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Renaissance Philosophies and Renaissance Literature


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 6
  • Convenor: to be confirmed
  • Assessment: 1000-word unassessed coursework and two 2500-word essays (50% each)

Module description

In this module we examine the cross-fertilisation of philosophy and literature in late sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England. We will study selections from Renaissance philosophical texts and the classical texts upon which they were based in order to illuminate the ideas behind the poetry, prose and drama of Renaissance authors.

Literary authors studied will include:

  • Thomas Wyatt
  • Fulke Greville
  • George Chapman
  • Edmund Spenser
  • John Ford
  • John Davies
  • Robert Burton
  • Sir Thomas Browne
  • Sir Walter Raleigh
  • William Shakespeare.

Renaissance philosophers studied will include:

  • Justus Lipsius
  • Pierre Charron
  • Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa
  • Marsilio Ficino
  • Niccolò Machiavelli.

We will also study some of the classical authors which were such a source of inspiration for philosophers in the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, including Plato, Aristotle, Sextus Empiricus and Plutarch among the Greeks and Seneca, and Cicero among the Romans.

Themes covered will include neoplatonism, stoicism, scepticism, theories of the soul, political philosophy, melancholy and occult philosophy.

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will:

  • be familiar with the revival of particular aspects of classical (Greek and Roman) philosophy in the Renaissance period
  • be able to identify and make sense of philosophical themes in the poetry, prose and drama of the English Renaissance (1550-1640)
  • have a deeper understanding of English Renaissance literature and culture
  • have a clearer understanding of Renaissance theories of selfhood and subjectivity.