Renaissance British Literature


Renaissance Literature in English: Imagining Other Worlds

 Course Description

Upheaval in society can inspire artists to contemplate other ways to organize the social order and to conceptualize differences between people and their environment. Looking through the lens of literature, this course seeks to understand how Renaissance English culture imagined other worlds and the worlds of others, with special attention to how race, gender, sexuality, and religion intersect and diverge. As we study this literature, we will encounter various genres like utopias, drama, travel writing, sonnets, and religious poetry. We also will situate these varied texts within their historical contexts, even as we pay attention to their formal features. Over the course of the semester, we will read works by authors like Thomas More, Isabella Whitney, Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare, and Margaret Cavendish, amongst others.

The Renaissance period, which roughly covers around 1500 to the 1660s, was a time of profound socio-economic upheaval that shook England’s social structure.  Some of these transformations include the emergence of print technology in the late fifteenth century, which lead to greater distribution of texts and knowledge than previously possible; the religious Reformation in the 1530s that splintered Catholicism into various forms of Protestantism, precipitating a long-term crisis in religious identity; and the onset of capitalism as well as the privatization of land, which was transforming social relations. As capitalism quickened, the English began trying to muscle into global trade markets and eventually succeed in doing so during the seventeenth century with the founding of settlements, including early plantations, throughout the Americas, along with an increased presence in the Mediterranean and North Africa, all of which are an expression of early modern colonialism. This class’ focus on imagining ‘mundus alter et idem’—a world different yet the same as one’s own—provides a framework that can link the cultural and aesthetic motifs of early modern literary culture to its own time as well as ours.

Book List

Bruce, Susan, ed.  Three Early Modern Utopias. Oxford University Press, 2009.

Cavendish, Margaret. The Blazing World and Other Writings. Kate Lilley, ed. Penguin Classics, 1994.

Marlowe, Christopher. Edward II.  Stephen Guy-Bray, ed. Bloomsbury Metheun Drama, 2014.

Shakespeare, William. The Tempest.  Barbara Mowat and Paul Werstine, eds. Simon & Shuster, 2004.

Thomas Heywood, The Fair Maid of the West, Robert Turner, ed. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967.

Other texts will be provide via PDF or online.


Participation      10%

Response Paper (2 x 650 words)   30%

Clog Responses (5 x 50 words minimum)  10%

Final Exam (1000 words)   15%

Final Paper (2000 words)    35%