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Medieval and Renaissance Literatures


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 5
  • Convenors: Professor Sue Wiseman, Isabel Davis
  • Assessment: a commentary exercise (10%), an assessed essay (45%) and a three-hour examination (45%)

Module description

This module offers an opportunity to explore a rich variety of medieval and Renaissance literature. The first term will consist of a detailed study of one of the most famous and rich medieval texts, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, in its original Middle English. Classes will look at the form and language of the Tales as well as their social and cultural contexts. Our study will include lesser-known parts of Chaucer’s poem. The second term will look at a selection of early modern poetry, prose and drama, offering an introduction to the richly divergent themes and genres of English writing in the Renaissance period.

The module continues the work that was begun in the first-year core English modules, broadening and deepening your knowledge of early literature and culture.  

Texts include:

  • Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, in The Riverside Chaucer, ed. L. Benson et al. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988). You could start with: Canterbury TalesThe Friar’sThe Summoner’s and The Nun’s Priest’s TaleYou should not use a Modern English translation as a primary text. 
  • Thomas Kyd, The Spanish Tragedy, in Five Revenge Tragedies, ed. Emma Smith (London: Penguin, 2013).
  • Thomas Middleton, The Revenger’s Tragedy, in Five Revenge Tragedies, ed. Emma Smith (London: Penguin, 2013).
  • William Shakespeare, Venus and Adonis (Oxford Scholarly Editions Online: The New Oxford Shakespeare).
  • Sir Philip Sidney, Astrophil and Stella, in Philip Sidney: The Major Works, ed. by Katharine Duncan-Jones (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).
  • Lady Mary Wroth, Pamphilia to Amphilanthus (online - available on Moodle).

You may also be interested to explore George Gascoigne, The Adventures of Master F.J. which we will consider alongside other texts.

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will have:

  • consolidated and broadened your knowledge of medieval and Renaissance literature
  • enjoyed reading early literature and its cultural contexts
  • demonstrated skills of close reading, and the capacity to locate these close readings within broad historical and critical narratives.