clorinda and Damon’
    • John Donne, ‘The First Anniversarie. An Anatomie of the World’
    • John Donne, ‘The Second Anniversarie. Of the Progres of the Soule’

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will have:

  • knowledge of key medieval and renaissance texts and topics reflecting understanding of the body, mind and soul from a variety of perspectives
  • recognised the intellectual, social, religious, political and cultural contexts in which these ideas developed
  • engaged with secondary criticism and other forms of evidence including historical texts and material culture
  • an understanding of current approaches to key issues in medieval and renaissance studies.