Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Academic Year
Intended for use in future years

Course Delivery

Delivery Type Delivery length / details
Seminars / Tutorials 10 x 2 hour seminars


Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment 2 X 3000 WORD ESSAYS  100%
Supplementary Assessment Resubmit or resit failed elements and/or make good any missing elements. 

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:

Demonstrate an informed awareness of Renaissance attitudes to death and desire, and an awareness of how these attitudes were expressed, in both secular and sacred writing from the later sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.

Demonstrate a detailed knowledge of at least four texts studied on the module, from both Parts One and Two.

Articulate this knowledge and awareness in the form of reasoned critical analyses.

Explain and engage with recent critical debates about the texts studied, and about Renaissance attitudes to death and desire more generally


Week 1: 'Thus with a kiss I die'. Introducing Desire and Death: the example of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet"
"Romeo and Juliet", Arden Shakespeare (London: Routledge, 1980);


Week 2: Loving Oneself to Death: Narcissus and Narcissism
1) The Narcissus episode, from Arthur Golding's translation of "Metamorphosis" (1567).
2) from Freud's 'On Narcissism: An Introduction' (1914).

Week 3: Sadists and Masochists
from Sidney's "Astrophel and Stella" (1591) and Mary Wroth's "Pamphilia to Amphilanthus" (1621).

Week 4: 'Wretched Lovers slain': Dying for Love
Marlowe's "Hero and Leander" (1598).

Week 5: Parodying Petrarch
Nashe's "Choice of Valentines" (c. 1592) and selections from "Shakespeare's Sonnets" (1609).

Week 6: Death and the Maiden
from Book 3 of Spenser's "Faerie Queene" (1590) (cantos 4, 5, 11, and 12).


Week 7: Deadly Desires: The Erotics of Martyrdom
from the first and second "Examinations of Anne Askewe lately martyred in Smythfelde" (1546/1547);
from the ordeals of Thomas Hinshaw and John Miles, from John Foxe, "Actes and Monumentes" (1563).

Week 8: `For since I am Love's martyr': Donne on Sex and Death
from Donne's Holy Sonnets
from Songs and Sonets
from Devotions upon Emergent Occasions

Week 9: 'He who dies/ Loves his death, and dyes againe': Crashaw and Catholic Devotional Poetry
from Crashaw's "Steps to the Temple" (1646).

Week 10: 'Short Pleasures' and 'long woes': Milton's "Paradise Lost"
from Milton's "Paradise Lost", Book 4 (1674)

Brief description

This module explores boundaries between Renaissance love and religious poetry, examining representations of death and desire common to both. Renaissance literature is awash with poems about male sexual desire frustrated by female sexual self-restraint - a frustrated desire expressed in poetic fantasies of death and destruction. Women's bodies are metaphorically carved-up by male poets, who in turn imagine themselves torn apart by sadistic, scornful mistresses. Death and desire also govern the experience of this period's many religious martyrs. Only in death do martyrs avoid forms of spiritual, as well as sexual, violation. Later religious poets return to the masochistic metaphors of love poetry, writing fantasies of religious martyrdom expressed in the language of sexual desire.

"Desire and Death" explores a culture's fascination with, and eroticisation of, death. In Part One, the idea of narcissism (loving oneself to death) is examined in relation to examples of sadistic and masochistic expressions of desire, in Renaissance poetry influenced by the "Canzoniere" of Francesco Petrarch. Part Two investigates the Renaissance cult of martyrdom (dying for love of God), exploring the relationship between death and desire in examples of Protestant and Catholic religious poetry.

The module addresses the following questions: What were Renaissance attitudes towards desire and death, and how can we uncover them? How might these attitudes have impacted on death's representation in literature? Can we distinguish between representations of male and female death and desire? Is it significant that death and desire are themes in religious as well as love poetry? Does the occurrence of these themes in secular as well as religious writing have any implications for our understanding of literary genre?


1. To invite comparative and coherent analyses of the genres of love and religious poetry, through focus on the themes of death and desire common to both forms of writing. In so doing, to stimulate particular interest in issues surrounding Renaissance religious beliefs and practices, poetry and prose.
2. To offer a range of critical and cultural approaches to Renaissance love and religious poetry, building on theoretical skills developed in the Reading Theory/Reading Text core modules, and giving opportunity to apply broad theoretical approaches to a detailed analysis of a particular cultural moment.
3. To discuss recent critical approaches to texts by well-known Renaissance writers, and to assess the value and importance of these approaches for our appreciation and understanding of English Renaissance literature.

Module Skills

Skills Type Skills details
Communication through group discussions and presentations
Improving own Learning and Performance through independent reading and written assignments
Information Technology through use of Blackboard; encouragement to engage with electronic resources available via Voyager (EEBO; LION)
Personal Development and Career planning Students will develop research skills transferable to other undergraduate modules, and applicable to postgraduate study. Students will also develop transferable time-management and spoken and written communication skills.
Problem solving through analysis of texts
Research skills through study and analysis of cultural context and critical models; through exposure to facsimiles of some early printed texts
Subject Specific Skills Through analysis of literary representations of desire and death, students will develop an ability to draw comparisons between the genres of love poetry and religious writing, and to question received generic divisions between literary and `non-literary' texts.
Team work through group presentations and small-group discussions

Reading List

Should Be Purchased
(2003.) Renaissance literature: an anthology /edited by Michael Payne and John Hunter. Blackwell Primo search Shakespeare, William (1980) Romeo and Juliet - Arden Shakespeare /edited by Brian Gibbons Thomson Learning EMEA Primo search Spenser, Edmund (1987) The Faerie Queene /edited by Thomas P. Roche 2nd edition Penguin Primo search
Supplementary Text
(1992.) Erotic politics :desire on the Renaissance stage /edited by Susan Zimmerman. Routledge Primo search (1997.) Religion and culture in Renaissance England /edited by Claire McEachern and Debora Shuger. Cambridge University Press Primo search (1996.) Religion, literature, and politics in post-Reformation England, 1540-1688 /edited by Donna B. Hamilton, Richard Strier. Cambridge University Press Primo search Aries, Philippe (1974.) Western attitudes toward death : from the Middle Ages to the present /by Philippe Ari es ; translated [from the French MS.] by Patricia M. Ranum. Johns Hopkins University Press Primo search Bataille, Georges (1986) Erotism: Death and Sensuality, trans. Mary Dalwood City Lights Books Primo search Boothby, Richard (1991.) Death and desire : psychoanalytic theory in Lacan's return to Freud. Routledge Primo search Dollimore, Jonathan (1998.) Death, desire and loss in western culture /Jonathan Dollimore. Allen Lane The Penguin Press Primo search Dollimore, Jonathan (1991.) Sexual dissidence :Augustine to Wilde, Freud to Foucault /Jonathan Dollimore. Clarendon Primo search Foucault, Michel (1979.) The history of sexuality /Michel Foucault; translated from the French by Robert Hurley. Allen Lane Primo search Foucault, Michel (1987 (1992 prin) The history of sexuality /Michel Foucault; translated from the French by Robert Hurley. Penguin Primo search Greenblatt, Stephen (1980 (various p) Renaissance self-fashioning: from More to Shakespeare /Stephen Greenblatt. University of Chicago Press Primo search Knott, John R. (1993.) Discourses of martyrdom in English literature, 1563-1694 /John R. Knott. Cambridge University Press Primo search Marshall, Cynthia (June 2002) The Shattering of the Self: Violence, Subjectivity, and Early Modern Texts Johns Hopkins University Press Primo search Monta, Susannah Brietz (Aug. 2005) Martyrdom and Literature in Early Modern England Cambridge University Press Primo search Sawday, Jonathan. (1995.) The body emblazoned: dissection and the human body in Renaissance culture /Jonathan Sawday. Routledge Primo search Truman, James C W (2003) ELH John Foxe and the Desires of Reformation Martyrology 70.1/35-66 Primo search


This module is at CQFW Level 6