What you will study
English literature from Shakespeare to Austen will provide you with an engaging and diverse selection of literary works first published in the period from 1570 to 1818. Towards the beginning and near the end of your period of study, you will focus on two globally recognised writers in English: the playwright William Shakespeare and the novelist Jane Austen. In your literary journey from Shakespeare to Austen, you will be introduced to a selection of writers, both famous and less well-known, in a wide range of literary genres and modes. You will encounter both tragic and comic drama, along with epic poetry, poems of love, sex, and seduction and antiquarian poetry from the Celtic nations.
You will also read a diverse selection of writing in prose, including letters and autobiographical writing, as well as literature derived from oral traditions and sources. Independent study is woven into the module teaching material. You will be offered pathways for further study at the end of each week, encouraging you to discover, choose and develop your own interests in the literature of the period.
The two and a half century period covered by the module saw the rise of printing and the novel, the establishment of copyright and circulating libraries, the professionalization of authorship, the suppression and re-establishment of playhouses, and new modes of literary production. In order to understand these changes, a strand through the study material will guide you through many of the set works through the perspectives of book history, especially the production, readership and reception of literary works. Teaching material will develop your understanding of the influence of the oral tradition on printed books, such as that of Irish, Scottish and Welsh songs on Romantic period lyric poetry, as well as tracing the impact of imported forms and modes on English writers, e.g. the Italian Petrarchan sonnet on Donne.
In addition to Shakespeare and Austen, featured authors you will encounter include Kyd, Spenser, Donne, Rochester, Wycherley, Molière, Montagu, Haywood, Swift, Coleridge, Chatterton, Brooke, Blake, Scott, MacPherson, Morganwg, and Rousseau. The majority of set works are originally written in English, but there are two works in translation from French, Molière’s Tartuffe (1664) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions (1782-89), and one from Arabic, the anonymously written The Arabian Nights’ Entertainment (1704, 1706).
This module is divided into three books with all material arranged chronologically.
Book 1: Shakespeare and his Contemporaries provides you with a solid grounding in the main Renaissance genres of drama and poetry. You will study three plays by William Shakespeare – the comedy, As You Like It (1599); and the tragedies Julius Caesar (1599) and Hamlet (1602-3). In addition you will study Thomas Kyd’s earlier and hugely influential revenge tragedy, The Spanish Tragedy (1587). Two chapters on poetry will introduce you to key Pan-European poetic forms that flourished in English literature in the period: epic poetry, seen through selections from Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (1590-96) and the Petrarchan sonnet in English, examined primarily through the poems of John Donne.
Book 2: Restoration and Enlightenment offers you a representative sample of the incredible literary diversity that typified English literature from the mid-17th to the mid-18th centuries. Restoration and Enlightenment opens with a chapter on the poetry of sex and seduction in the seventeenth century, showcasing the tradition of erotic verse through a selection of works by Donne, Herrick, Carew, Lovelace, Suckling, Marvell, Rochester and Behn. Two near contemporaneous satirical plays, written on either side of the English Channel, follow: the celebrated Restoration English comedy, Wycherley’s The Country Wife (1675) is juxtaposed with Molière’s biting satire on hypocrisy, Tartuffe (1664).
The remaining four chapters demonstrate the explosive rise of new prose literary forms in this period of expanding international trade and discovery. You will study Jonathan Swift’s scathing political and philosophical satire Gulliver’s Travels (1726, 1735) over two weeks, while two prose works, the first English translation of the Arabian Nights’ Entertainment (1706) and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s Turkish Embassy Letters (1763), will demonstrate to you the establishment of new literary genres (the oriental tale and travel writing), and the growing British fascination with the East.
Book 3: Austen and Romantic Writing opens with a chapter on the first modern autobiography and a central text of European Romanticism, Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions (1782-89). Two chapters on antiquarian poetry in the Romantic period follow. The first examines the relationship between antiquarian poetry and oral forms like ballads with the rise of national sentiment in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales through poems from the most important antiquarian collections of the period: Percy, Reliques of Ancient Poetry (1765); MacPherson, The Poems of Ossian (1763); Brooke, Reliques of Irish Poetry (1789); and Scott’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1802-3). The second chapter covers antiquarian poetry and the ballad form, studied through individual poems by Scott, Coleridge and Keats.
The remaining four chapters of Austen and Romantic Writing closely guide you through two novels by Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice (1813) and Persuasion (1818). Austen and Romantic Writing showcases emblematic writers and literature from the period by paying particular attention to the rise of national literatures, the presence of the past, the concept of authorship, and the relationship between the writer and the wider world in the Romantic period.
Developing your digital and information literacy skills
In order to deepen your understanding of literature from the past, you will be introduced to a range of key critical concepts and approaches, ranging from the conventions of Renaissance epic to Orientalism and from political satire to the construction of authorship. You will also develop your digital and information literacy skills through frequent use of relevant online databases and resources, such as Early English Books Online (EEBO), Eighteenth-Century Collections Online (ECCO), the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB), the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and The Reading Experience Database (RED), and you will be encouraged to record and share your independent study through the use of an online learning journal, which will be provided for you.
You will learn
In addition to critically exploring the set texts through close reading and considered analysis, you will develop your capacity for independent study as you progress through the module. You will enhance your ability to think logically and communicate effectively in written English. You will develop your digital and information literacy skills through a range of online activities and through assessed work. All of these transferrable skills are highly valued by employers.