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English literature from Shakespeare to Austen

This module takes you on an engaging journey through a diverse selection of great literature from 1570 to 1818. You'll focus on two globally recognised writers in English: the playwright William Shakespeare and the novelist Jane Austen. Your literary journey from Shakespeare to Austen will include Renaissance poetry and drama, Restoration comedy, eighteenth-century fiction, Oriental tales, travel writing, autobiography and romantic ballads. 

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Module code




  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.

Study level

Across the UK, there are two parallel frameworks for higher education qualifications, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). These define a hierarchy of levels and describe the achievement expected at each level. The information provided shows how OU module levels correspond to these frameworks.
Level of Study
3 10 6

Study method

Module cost

Entry requirements

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What you will study

This module 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'll 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'll encounter both tragic and comic drama, along with epic poetry, poems of love, sex, 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'll be offered four different independent study options at the end of each week, encouraging you to discover, choose and develop your own interests in the literature of the period.

The two hundred and fifty years covered by this module saw the rise of printing and the novel, the establishment of copyright and circulating libraries, the professionalisation 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, the featured authors you'll 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'll study three Shakespeare plays – the comedy, As You Like It (1599); and the tragedies Julius Caesar (1599) and Hamlet (1602-3). You'll study Thomas Kyd’s earlier and hugely influential revenge tragedy, The Spanish Tragedy (1587). You'll be introduced to key Pan-European poetic forms that flourished in English literature in the period. These are 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. Beginning with the poetry of sex and seduction in the seventeenth century, the tradition of erotic verse is shown through a selection of works. Two near contemporaneous satirical plays 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 chapters demonstrate the explosive rise of new prose literary forms in this period of expanding international trade and discovery. You'll study Jonathan Swift’s scathing political and philosophical satire Gulliver’s Travels (1726, 1735), 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 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 begins with selections from the first modern autobiography and a central text of European Romanticism, Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions (1782-89). Antiquarian poetry in the Romantic period follows as you examine the relationship between this form of 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. 

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'll 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'll 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. Your digital and information literacy skills will be developed through a range of online activities and through assessed work. All of these transferrable skills are highly valued by employers.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You'll have a tutor who will help you with the study materials and mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. We may also be able to offer online group tutorials that you are encouraged, but not obliged, to attend and recordings of these will typically be made available.

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box .

Future availability

English literature Shakespeare to Austen starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2024. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2027.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations which are available on our Student Policies and Regulations website.

Course work includes:

5 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment

Entry requirements

This is an OU level 3 module. OU level 3 modules build on study skills and subject knowledge acquired from studies at OU levels 1 and 2. They are intended only for students who have recent experience of higher education in a related subject, preferably at the OU. You should already have some of the skills appropriate to the study of English literature at this level. The OU module Reading and studying literature (A230) (now discontinued) or Telling stories: the novel and beyond (A233) would be ideal preparation for this module, although it is not a formal requirement.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please contact an adviser.

Preparatory work

You will find it helpful to read as many of the set books as you can before the module begins. 


Start End England fee Register
05 Oct 2024 Jun 2025 £3636.00

Registration closes 05/09/24 (places subject to availability)

This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2027.

Additional Costs

Study costs

There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as set books, a computer and internet access.

If your income is not more than £25,000 or you receive a qualifying benefit, you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after your module has started.

Ways to pay for this module

Open University Student Budget Account

The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

  • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
  • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your monthly fee and number of instalments based on the cost of the module you are studying. APR 5.1% representative.

Joint loan applications

If you feel you would be unable to obtain an OUSBA loan on your own due to credit history or affordability issues, OUSBA offers the option to apply for a joint loan application with a third party. For example, your husband, wife, partner, parent, sibling or friend. In such cases, OUSBA will be required to carry out additional affordability checks separately and/or collectively for both joint applicants who will be jointly and severally liable for loan repayments.

As additional affordability checks are required when processing joint loan applications, unfortunately, an instant decision cannot be given. On average the processing time for a joint loan application is five working days from receipt of the required documentation.

Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).

Employer sponsorship

Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU courses are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to complete. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

More than one in ten OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the module you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

  • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
  • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your module.  

Credit/debit card

You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

We accept American Express, Mastercard, Visa and Visa Electron. 

Mixed payments

We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. For example, you may wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Account (OUSBA).

Please note: your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and, therefore, the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fee information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2025. Fees typically increase annually. For further information about the University's fee policy, visit our Fee Rules

This information was provided on 19/05/2024.

Can you study an Access module for free?

Depending on eligibility and availability of places, you could apply to study your Access module for free.

To qualify, you must:

  1. be resident in England
  2. have a household income of less than £25,000 (or be in receipt of a qualifying benefit)
  3. have not completed one year or more on any full-time undergraduate programme at FHEQ level 4 or above or successfully completed 30 credits or more of OU study within the last 10 years

How to apply to study an Access module for free

Once you've started the registration process, either online or over the phone, we'll contact you about your payment options. This will include instructions on how you can apply to study for free if you are eligible and funded places are still available.

If you're unsure if you meet the criteria to study for free, you can check with one of our friendly advisers on +44 (0)300 303 0069, or you can request a call back.

Not eligible to study for free?

Don't worry! We offer a choice of flexible ways to help spread the cost of your Access module. The most popular options include:

  • monthly payments through OUSBA
  • part-time tuition fee loan (you'll need to be registered on a qualification for this option)

To explore all the options available to you, visit Fees and Funding.

What's included

Three module books and access to the module website, which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • module guide
  • module materials
  • audio and visual content
  • assessment details
  • online tutorials and forums.

Materials to buy

Set books

  • Wortley Montagu, Lady Mary: Heffernan, T. & O'Quinn, D. (eds) The Turkish Embassy Letters Broadview Press £17.50 - ISBN 9781554810420
  • Kyd, T.: Gurr, A. & Mulryne, J.R. (eds) The Spanish Tragedy (New Mermaids) Methuen £9.99 - ISBN 9781408114216
  • Swift, J.: Rivero, A.J. (ed) Gulliver's Travels Norton £7.99 - ISBN 9780393957242
  • Wycherley, W.: Stern, T. (ed) The Country Wife (New Mermaids) Methuen £9.99 - ISBN 9781408179895
  • Slater, M. (ed) The Misanthrope, Tartuffe and Other Plays Oxford World's Classics £9.99 - ISBN 9780199540181
  • Austen, J. Pride and Prejudice Oxford World's Classics £4.99 - ISBN 9780198826736
  • Austen, J. Persuasion Oxford World's Classics £4.99 - ISBN 9780199535552
  • Mack, R.L. (ed) Arabian Nights' Entertainments Oxford World's Classics £13.99 - ISBN 9780199555871
  • Daniell, D. (ed) The Arden Shakespeare Julius Caesar Methuen £8.99 - ISBN 9781903436219
  • Shakespeare, W.: Hattaway, M. (ed) As You Like It Cambridge University Press £8.99 - ISBN 9780521732505
  • Rousseau, J.-J.: Coleman, P. (ed) Confessions Oxford World's Classics £11.99 - ISBN 9780199540037
  • Thompson, A. & Taylor, N. (eds) The Arden Shakespeare Hamlet (Revised edn) Bloomsbury £8.99 - ISBN 9781472518385

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying A334 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

To find out more about what kind of support and adjustments might be available, contact us or visit our disability support pages.