Skip to main content

Medieval and Renaissance Literatures


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 5
  • Convenor: Professor Sue Wiseman
  • Assessment: a 2000-word commentary (20%) and 2500-word essay (80%)

Module description

In this module you will have an opportunity to explore a rich variety of medieval and Renaissance literature.

In the first term we study one of the most famous and rich medieval texts, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, in its original Middle English. We 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.

In the second term we 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.

Indicative syllabus

  • Reading Middle English and the idea of the Canterbury Tales
  • The idea of the Canterbury Tales: the Summoner and the Friar
  • Men, women and the natural world: the Nun's Priest and the Miller
  • Selves and stories: the Canon's Yeoman and the Pardoner
  • Women on pilgrimage: the Wife of Bath and the Second Nun
  • The sonnet: writing love (I)
  • The epyllion: writing love (II)
  • Radical revenge?: Thomas Kyd, The Spanish Tragedy
  • Parodying revenge?: The Revenger's Tragedy
  • City comedy and London Life: The Roaring Girl

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.