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 1 X 2,500 WORD ESSAY  60%
Supplementary Assessment Resubmit or resit failed elements and/or make good any missing elements.  60%
Supplementary Assessment In the event of failure in the oral presentation, a 15 MINUTE SCRIPT ON A NEW TOPIC WITH ACCOMPANYING VISUALS, written as if for delivery, to be submitted  40%

Learning Outcomes

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

Demonstrate a detailed knowledge of the set texts, and an informed awareness of their relationship to early modern magical and quasi-scientific discourses.

Articulate this knowledge and awareness in the form of a reasoned critical analysis of particular texts.

Relate the texts studied to early modern debates about society, politics, and religion, and show how magical and quasi-scientific discourses reflect and engage in these debates.

Explain and engage with relevant aspects of recent critical and/or theoretical debates about the texts studied.

Articulate some of their findings in the form of an oral presentation.


This module complements and extends the study of the cultural, social, and historical contexts of Renaissance literature undertaken in the second-year core module Medieval and Renaissance Writing. It also complements a number of Level 2 and Level 3 modules, including Arthurian Literature, Shakespeare and Jonson, and Renaissance Women and Writing.

Brief description

Literary texts of the English Renaissance betray the strong influence of magical and quasi-scientific discourses. This module looks at the rich and diverse relationship between Renaissance literary texts and the discourses of magic across a range of genres, including drama, poetry, masques, and prose. In two introductory seminars, the significance of magic in Renaissance society and culture are explored, and theological and political responses to magic and the figure of the magus are examined. In succeeding weeks, four broad categories of magical knowledge and practice - fairy lore, witchcraft, alchemy, and natural philosophy - are considered. Each seminar explores the ways in which these discourses function in the presentation of literary creativity, authorship, and narrative and generic structures in the specified text or texts. The presentation of magical discourses in these texts is interpreted within appropriate historical contexts, and students are encouraged to identify the ways in which magic functioned as a vehicle through which contemporary social, religious, and political issues could be examined and contested. In the final two seminars, concerning natural philosophy, the emergence of scientific discourse and the 'decline' of magic in the first half of the seventeenth century is considered and questioned.


Teaching will be by ten two-hour seminars, and will make regular use of small-group presentations.

Seminar 1. Introduction 1: Charms, Spells, and Sigils: Renaissance Discourses of Magic.
To include extracts from magical receipt books, books of secrets, emblem books, royal proclamations, and religious and historical writings in defence of magic.

Seminar 2. Introduction 2: Introduction to oral presentations, and an introduction to the figure of the magus in Renaissance England.
Robert Greene, Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay (circa 1591)

Seminar 3. Fairy Lore 1.
William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream (1594/96).

Seminar 4. Fairy Lore 2.
Michael Drayton, Nimphidia, The Court of Faery (1627).

Seminar 5. Witchcraft 1.
William Shakespeare, Macbeth (c. 1603).

Seminar 6. Witchcraft 2.
Thomas Dekker, William Rowley, and John Ford, The Witch of Edmonton (1621).

Seminar 7. Alchemy 1.
Ben Jonson, The Masques of Blacknesse (1606) and Beautie (1609).

Seminar 8. Alchemy 2.
Ben Jonson, The Alchemist (1610).

Seminar 9. Natural Philosophy 1.
Thomas Nashe, The Terrors of the Night (1594).

Seminar 10. Natural Philosophy 2.
Francis Bacon, The New Atlantis (1626/27).

Module Skills

Skills Type Skills details
Communication oral communication through group discussions and presentations
Improving own Learning and Performance through independent reading and research
Information Technology through powerpoint presentations.
Personal Development and Career planning by critical self-reflection and through the development of transferable communication and research skills.
Problem solving by developing evaluative analysis and critical skills and by formulating and conducting a detailed argument
Research skills by relating literary texts to historical contexts and by synthesizing information in an evaluative argument
Subject Specific Skills Detailed critical/theoretical analysis of literary texts and evaluation of broad intellectual concepts.
Team work through group presentations

Reading List

General Text
Albrecht, Roberta (Sept. 2005) The Virgin Mary As Alchemical and Lullian Reference in Donne Susquehanna University Press Primo search Albrecht, Roberta J. (2008) Using Alchemical Memory Techniques for the Interpretation of Literature:John Donne, George Herbert and Richard Crashaw Edwin Mellen Press Limited, The Primo search
Recommended Background
Briggs, Katharine Mary (Feb. 2003) The Anatomy of Puck, an Examination of Fairy Beliefs among Shakespeare's Contemporaries and Successors:Katharine Briggs: Selected Works. Facsimile Routledge Primo search Cartwright, Kent (Nov. 2006) Theatre and Humanism:English Drama in the Sixteenth Century Cambridge University Press Primo search Kerwin, William (June 2005) Beyond the Body:The Boundaries of Medicine and English Renaissance Drama University of Massachusetts Press Primo search Newman, William R. (March 2006) Secrets of Nature:Astrology and Alchemy in Early Modern Europe MIT Press Primo search Woodbridge, Linda (May 1994) The Scythe of Saturn:Shakespeare and Magical Thinking University of Illinois Press Primo search


This module is at CQFW Level 6